MARIA Elcock was frowning. What's that doing here, she thought. It certainly wasn't there when she dusted hours earlier.

There lying on the gallery stairs was a screwdriver. Little was she to know it had been taken from another violated rural church and casually discarded by the perpetrator who was hiding close by.

The tool had been stolen along with a pair of lamp snuffers and an arms plate from the parish church of All Saints in Botley which belonged to the wardens.

The break-in had been discovered by gardener Charles Silvester who had locked up the premises after tending the grounds the previous afternoon, but when he returned the following morning, he found the lower panes of a window which stood six feet above the ground had been shattered and the hole was large enough for someone to crawl through.

Investigating, he first discovered one item had been moved from the side of the church to the other and then saw the poor box, attached to a pillar, had been rifled and the contents were taken. Strangely, also missing was his personal screwdriver.

Some six weeks later, the burglar again smashed a window to gain entry to the district Church of St Peter's Curdridge, where he pocketed a prayer book but was unable to escape when Elcock, the sexton's wife, returned to finish her cleaning and was puzzled to find the screwdriver.

She called her husband who discovered the intruder in the church and detained him until police in the shape of Pc Walter Long who had cycled from the nearby hamlet of Shedfield, arrived.

Daily Echo: All Saints Church in Botley from an old FGO Stuart postcard.

The culprit was 22-year-old Henry Boyce.

His home was searched and the lamp snuffers were recovered but not the arms plate.

"We cannot find it," said Superintendent Mintram at the committal proceedings where the poorly educated Boyce faced two charges of sacrilege. "We have looked for it everywhere."

The officer said when he charged him with the burglaries, Boyce replied: "Yes, I know what you mean. I can't think what made me break into the church. I must have been drunk."

Mintram had been asked to speak up during the hearing as Boyce was so deaf he was permitted to leave the dock and sit at a desk adjacent to the clerk to comprehend the evidence.

Asked by Captain Bowell, RN, the sole magistrate sitting at Southampton police court, if he had anything to say in his defence, Boyce remained silent and was accordingly committed to stand trial at the Hampshire Winter Assizes.

He did not have to wait long, appearing a week later on January 17, 1882, where he was represented by Mr Romieu. Accepting the lawyer's advice, he pleaded guilty to both counts.

"I can only ask the court to deal leniently with him as there appears to be motive for the crime," the barrister urged. "He immediately confessed when charged, saying he did not know what prompted him to do it."

Mr Justice Bowen observed of the screw driver's recovery: "He seems to have left in one church the proceeds of another." Impishly, he asked: "But you don't suggest that sort of thing should be encouraged, do you?"

Romieu replied: "Certainly not but there appears to be no motive for the act."

The judge remarked: "I believe your point comes to this. You can't make out why he did it."

Romieu could only suggest: "He must have been seized with a sudden frenzy or perhaps it was drink."

Knowing it was very much the case of the latter and not the former, the judge quipped: "Perhaps it wasn't."

He then adjourned sentencing for 24 hours to consider his sentence before jailing Boyce for three months.