The Early Years

1830-1840: Sheep stealing was rife in the Shere district during the years 1830 to 1840. The parish constables were unable to cope and horses and sheep that disappeared in the south of the county of which most found their way to London. One of the gang's meeting places was The White Horse Inn, Shere and it was not uncommon to see a great deal of poached game on the premises as the men enjoyed themselves. They appeared immune from punishment but then two of the gang took to housebreaking at a large house at Wonersh.

A constable from Godalming believed to be Biddlecombe traced the men concerned to an inn in Sussex. Enlisting the help of local harvesters they came across the suspects and joked with them and somehow Biddlecombe persuaded them to allow him to handcuff them. Once handcuffed the men were arrested for breaking into Squire Spark's place, taken to Guildford where they were convicted.

In addition to the Shere mob there were gangs at Elstead and a team known as the Hut Men at Peper Harow which were broken up soon after the Surrey Constabulary was formed.9

Victorian Crimestoppers: In many parts of the country Felons Societies were established to offer rewards to catch criminals and such an association was formed in Guildford in 1808. The Stoke Protection Society offered rewards of £10 for a murderer, burglar, robber or arsonist; £5 for stealing, shoplifting and receiving stolen goods; a guinea for smaller crimes.10

Parish constables sometimes undertook duties for long periods as did James Stedman at Pirbright from 1812-1837. There were paid constables at Shere, Thomas Williams, with Peter Pearce at Shamley Green both supervised by Superintendent Biddlecombe of Godalming. There were also paid constables stationed at Farnham, Dorking, Chertsey, Chobham, Thorpe, Windlesham and Nutfield who in time joined the Surrey Constabulary - not that many survived very long within a disciplined service.

Inspector Donaldson, who was murdered in Haslemere, had served as Superintendent of police in Dorking before coming into the new police force.11 Donaldson maintained a log of his force's activities in an Occurrence Book; a commentary on its contents written by Chris Atkins is to be found in the Supplement.

A classic example of community "policing" came in 1742 at Ripley in the county when two highwaymen stopped a lone traveller who was allowed to go. He was outraged at being robbed and the audacity of the highwaymen and quickly rode into Ripley and raised the alarm. A posse was quickly assembled which soon found the robbers and chased them onto the village green where a cricket match was being played. One of the men escaped but the other was attacked on his horse by the cricketers with their bats and stumps, but before he was finally overpowered he shot one of the villagers dead.12

1834: Move away from believing all was milk and honey; these were dangerous times, so much so that a carrier from Bletchingly who was murdered at Banstead in 1834 was "in the habit of driving with one hand holding the reins, while holding a loaded pistol in the other, keeping another loaded pistol in reserve." And still he was murdered.

On the 25th March 1834 at just after 9 am Mr Richardson a carter started on his way from Bletchingly in east Surrey for Epsom market. After a few miles, at the Tadworth Gate toll-bar whilst paying his bill he pointed out to the keeper a man he had just passed on the road some two hundred yards away." See! Look! There he is!" Richardson explained that he did not like the appearance of the man, for while the wind was blowing he saw the shape of a horse pistol under his frock. "You keep your eye on him, for I am sure he is up to no good."

At 6.30 pm, business done, friendships renewed in the tavern, Mr Richardson left for home. Two hours later between eight and nine o'clock the town of Epsom and the surrounding villages were thrown into the greatest terror and alarm by the report that Mr Richardson had been found by the roadside murdered. A Mr West another carrier on approaching the junction of the Ewell and Banstead roads heard the report of two pistols and heard someone groaning. West, about two hundred yards away, got down from his cart and headed towards the groans seeing two men who altered their course on seeing him, towards Ewell. West then found Richardson, dead.

