On the second Friday of October 1898 the dwelling house and shop of William Gillett, an elderly taxidermist, at 159 Lancaster Road South was broken into and 51 old coins, two watch guards, three rings, one compass, four revolvers, a cigar case and £14 12s cash were stolen. Gillett discovered the theft that evening after he had returned from drinking in the Fruiterers Arms on Tithebarn Street.
He told police that shortly before 7 o'clock that evening he had been visited by three youths who purchased an old revolver from him for 4s 6d, and suspicions were aroused that they may have had something to do with it.
Further enquiries revealed that two youths had been seen loitering in the area along with a lad named William Lovatt.
It was a couple of days before the police could trace Lovatt and when they did he was persuaded to give evidence regarding the crime.
The following week Walter Blackburn, 17, a butcher's assistant and Frederick Swindlehurst, 17, appeared at Preston Police Court charged with breaking and entering.
The evidence, according to William Lovett, was that the two accused had borrowed the money from him for the revolver.
After the purchase they had loitered about until they saw Gillett come out and then followed him to the public house, where they saw him enter the vault and sit down. Blackburn then borrowed another fourpence from Lovatt, with which Swindlehurst bought a skeleton key.
He then tried the key in Gillett's shop door and exclaimed: "It fits champion".
According to Lovatt, they then went back to the Fruiterers Arms to check the taxidermist was still there, after which they returned to the shop. Lovatt declined to enter despite being called soft by Swindlehurst.
The other two then going into the shop and returning ten minutes later, bringing with them the articles named and giving Lovatt the four revolvers, but all were broken.
The following day they purchased some bullets and Blackburn, who had the cash, treated the other two to some clothing, before they all headed to Bolton to visit Blackburn's cousin who was given the old coins.
They spent the next day in Manchester, and Blackburn who had the revolver and cartridges was full of bravado saying he would go to London and do a job, and if anyone got in his way he would shoot them.
At this point fearful of what the accused would get up to Lovatt had returned to Preston. The other two spending three days in London, before returning to Bolton, where Detective Moss was waiting to apprehend them.
Both the youths claimed that Lovatt had been the instigator of the crime having told them the old man had plenty of money stashed away and suggested that a foot long iron bar he had could be used to knock the old man on the head if he troubled them. Both prisoners were duly committed to the Preston Sessions for trial.
A week later at the Preston Sessions, before Mr. W. H. Worsley-Taylor the chairman, both accused pleaded guilty. Mr McKeand for the prosecution outlined the case and stressed that the revolver was intended to be used on Mr. Gillett if necessary.
Detective Moss then told the court that Blackburn was a bad character had previous convictions for robbery and bullying.
The chairman took a dim view of the youths reckless behaviour and informed Blackburn he would go gaol for six months, and Swindlehurst was told he would be locked away for three months.