Man uncovers one of the oldest newspaper articles ever written about Aylesbury while researching his family tree

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A retired teacher has uncovered a news article from Aylesbury that pre-dates The Bucks Herald.

John Austin has been studying his family history for over a decade and discovered an article that one of his relatives appeared in. It is a Times court report from 1831, one year prior to the launch of The Bucks Herald.

John’s grandmother’s family come from Aylesbury and in his scouring of ancestry and searching through library archives, he was able to uncover and transcribe a report from the famous broadsheet.

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A report from the 28 March, 1831, details the arrest of Charles Woodman, John’s third great uncle.

Aylesbury high street 1907Aylesbury high street 1907
Aylesbury high street 1907

The Times covered a preliminary hearing in Woodman’s trial where he was facing charges of assault with intent to murder.

John’s research goes beyond just transcribing The Times article, he discovered that his great uncle was deported to Australia as part of his sentencing and executed for the crimes. He hopes to find out more about what happened to Woodman between his sentencing in the UK and execution in Australia, by scanning more texts down under.

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The Times’ report goes on to detail how Woodman attacked his brother’s wife with a fire poker. A witness account retold by the newspaper says: “Thomas Fryer stated, that he saw Charles strike Mrs. Woodman with a poker. He said “I have done for her.” She was lying by the fire, covered with blood.”

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John Austin has been researching his family's past for over a decadeJohn Austin has been researching his family's past for over a decade
John Austin has been researching his family's past for over a decade

John’s account shows how newspaper writing has changed over the years with the estimated time of the assault, written as between 2 and 3 o’clock. Also, the report was released two weeks later, perhaps showing the more relaxed timescales journalists were held to, prior to the explosion of the internet.

Further witness reports included in the court report detail how the first people on the scene feared Charles had killed Mrs Woodman, including Charles himself, who did not resist arrest.

Whilst most of the language used in the near-200-year-old report will be familiar to modern readers some of the phrasing feels of its time. The judge is described as cautioning the convicted man in the “most feeling manner”. A few paragraphs later the reporter contextualises the incident saying: “This melancholy event has caused the most intense and painful feeling in the town and neighbourhood; where the friends and connexions of the family are very numerous and highly respectable.”

A few words have been censored in the report, one exchange was recorded as follows: “She said, “What have I done to deserve this?” The

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One of the oldest articles covering AylesburyOne of the oldest articles covering Aylesbury
One of the oldest articles covering Aylesbury

prisoner said “D—n her, I have done for her; it is her d—n charity, and I have paid her.”

One now extinct title is also mentioned in the report, a headborough was sent to investigate the case – people who were often put in charge of parishes.

John has been attempting to track information as far back as his grandparents’ grandparents. Much of his findings come from searches of online censuses, electoral rolls, church records and other old directories.

John broke down his years of research into two A4 sides of paper so his living family members could discover more about their ancestors in a digestible manner.