Mr West had a companion Bachelor, decided to immediately go after the two men who had gone off to Ewell but reconsidered as it would mean leaving their cart and its cargo. They went to a large house close by and grooms and ostlers rode off spreading the alarm across the countryside. Bell ringers on their way home, made aware of the incident recalled seeing two men of similar description running fast and out of breath from where Bachelor had seen them.

A further witness came forward. He had seen Mr Richardson just before he was killed and just after, saw two men in light coloured frocks that unnerved him so much he set off at a gallop. As he rode away he thought he heard the sound of two pistols but not being quite sure he rode on.

The following morning information about the murder was forwarded by the magistrates to the Home Secretary, who passed it to the chief magistrate, Sir Frederick Roe, of the Public Office, Bow Street. It should be remembered that at this time the Metropolitan Police had been formed for about five years and they were still reliant on the Bow Street Runners to investigate serious crime.

Henry Goddard a very experience Runner happened to be at Bow Street and the chief magistrate "immediately directed me to proceed without delay to the scene, telling me to use all energy and spare no expense to discover the murderers; and he added that as it is probable that in the course of the enquiry I would have to contend with desperate characters, I was not to forget to go armed with a brace of loaded pistols."13

Goddard went to Epsom where he met with one of the local magistrates at the offices of local solicitors who then accompanied him to the scene of the murder, following the track of the two men to Leatherhead where enquiries were made until long past 1 am." For several days and nights Goddard was making enquiries in surrounding towns and villages searching the low slums, the lodging houses, the "Tom and Jerry's" and other places resorted to by tramps and suspicious characters.

A suspect named Cheesley, a suspicious and desperate man from Merstham became prominent, known to wander around at night returning home as the labourers went out. When interviewed Cheesley was evasive and was arrested and handed to the custody of a constable (parish, unpaid). There was no evidence and he was released.

Sam Cottrell of Bethnal Green was arrested by one of the principal officers of Bow Street and brought for examination by the magistrates at Epsom. One of the bench proposed that the suspect should dress in a Billy-cock and short white frock so he might be seen by the witness Mr West and the bell ringers who failed to identify him. The man was discharged and his expenses met.14

The inquest was held at the Surrey Yeoman at Banstead where two women witnesses came forward with a gun they had found on the track the men had run along. The pistol was owned by the victim who was thought to have been robbed of up to thirty pounds. The inquest adjudged there had been a murder and it was revealed that Mr Richardson had not long before been instrumental in the capture of two notorious characters that were tried for highway robbery at the Surrey Assizes.

The trail went cold until ten days after the crime the magistrates received an anonymous letter stating that two brothers of notorious bad character John and Harry Childs of West Bedfont had changed their way of life since the murder. The writer was so convinced of their guilt that he promised to appear before the magistrates once the men were in custody. Goddard was tasked to apprehend the men and he asked for a warrant which was declined so off he went in a four wheel chaise and two local parish constables.

Harry Childs was soon found and asked if he knew of the murder of Mr Richardson and he agreed he did. When asked where he was on the night he said at home in the village. Goddard then intended to take Harry and his brother John who was close by voluntarily to the magistrates. The men explained they had a load for Covent Garden that would be wasted if they went to Epsom now but the following day they would be happy to go to Bow Street to which proposal Goddard agreed.

The following day the men were detained and interviewed but again there was no evidence to support the anonymous letters. The letter writer continued to allege involvement of the men and sent copies to the commissioners at Scotland Yard. A warrant was issued for the arrest of the brothers and entrusted to Inspectors Grossmith (a former Runner who had joined the police in the rank of sergeant) and Barfoot of the B Division of the Metropolitan Police for the purpose of being properly executed but the men had disappeared.15 Information came in and Inspector Marchant and Sergeant Reynolds of the Metropolitan Police went to West Bedfont and arrested both men taking them to Epsom.

