When local man David Cooper Holmes retired and went back to researching his family history, he uncovered far more than he had bargained for.

John was found guilty and sentenced to be transported to Australia. This discovery started several years of deep research into Carlisle Archives and the National Archives in London, where an amazing story was uncovered.

David discovered that John Berry’s mother-in-law Ann Gregg was Cumberland’s most notorious female criminal of her time.

•She was born in 1756 and sentenced to death in 1777 for

stealing silk hand-

kerchiefs but the sentence was commuted to 3 years in prison.

David Cooper Holmes

David, the son of a local policeman, had already researched his father’s paternal line, going back through time in Cockermouth to the early 1700s. His family were builders and publicans, who at one time or another had the Black Lion on Main Street. as well as the Bowling Green, Cordwainers Arms and The Harp on St. Helen’s Street. He discovered his family’s long association with the Mechanics Band going back to his Great Great Grandfather and before that, his family were well-known expert bell ringers at All Saints’ Church. His research however, took a decidedly different turn, when he began researching his father’s maternal line.

David’s grandmother, Elizabeth Keenan, was born in 1900 on Waterloo Street. She was the daughter of Dannie Keenan and the granddaughter of John Keenan, who many older residents may remember as the founder of ‘Keenan’s Glass and China Merchants’ which existed in Cockermouth until the 1970s. The Keenan’s were also known as scrap metal dealers and for being horse owners. Research began to show a clear line of ancestors, through Elizabeth’s mother Annie Knowles and her mother Annie Berry back to Travellers and Gypsy’s.

Census records clearly showed the Berry family living in tents by the roadside, working as basket and besom makers. None of this was particularly unusual, until David discovered that his 4G Grandfather John Berry was arrested at Appleby Horse Fair in 1838 for stabbing his friend Robert Winter in a drunken brawl. Apparently, the fight started because Berry had called Winters family: “A hanged gibbety crew.”


•While in prison she escaped but gave herself up 3 weeks later.

•She was sentenced to be transported to Australia in 1793 and 1824 but managed to stay in England.

•She was incarcerated in 10 different prisons, including Cockermouth House of Correction.

•She escaped from gaol 4 times. •She was whipped at least twice.

•She was a member (if not a leader) of the gang of Faws, a Gypsy gang who were known

throughout •She had 14 known aliases’.

•She gave birth to at least 13 children, 4 were born in gaol.

•Along with her husband and 3 of their children,

they were sentenced to

transportation for stealing 17 geese at Broughton.

•Her husband died on a prison hulk in the Thames.

•Two daughters sentenced with her, had their sentence commuted and served in Milbank Penitentiary.

•Her sentence was commuted to be served in Carlisle gaol.

•Her son George was transported, served his time and led a good life in Australia, marrying and having 10 children.

•Her daughter Isabella was transported and started a brothel on board the ship.

•Her granddaughter Elizabeth was transported and tried to start a mutiny on ISSUE 431 | 23 MAY 2019 | 32 Cumberland,

Northumberland, Durham and the Scottish Borders.

the voyage.

•Her friend Violet Chambers was a local prostitute who liked to dress as a man.

•She was arrested in 1839 for having counterfeit coins by John Kent, Britain’s first black policeman. Found guilty, she served one year in gaol with hard labour at the age of 83.

The story just goes on and on.

David had discovered his ancestors amazing untold story and decided to record his findings for his grandchildren to read some day. He said: “I’m no writer or author, in fact I wasn’t particularly good at English at school but slowly, writing down all the information I had, it just naturally evolved into a book called Who was Ann Gregg.”

This fascinating book, written in David’s own personal style, follows the life of Ann Gregg, members of her close family, as well as the Berry’s and Hutchinson’s. It portrays the abject poverty and lifestyle they were born into, painting a vivid picture of life in Cumberland from the mid-1700s to mid- 1800s. The book explains in clear detail, how the story unfolded and how, with the modern use of DNA, everything was proven.

Who was Ann Gregg by David Cooper Holmes, priced £10.00, is published by P3 Publications in Carlisle,

ISBN 978-0-

9931835-8-4 and is available from all good local book shops, or by mail order from and other online retailers.

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