A Criminal Ancestor; Samuel Swinden. A guest blog post by Sarah Kentzer.

Sarah Kentzer recently attended one of our Heritage Open Days tours. Afterwards, over a coffee, she told us the fascinating story of one of her ancestors who lies buried on the hillside at Wardsend. Here it is.

Earlier this year I was pleased to discover that the final resting place of my Great, Great Grandparents, Samuel & Sarah Swinden is Wardsend Cemetery.

Many years ago, after the release of the 1881 Census, it was with much excitement that I discovered I had a criminal in my family.  After lots of research & of course later with the help of the internet I have been able to find out a lot more about my Swinden family and Samuel’s life of crime.  The idea that Samuel was stealing to support his family in times of hardship were soon quashed.

Samuel Swinden was born on 17th March 1849 at Wentworth Street, Sheffield, to John Swinden and Mary Daff. On the 1851 Census he is listed with his father a Table Blade Forger, his mother and two older siblings Elizabeth & Thomas.  On the 1861 Census the Swinden family are living in King Street and 12 year old Samuel has been joined by two further siblings, Mary Ann & Ann. By the time this Census was taken, Samuel’s life of crime had already begun!

Samuel’s Catalogue of Crimes!

At the age of 11, Samuel was caught stealing a box of Dominoes.

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Sheffield Daily Telegraph January 1860.

At age 13, Samuel was charged with stealing Boots; he was fined 2s 6d.

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Sheffield Independent November 1862

In December 1863 he was also sentenced to 2 Months imprisonment for stealing Pigeons.

In 1864, he was convicted for stealing a flute and served 2 months at Wakefield and five years at reformatory; the article below erroneously states this as 4 years.

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Sheffield Independent 16th August 1864

In 1865, Samuel was sent to Calder Farm Reformatory School in Mirfield, Yorkshire.  Calder Farm reformatory opened in 1855 and closed in 1922.  It was one of the first ‘reformatory’ schools in the country and was very much an experiment into reforming and educating young offenders rather than putting them in prison where afterwards they would usually return to more serious crimes.

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This picture of Calder Farm features boys at the reformatory and would have been similar to Samuel’s experiences there.


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Some of Samuel’s Reformatory record
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More entries in Samuel’s Reformatory record

Lots of documentation exists about Samuel during his stay in Calder Farm including his medical records & vaccines.  His residence in Sheffield was recorded as the Corner Pin Beer house on King Street. It states he’s unable to read or write, he’s in good health and that his parents are of good character & didn’t harshly treat him.  During his time there he was reported for stealing potatoes, hiding tobacco & misconduct during prayers amongst other things.

Whether at Calder Farm or later in life, Samuel must have learnt to write at least because on later documents he is able to sign his name

Marriage and Family Life.

In about 1869 Samuel left Calder farm & picked up his life in Sheffield again. He worked as a Table Blade Forger and at the age of 22 he married Sarah Ann Taylor at St George’s Church, Sheffield.

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At some point, the couple moved to Martin Street and continued to live there.

In 1872 their son George was born, followed in 1873 by a daughter Emily, another son Harry was born in 1875, followed by my Gt Grandmother Lucy in 1876. Another son, John William was born in 1879.

Samuel unfortunately didn’t stay out of trouble for long. In 1874, he stole some Steel rods from his master and got sentenced to 3 months in prison.

Sadly in 1877, Samuel & Sarah’s eldest son, George died of Typhoid Fever age just 4 Years old. He is also buried in Wardsend Cemetery.

In 1879, Samuel’s crimes continued when he stole 4 chisels and got 6 months in prison.

In 1880, he was again sent to prison for 5 Years for stealing a box of 100 cigars ‘with force and arms’. He was first sent to Wakefield Prison, then to Brixton and then to Pentonville Prison.  It was here in the 1881 Census that I first discovered my criminal ancestor.

Samuel Swinden, M, 32, M, Convict, Convicted Felon, Sheffield, York, England

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Samuel’s Prison photograph from Pentonville Prison.

In his prison records there are detailed descriptions of Samuel’s appearance, his many scars and his height of 5’3/4”! It records his crimes of ‘picking up paper with tobacco in it’ and ‘having Horseradish concealed in his slop when searched’ The correspondence he sent and received is also detailed.

Whilst Samuel was in prison, Sarah and the children appear to be living with her parents, John & Harriet Taylor. They also lived on Martin street and Sarah is working is a Charwoman.

During his prison sentence in 1882, Sarah’s mother Harriet Taylor died and is also buried at Wardsend cemetery (E227) . A year later, 1883 their youngest son, John William died age 4 of Phthisis (Pulmonary tuberculosis). John William is also buried in Wardsend Cemetery (M394).


EnThe 1891 Census, 42 year old Samuel is once again the head of the family living at 77 Martin Street

Another daughter Lilian has also been born to Samuel & Sarah.  They also have their Grandaughter Nelly Pawson living with them.

Nelly, the daughter of Emily Swinden the couple’s eldest daughter was born in 1888 and is thought that she may have been illegitimate. Emily & her husband Henry weren’t married until 1890.

More tragedy struck the family in 1892 when Emily died age 20 of Enteric Fever & a miscarriage.  She is also buried at Wardsend Cemetery (F180).  It seems that her daughter remained living with the Swinden family.

Samuel’s life of crime continued;

In 1893, Samuel was sentenced to 3 months for stealing money from the person.

In 1899, he got 12 months for stealing a purse and 1s 9d from the person.

In 1900, he got 15 months for stealing a purse and 3s 5d form the person. Further to this he was also caught four times frequenting, twice remanded at large on suspicion of stealing.

When the 1901 Census was recorded, Samuel is once again in Prison, this time he was in Wakefield prison. Sarah is 50 and living at 77 Martin Street with her widowed father John, her daughter Lilian and her granddaughter Nelly (Ellen).   Her other daughter Lucy had started her own family after marrying John Walton in 1897.

In 1903 Samuel & Sarah’s remaining son died in India whilst serving in the Army there.  He had enlisted in 1892.

Nothing else is known about Samuel’s criminal activities, maybe he was getting too old!  He continued living on 77 Martin street with Sarah and his family.


By 1911, Sarah & Samuel’s daughters Lilian is shown here, married to Fred Cooper with their son Harry.

Their other daughter Lucy (my Great Grandmother) is living close by at 73 Martin Street with her family including my Grandma, Florence.


Samuel died age 67 on 30th May 1916 at 77 Martin Street of Pleurisy & Pneumonia. He rests in plot NP966 at Wardsend Cemetery.  Despite his crime riddled past and the conditions he must have lived in, he outlived four of his six children.

Sarah lived to a grand age of 79. Her life at times must have been very difficult and marred by sadness and tragedy.   She died at 77 Martin Street on Christmas Day 1928 and rests in Plot NP 235 in Wardsend Cemetery.


One thought on “A Criminal Ancestor; Samuel Swinden. A guest blog post by Sarah Kentzer.

  1. It is a sad story.Im sure Samuel was not on his own in his life of (crime).They were very different times.It saddens me to think of his difficult life and that of his poor family. May they all rest in peace.


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