At this time a rather strange turn of events. Inspectors Grossmith and Barfoot stated that on the afternoon of the 26 February the day after the murder as they were returning towards town from Reigate, within a mile and half of Bletchingly they saw two men in a lane which were considered suspicious enough to be spoken to. When they were informed of the murder the following day they were satisfied the men in the lane were the murderers and when the Child brothers were taken into custody they were considered to be the same men.16

After examination by the magistrates the men were remanded overnight whilst further enquiries were made into the answers given by the men. At 9 am the following morning as the court gathered the two police officers told the magistrates that upon enquiry they found the alibi given by the two men to be totally false. The Magistrates upon being satisfied the truth had not been revealed remanded the men for further examination on Saturday and they were taken to Horsemonger Lane Goal. It was in expectation that the writer of the anonymous letters would redeem his pledge and come forward.17

Upwards of thirty men were taken into custody and examined on suspicion of this murder with the whole of the expenses borne by three or four magistrates in the neighbourhood and the valuable assistance of the solicitors Messrs Everest and Harding was given free.

The Morning Advertiser newspaper of April 14 1834 reported on the examination of the Childs brothers before the magistrates and other gentlemen in the Commission of the Peace. Inspector Grossmith was asked what evidence he had to bring forth in support of the charge, and he replied that he had several witnesses in attendance that saw two suspicious looking persons resembling the prisoners near Epsom on the day of the murder. The toll collector was called and said he had never seen the prisoners before.

The prisoners were then allowed to mix with the crowd in the court and witnesses called to see if they could be identified which they were not. The defence solicitor said that in the agitation of the moment associated with their arrest his clients had given a wrong account. He had seven witnesses that would give a good account of the men's whereabouts on the day of the murder.

A blood stained smock was produced, owned by John Childs but he said he was hit upon the head with a staff and the blood flowed profusely on to the smock-frock and other clothes. The men were discharged without suspicion of being concerned in the murder even though a further anonymous letter had been received that morning and considered by the magistrate to be "mere waste paper".18 The men left with half a crown to cover their expenses to get home.

The perpetrator was not one of those arrested but another man who whilst waiting to be hung at Winchester on a burglary charge admitted the murder as a response to the victim's bold resistance to attempted highway robbery.19

This case explicitly places responsibility for the detection of crime with the magistrates who acted as "investigation magistrates" similar to the Napoleonic system of France where detectives act under the guidance of the legally trained magistrate. The costs of cases were considerable and met by the magistrates which in many cases no doubt influenced their course of action.

The high level of interest and the spread of knowledge of the murder from Banstead to Bedfont amongst probably non-newspaper readers is an indication that this type of random murder was unusual although the carrying of firearms does indicate a high level of threat of attack.

There was no forensic, no means of ascertaining if the blood on the smock was even human, no way of obtaining evidence from the abandoned gun or from the victim’s vehicle. The examination of the suspects was in an office and not a court and it does seem that they were not charged with murder which would most likely have been the next stage if the magistrates were convinced there was a case to answer.

There was no local means of investigation and immediately a Runner was deployed by the Home Office and later the Metropolitan Police became involved. The constables from Surrey were just parish men, possibly tradesmen, who were taking their turn at the job, and their involvement appears to have been very limited.

1835, 10 September: The Times: Daring burglary at Chipstead.

1836: Formation of a police force in Guildford of nine constables and a superintendent.

1839, 26 December: The Times. Nationally there were eighteen thousand committals for vagrancy per annum.

1850, 26 September: Murder of Reverend George Hollest. Burglars entered the house at night in Frimley and shot the vicar who later died. George Hollest fired at the fleeing burglars with a loaded pistol he always kept close at night as there was fear of burglars. As there was no local police force Inspector Biddlecombe was brought in from Godalming Borough Police to help the local magistrates. Men were arrested and two of the four were acquitted and two men hung in Southwark. This is an important crime and event as the outcry that followed led to the formation of the Surrey Constabulary.20

On the 9 October 1850: The Times reported the inquest where Sergeant Kendall of the London detective police said he was involved in the case but had arrived after Inspector (sic) Biddlecombe of the Godalming Police. Superintendent (sic) Biddlecombe gave evidence which included details of the crime and suspects. Inspector Charles Hollingworth of the Guildford Borough police arrested the suspects and it was reported that Inspector Kendall had noted bloodstained footprints in the doorway of the vicarage and, when searching the suspect’s premises bloodstained stockings were recovered.21 (Rank seems to be arbitrary!)

