Thursday 4 July 1667
Up, and, in vain expecting Sir R. Ford’s calling on me, I took coach and to the Sessions-house, where I have a mind to hear Bazill Fielding’s case —[See May 9th, 1667]— tried; and so got up to the Bench, my Lord Chief-Justice Keeling being Judge. Here I stood bare, not challenging, though I might well enough, to be covered. But here were several fine trials; among others, several brought in for making it their trade to set houses on fire merely to get plunder; and all proved by the two little boys spoken of yesterday by Sir R. Ford, who did give so good account of particulars that I never heard children in my life. And I confess, though I was unsatisfied with the force given to such little boys, to take away men’s lives, yet, when I was told that my Lord Chief-Justice did declare that there was no law against taking the oath of children above twelve years old, and then heard from Sir R. Ford the good account which the boys had given of their understanding the nature and consequence of an oath, and now my own observation of the sobriety and readiness of their answers, further than of any man of any rank that come to give witness this day, though some men of years and learning, I was a little amazed, and fully satisfied that they ought to have as much credit as the rest. They proved against several, their consulting several times at a bawdy-house in Moore-Fields, called the Russia House, among many other rogueries, of setting houses on fire, that they might gather the goods that were flung into the streets; and it is worth considering how unsafe it is to have children play up and down this lewd town. For these two boys, one is my Lady Montagu’s (I know not what Lady Montagu) son, and the other of good condition, were playing in Moore-Fields, and one rogue, Gabriel Holmes, did come to them and teach them to drink, and then to bring him plate and clothes from their fathers’ houses, and carry him into their houses, and leaving open the doors for him, and at last were made of their conspiracy, and were at the very burning of this house in Aldersgate Street, on Easter Sunday at night last, and did gather up goods, as they had resolved before and this Gabriel Holmes did advise to have had two houses set on fire, one after another, that, while they were quenching of one, they might be burning another. And it is pretty that G. Holmes did tell his fellows, and these boys swore it, that he did set fire to a box of linen in the Sheriffe, Sir Joseph Shelden’s house, while he was attending the fire in Aldersgate Street, and the Sheriffe himself said that there was a fire in his house, in a box of linen, at the same time, but cannot conceive how this fellow should do it. The boys did swear against one of them, that he had made it his part to pull the plug out of the engine while it was a-playing; and it really was so. And goods they did carry away, and the manner of the setting the house on fire was, that Holmes did get to a cockpit; where, it seems, there was a publick cockpit, and set fire to the straw in it, and hath a fire-ball at the end of the straw, which did take fire, and so it prevailed, and burned the house; and, among other things they carried away, he took six of the cocks that were at the cockpit; and afterwards the boys told us how they had one dressed, by the same token it was so hard they could not eat it. But that which was most remarkable was the impudence of this Holmes, who hath been arraigned often, and still got away; and on this business was taken and broke loose just at Newgate Gate; and was last night luckily taken about Bow, who got loose, and run into the river, and hid himself in the rushes; and they pursued him with a dog, and the dog got him and held him till he was taken. But the impudence of this fellow was such, that he denied he ever saw the boys before, or ever knew the Russia House, or that the people knew him; and by and by the mistress of the Russia House was called in, being indicted, at the same time, about another thing; and she denied that the fellow was of her acquaintance, when it was pretty to see how the little boys did presently fall upon her, and ask her how she durst say so, when she was always with them when they met at her house, and particularly when she come in in her smock before a dozen of them, at which the Court laughed, and put the woman away. Well, this fellow Holmes was found guilty of the act of burning the house, and other things, that he stood indicted for. And then there were other good cases, as of a woman that come to serve a gentlewoman, and in three days run away, betimes in the morning, with a great deal of plate and rings, and other good things. It was time very well spent to be here. Here I saw how favourable the judge was to a young gentleman that struck one of the officers, for not making him room: told him he had endangered the loss of his hand, but that he hoped he had not struck him, and would suppose that he had not struck him. About that the Court rose, and I to dinner with my Lord Mayor and Sheriffs; where a good dinner and good discourse; the judge being there. There was also tried this morning Fielding, which I thought had been Bazilll — but it proved the other, and Bazill was killed; that killed his brother, who was found guilty of murder, and nobody pitied him. The judge seems to be a worthy man, and able: and do intend, for these rogues that burned this house to be hung in some conspicuous place in the town, for an example. After dinner to the Court again, where I heard some more causes, but with so much trouble because of the hot weather that I had no pleasure in it. Anon the Court rose, and I walked to Fleet streete for my belt at the beltmaker’s, and so home and to the office, wrote some letters, and then home to supper and to bed.