Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Who Was Ann Gregg? The Untold True Story of one of Cumberland’s most determined felons by David Cooper Holmes. P3 Publications. £10.
When David Cooper Holmes used to tell his grandmother in Seaton about all his adventures , she would give him a stern look and say, “You’ve got too much gypsy blood in you!. You should settle down.”
Long after his grandmother died, David started digging into that family history, trying to unravel his ancestry. He followed the census details and parish records, and researched old newspaper and the county archives. And he also took a DNA test. All this eventually led him back to his five times great grandmother Ann Gregg, who was also known as Ann Hutchinson, Ann Brown, Ann Hamilton, Isobel Hamilton, Ann Hambleton, Ann Carrick, Ann Millar, Ann Wilson, Elizabeth Smith, Elizabeth Gregs, Elizabeth Gregson, Ann Orton, Ann Ritchie and Ann Irvine.
She was, however, baptised as Ann Gregg in St Bridget’s Church in Moresby on 23rd May, 1756. She was the daughter of Shadrach Gregg, a travelling tinker from Nichol Forest. Her aunts, Jane Gregg the elder, “Low in stature, gross made and of a swarthy complexion”, and Jane Gregg, the younger, “of fair complexion and marked with the small pox”, had been transported to the Colonies in 1754.
Ann Gregg followed in the family footsteps. In 1777 she was arrested in Wigton for shoplifting. The court report said that “Ann Gregg dropped from under her arm this purse containing from three to six Handerkerchiefs in a piece of silk Handerkerchief which had also been stolen out of the shop by the same Ann Gregg.” For this offence she was sentenced to death, but, as was very often the case, reprieved. She was sent to join the other thirty-one prisoners in Carlisle Jail and spent her days picking oakum.
After serving three years in prison, Ann seems to have adopted the identity of a Scottish woman from Dalkieth and chose to live as the common law wife of a certain Henry Cunningham. She was variously known as Ann Hamilton or Ann Brown. She was living with a gang of petty criminals.
In 1785, she appeared in court again, this time under the alias of Isabel Hamilton. Together with her ‘husband’, she was accused of “Breaking into the dwelling house of one John Smith of Stobba Lee, near Witton Gilbert . . . and cruelly beating the said John Smith and his wife, and stealing some money and goods thereout.”
Within a month, she was in court again, this time for shop lifting in Whitehaven. “Ann,” according to David, “was making major news as a leading character in a nationwide network of organised crime. A kind of gypsy mafia.”
Thereafter, Ann was in and out of detention. In total she went to nine different jails. She escaped four times. She was sentenced to be transported in 1794 and she was sentenced to be transported again, thirty years later, in 1824.
The complicated family history was finally pieced together with the aid of DNA tests. David was able to show that Ann Gregg under her various guises was one and the same person. She passed away on February 15th, 1848, at the age of 81 and was then living as Ann Hutchinson. In fact, according to David, she was not 81, but 92.
David tried to “find the burial plot where Ann lay, but unfortunately a fire in 2006 destroyed all records of burial plots. Ann had managed to elude me one last time.”
David’s is a long story, garnered from newspaper and court reports. She certainly seems to have been “one of Cumberland’s most determined felons”.
Who Was Ann Greg? is available from Bookends, 19 Castle Street, Carlisle, and 66 Main Street, Keswick, and from www.bookscumbria.com