William Booth was born at Hall End Farm, near Beaudesert, Warwickshire, on 21 February 1776 and was hanged 12 August 1812, aged 33.
He was one of eight children of a farmer and church warden, John Booth, and his wife Mary.
He was a farmer but he is better known for being a forger and for being "Twice Tried, Twice Hung, Twice Buried"
On 28 February 1799, Booth signed a 25-year lease for what became known, by 1821 if not earlier, as ‘Booth’s Farm’. This included a farmhouse and 200 acres of land, being part of the near by Perry Hall estate.
At his first trial he was accused of murdering his brother John while revisiting Hall End on 19 February 1808, but was acquitted for lack of evidence. The judge had acquitted William Booth, who had a reputation for kindness toward his neighbors and the poor, observing that it is better for 20 men to escape who are guilty than for one innocent man to be hanged.
His second trial was for forgery. He had converted the top floor of the farmhouse into a workshop where he produced forgeries of coins and banknotes. A servant of his, Job Jones, was arrested in February 1812 for passing a counterfeit Bank of England note and "being in possession of 47 other similar forged notes." Suspicion fell on Booth. Knowing the fortress-like construction of his farmhouse, the Staffordshire constabulary swore in ten specials and enlisted seven dragoons from Birmingham to storm the building. After some resistance, entry was gained through a garret window, disclosing a large quantity of machinery for forging coins as well as a printing press for producing high quality paper currency.
Five months later at Stafford Assizes, 31 July - 1 August 1812, in a speedy trail, the peaceful forger was condemned to death. His accomplices were then transported to Australian penal colonies.Thousands of people gathered before the Stafford gaol, 15 August 1812, to watch the big and well liked 'farmer', arms pinioned to his side, climb the scaffold under a tree and suffer innumerable prayers. Capped, but haltered improperly, the condemned man fell through the trap eight or ten feet from the platform to the ground. Bruised but uncomplianing, the heavy-set William Booth climbed back up the scaffold and inquired solicitously whether the chaplain had been hurt in the incident.Within two hours, he was hung again and died. This time he was successfully hurled into the hereafter
He was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church, Handsworth. Following a change of county boundary between Staffordshire and Warwickshire Booth's remains were dug up and re-buried in the right county.
Thus he gained the notoriety of being "Twice Tried, Twice Hung, Twice Buried" which was popularised by a song by John Raven.
Relatives had loaded the body on a cart to take him to St. Mary's Parish Church in Birmingham for burial. On the way the coffin slipped off into the shallow waters of the Tames River giving rise to the legend that it took two hangings and a drowning to finish him.
The inscription on his gravestone reads:
"Sacred to the memory of William Booth
who departed this life
August 12th 1812 aged 33 years.
Also Charlotte daughter of William and Mary Booth
who died August 13th 5 months."
William Booth experienced the distinction of being the last person in England to be hanged for a non-capital crime. Such furor was raised throughout the nation over the harsh sentence of death for the popular counterfeiter's activities that the issue of capital punishment was hotly debated in parliament. As a result the law was changed. "After-all, a friend lamented, 'the poor chap was only trying to make a dishonest living.' "
Booth had also minted genuine tokens as a cover for his forging activities. Where did William Booth secure the complicated machinery to make forged coins? Examples of his work can be seen in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Interestingly, Matthew Boulton (1729-1809), the honored industrialist who helped make Watt's steam-engines a commercial success, struck cions at his Soho plant, near Birmingham, for the Sierra Leone and East India companies, Russia, and in 1799, a new copper coinage for Great Britain. The Booth and Boulton families attended the same church, St. Mary's during the 1790's and 1800's. Dr John N Booth asks, did Boulton's legitimate occupation, successes and possible acquantanceship, inspire William Booth's illegitimate operations and give him access to the necessary machinery? Was the forger, himself, the engraver of the dies? Is so, with higher motivation, he might have become one of the master silversmiths and coin designers of the time rather than the greatest forger in English history.
The song by J Raven went:
At West Brom's Hare and Hounds, they say, William Booth his men did meet, In counterfeit and forgery pay, To the Walsall bank's defeat, me lads, To the Walsall bank's defeat. Cho: Twice tried, twice hung, twice buried, was Booth of Perry Barr. (2x) His brother's life and a peddler's too Some swore he took away, Then tried he was for a murder new, But the evidence held no sway, me lads, But the evidence held no sway. Dragoons full seven and specials ten, Rode to the Hare and Hounds, Where Booth with forgeries was ta'en, And carried from the grounds, me lads, And carried from the grounds. At Stafford court he was arraigned And there condemned on high, The noose around his neck was ranged, But Booth refused to die, me lads, But Booth refused to die. Revived and hung just two hours gone, Booth to his grave was ta'en. Oh! There to lie but for a while, Till the boundary line was changed, me lads, Till the boundary line was changed.
Sing the verses to the tune of The Greenland Whale Fishery. Sing the chorus to the tune of MacPhersons lament.
The song had come to light in 1956 when Mr. Derek Cherrington discovered a hoard of coins in the garden fo his Birmingham, Perry Barr, home and took them to Birmingham Museum. The remaining coin is in Mr. Cherrington's possession
The farmhouse was demolished in 1974, and the farm became a sand and gravel quarry, having given its name to the still-extant Booths Lane and Booths Farm Road. Until the late 1920s, it was occupied by the Foden Family, commemorated in Foden Road. In 2012, as part of the Booths Road development agreement, the farmhouse has been unearthed. The ground plan has been exposed and the footing of the building will be re pointed by experts in the field with original materials. It is intended the site will be part of an open corridor between the Queslett Nature Reserve and the near by Perry Barr Nature reserve and Turnbury Park.
BOOTHS IN HISTORY by Dr. John N. Booth