IT was a unique request.

"May I ask a favour of your lordship? Will you allow me a candle tonight so I can sit up and study my case."

A rare moment of seriousness from John Evans - if that was his true name - as he invariably played to the gallery in mischief.

Though he had just cause for complaint at not knowing the case against him, his tomfoolery could not disguise he was a charlatan who had set himself up as an attorney in the village of Downton and duped a series of clients out of money.

Eventually his duplicity seemed to have caught up with him when arrested and tried at the Hampshire Lent Assizes for larceny.

Amazingly, he was acquitted but his euphoria was fleeting. As he stepped out of the dock to celebrate his freedom, he was immediately detained on a warrant for fraud and remanded to Fisherton Jail in Salisbury to await trial at the Wiltshire sessions a month later on March 19, 1838.

Daily Echo:

Evans of course knew the tricks of the trade and how to delay the proceedings, initially challenging by right the composition of the jury to which neither the judge, nor the prosecutor objected.

Then he protested at not receiving the papers in the case which bizarrely appeared to have been first delivered to the mayor of Romsey before finally reaching the court.

"My Lord, I was told by the jailer this morning that the papers were sent here."

Lord Denman said if that was the case he was unaware of it and beckoned the jailer, Mr Dowding, to come forward to clarify the situation.

"My Lord, I understood they were sent to the magistrates clerk's office but I now understand that a constable in court has them."

The judge said that according to notes he had received, depositions had been taken before the magistrates at the committal hearing.

Daily Echo:

Evans once more remonstrated.

"That's impossible. I have not been before the magistrates, nor has there any note been taken down. Will Your Lordship ask the prosecutor that question as it will be pretty justice to have depositions cut and dried like this."

A comment that drew laughter from the public gallery.

Denman gave leave for him to be furnished with a copy of the indictment but refused to let have the depositions as he feared it would materially affect the case before him.

Satisfied to a point, Evans made his plea for the candle. "At present, I am unaware of the real nature of the case against me."

However the jailer explained he could not be given one without an order from a visiting magistrate.

Daily Echo:

With several hours of daylight remaining, the judge announced he was adjourning proceedings until the following morning to give Evans adaqute sight of the indictment before realising he too did not have a copy, inquiring of the prosecutor: "Do you have one, Mr Slade? I don't."

Slade replied: "Neither do I," to which Evans quipped: "Perhaps you have got it in your pocket."

Denman glared down at him. "This is no occasion for you to be saucy, you will not profit by that."

Evans, taken aback by the admonishment, politely asked Slade for the indictment and a set of depositions.

Slade told him he would have to wait until they were made out, to which Evans jested: "This is a pretty cut and dried system," once more bringing gales of laughter from the gallery.

However, the following morning, the traditional sombre atmosphere prevailed as Evans pleaded not guilty to fraudulently obtaining 9s from Caroline Barter who lived at nearby Redlynch.

Jurors heard how Evans had been chatting with Downton teacher, Mr Reynolds, at a local cider shop when the master revealed he was owed money by several people and had given his book of debts to a local farmer as security.

Daily Echo:

Evans eagerly offered to collect the money on his behalf but though Reynolds refused to let him, he naturally ignored the request and conned the farmer into handing over the book on the grounds he was doing the teacher a favour.

Scrutinising the accounts, he saw Mrs Barter owed the teacher 9s and hoodwinked her into handing over the cash.

Realising the weight of evidence was mounting up against him, Evans used his troublesome wit to try and confuse the jury.

This time he failed and for once downcast, was told on conviction he would be transported to the colonies for seven years.