A Terrible Crime

Ploughing through the 19th century newspapers in search of stories that provide us with an insight into the social habits and norms of bygone times – particularity in relation to crimes and how the authorities dealt with perpetrators –  you do tend to come across some absolute gems.

Today, I bring you a report from The Morning Herald, which appeared in its edition of Thursday July 1st 1830. It’s one of those stories that you find yourself just wishing you could go back in time and watch first hand to observe the expressions on the faces of those present in the court as Mr George Gunn made his appearance for a truly heinous offence.


“Yesterday, a decently-dressed man, who gave his name George Gunn, was charged with disturbing the congregation at St. Bride’s church on Sunday morning last, by snoring so loudly as to prevent all those who happened to be near him from hearing a single word that was uttered by the Minister.

The interior of St Bride's church looking towards the altar.
The Scene of the Crime – St Bride’s Fleet Street


One of the beadles said that the defendant entered the church soon after the commencement of the service, in a state of intoxication, and placed himself on a seat that was only calculated to accommodate two persons, and was already occupied by that number.

He, however, refused to move, and, to avoid a disturbance, he was left in peaceable possession of the seat; but he had not occupied it two minutes before he fell asleep, and began to snore in the loudest and least harmonious manner possible, so as to distract the attention of all around him from the service that was going on.


He made several attempts to rouse him, but with very indifferent success, and he was at last obliged to station himself at his elbow, and continue waking him from time to time, in order, if possible, to prevent him from seriously annoying the congregation. In this agreeable manner he was occupied for some time, but at length the evil reached such a height that he was compelled to remove the defendant and take him to the watch-house.


Sir JOHN PERRING said he thought this was hardly a case within his jurisdiction.

As the offence was committed in a church, the defendant ought, perhaps, to be handed over to the Ecclesiastical Court.

Here Mr. Michael Scales, the Common Councilman, who was waiting in the office, held up his hands in an imploring manner, and said, “Oh, pray don’t, Sir John; I can assure you you had much better -hang him at once.”

Sir JOHN appeared to be induced, by Mr. Scales’s entreaties, not to transfer the defendant to a place where such frightful consequences were to he apprehended: and asked Mr. Gunn what he had now to say in his defence ?


Mr, Gunn said that neither the education he had received, nor his habits subsequently, had been such as to dispose him to be guilty of any impropriety in a church.

He was very much fatigued, as he had walked to town, from Sydenham, that morning; but he denied that he could have been intoxicated, as all the liquor he had had on the way was one glass of ale, which he got at the Edinburgh Castle.


The Alderman considered that a night’s imprisonment in the watch-house was a sufficient punishment for snoring even in a church, and the defendant was discharged.

As he was leaving the bar, Mr. Scales. advised him to be cautious how he went to church for the future.