Mistletoe rustling is, even today, rife at this time of year – but it was once much more common. The huge popularity of mistletoe from the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries gave it a rather higher financial value than it has today. In 2012 I posted a newspaper cutting about one theft, in 1887, and since then I’ve come across many dozens of others, from the 1860s onwards.
Here are a few examples – which may make a modern mistletoe rustler think twice…
Here’s the brief story of Edwin Buttery, mistletoe rustler of Boughton (the one in Nottinghamshire). He took his mistletoe from nearby Thoresby Park, then the seat of Earl Manvers (and now a hotel). Mistletoe thefts from country parks were a common phenomenon as, outside of the SW midlands, these were (and are) sometimes the only places mistletoe grows in abundance, usually on the lime trees and spreading to others. But what happened to Edwin? Well, here he is, in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on Dec 30th 1869 – granted rather expensive bail, to re-appear later…
And he’s back, on 11th January 1870, to be sentenced… to one month in prison with a hard labour!
Did this put a stop to it as the Chairman hoped? Well, no-one was caught with mistletoe in Thoresby Park for a few years, but in 1875 George and Hannah Green were caught taking on the challenge. George missed the first hearing on 2nd January 1875 as he was down the pub (probably trying to avoid the Earl, who was on the bench), so this too was adjourned…
On 14th January George and Hannah both turned up, but came armed with a defence counsel and tried to argue their way out of it on a technicality! This resulted in a fine of just £2 plus costs – a much better result than poor Edwin had just five years earlier.
There were many other similar cases in this period, and there’s no space here to add much more, but here’s one that I particularly like, this time from proper mistletoe country in Worcestershire and dated July 1902. Why July? Well the theft took place in December 1901 – but the defendant managed to slip away to America immediately afterwards (possibly worrying about a month’s hard labour if caught?). But on his return seven months later, possibly unaware of an arrest warrant, he is promptly arrested and tried! The bench (rather generously) dismissed the case, though not before the prosecutor asked whether he had fled to America ‘because of this horrible crime’. The value of mistletoe in this ‘horrible crime’ was 1 shilling (5 pence).
Worried about the risks to your freedom from mistletoe rustling?
Don’t fancy hard labour or running away to America?
Why rustle when you can grow your own?