1850, 25 October: The Rural Police Committee met at Reigate on the 25 October 1850 taking evidence from Superintendent Biddlecombe and the Chief Constable of Hampshire. Biddlecombe covered an area of 28,940 acres with a population of ten thousand one hundred and twenty six with only one felony in his district over the last twelve months, stealing faggots to the value of sixpence. However he had been sent for to deal with twelve burglaries in surrounding districts in the last six months. There had been no cases of felony in Godalming itself during the last five years. Considering how long it would take to establish it is worthy to note at this date he put in a bid for plain clothes officers as detectives, but that is a long story and will be told in a further document.22

The Times reported that fifty Magistrates were present with Mr T. Puckle in the chair. Rural part of the county to have three divisions, Chertsey, Dorking and Godalming and the chief constable is to reside at Dorking- the most central point. It was proposed that the various lock-up premises be repaired and that station houses etc be erected, the estimated cost of which would not exceed £3,000 which could be raised upon the security of the police rate and paid with interest in twenty year instalments. The chief constable’s salary £300 pa plus £110 for horse and travelling expenses etc.; chief superintendent £170, five superintendents £450; eight inspectors £486.12s; seventy constables £3463.4s; allowances for clothing, etc. £1,227.11s giving £6,284.7s annual total to be levelled on the divisions as a rate of three pennies in the pound.

Savings: the conveyance of prisoners £240. The salaries of several Inspectors of Weights and Measures whose duties can be performed by the rural police £380; superintendents of lock-up houses £80. Payments to constables at Coroner’s inquests: £74; Parish, Special and private constables at least £1800 making £2,574. Balance £3,710.7s which will be much reduced after the force has been in operation for a short time.

"that the expense of maintaining them will be, it is believed, be little felt by the rural portion of the county, while the committee are convinced that the security afforded to it’s life and property will amply repay the expenditure incurred, and that their recommendations when carried into effect will prove of the utmost advantage to all classes of the community"

On the motion of Lord Lovaine the report was adopted and the election of the chief constable was appointed to take place on the first day of the Epiphany Sessions.

9 Durrant, A.J. (1951). A hundred years of the Surrey Constabulary, 1851-1951, pp. 1-2.

10 Durrant, A.J. (1951). A hundred years of the Surrey Constabulary, 1851-1951, p. 2.

11 Durrant, A.J. (1951). A hundred years of the Surrey Constabulary, 1851-1951, p. 3.

12 Barrendon, David (2001). Stand and Deliver, Sutton Publishing, p. 62.

13 Goddard, Henry (1953). Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner, Museum Press, p. 78.

14 Goddard, Henry (1953). Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner, Museum Press, p. 79.

15 Goddard, Henry (1953). Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner, Museum Press, p. 83.

16 Goddard, Henry (1953). Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner, Museum Press, p. 84.

17 Goddard, Henry (1953). Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner, Museum Press, p. 85.

18 Goddard, Henry (1953). Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner, Museum Press, p. 88.

19 Moss, Alan and Skinner, Keith (2006). The Scotland Yard Files, The National Archives, p. 60.

20 Janaway, John (1988). Surrey Murders, Countryside, ISBN-10: 1853060178, ISBN-13: 1853060178, p. 75.

21 Maxton, Caroline (2005). Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Guildsford, Wharncliffe Books, p. 71.

22 Durrant, A.J. (1951). A hundred years of the Surrey Constabulary, 1851-1951, p. 4.


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