Disturbances at Chiddingfold Bonfire

1929, 5 November: Disturbances at Chiddingfold bonfire: Eric Boshier Superintendent retired.50 Contrary to modern myth the Riot Act was not read neither was the local sergeant Charles Brake thrown into the pond. (Father of two sons from the force Inspectors Colin and Ronald Brake.)

It was the winter of 1929 and I was the second clerk at Godalming divisional station under acting Sergeant Charlie Maskell. (The father of ACC John Maskell) That was the entire staff in the office; the same on all divisions. The lads at Chiddingfold had been giving trouble and Charlie Brake had been instructed to square them up.

He summoned several for various offences and the Justices did their bit by imposing heavy fines. The local magistrate Mr Jackson lived on The Green at Chiddingfold and he too was in bad odour. Feeling ran high in the village and that was the position as bonfire night drew near.

Chiddingfold had always prided itself in its very large bonfire and celebrations, and so when the fire was prematurely ignited at dead of night there was of course bitter feeling and naturally it suited most villagers to believe that Charlie Brake was responsible. Feelings against the sergeant mounted, it was a small village and as one would expect there were idle threats from the local lads including one of throwing him into the village pond on bonfire night.

This particular threat got to the ears of the powers that were and it was decided to give Charles a bodyguard on the 5th. Therefore half a dozen of the heftiest members were selected to go to Chiddingfold and so act. I was present when the selection was made and thinking there might be a little action to stir those very peaceful days and being off duty that evening I asked if I could make one for the bodyguard. After much debate the superintendent let me go on condition I went in my own time, wore uniform and paid my own fare.

The sergeant duly appeared on The Green and we were ordered to form a ring around him. The villagers also gathered round shouting and gesticulating. The "Yobs" got to the back of the crowd and lobbed bangers on to us. Bangers in those days were something to be remembered; the situation got a little dangerous and it was certainly very frustrating not being allowed to do anything about it.

After a short while we were instructed to escort the sergeant back to his home in Woodside Road. We went via the pond but there was no attempt to deposit Charlie therein. Quite a large crowd followed and gathered outside the house with us the gallant half dozen scattered amongst them. There was much shouting and there were insistent demands that the sergeant should be moved away from Chiddingfold. The crowd was first asked then ordered to go home.

At that point the "Yobs" came into their own again and threw bricks and stones from behind the crowd breaking several pains of glass in the house. At last we received the order to draw batons and charge; the Light Brigade had nothing on us. For a time we did well and got the crowd moving, just by (so far as I was concerned) prodding away with the end of the baton.

But sad to relate one elderly villager decided he would go no further as he had done nothing wrong. Others followed his example and in no time we were back to square one. The demands were renewed and became more and more insistent and finally a promise was made that the sergeant would be moved if everyone went home. With that the peace was restored and the crowd dispersed.

Charlie moved a few months later. The bother was much blown up by the daily papers; things were otherwise quiet at the time. There were published interviews with local people and there was paper talk of further trouble the following weekend when a substitute bonfire was to be fired.

The tension was built up and the powers decided to be well and truly ready for anything. To that end two motor coach loads of policemen were sent from across the county and the deputy chief constable took charge. He took with him the county magistrate living in Guildford Mr. Short, and he was prepared to read the Riot Act if required. It was all quiet and so ended the Chiddingfold Riots.

Inspector Ron Brake:51 The sergeant referred to was my father Police Sergeant 3 Charles E Brake (ex inspector). My brothers Chris, Colin (ex superintendent) and I were only boys at the time.

The bonfire was set alight the night before Guy Fawkes Night but the villagers in their wrath stacked up a thousand wood faggots brought next day from a local farm by horse and cart and a new bonfire was complete before dark. Serious trouble was foreseen from the Chiddingfold and surrounding villages and police reinforcements were hurriedly drafted into the area the like of which has never been before or since in the village.

My mother nailed a piece of wood to the letter box of the front door so fireworks could not be put through and set fire to the house. Granite stones the size of cricket balls were hurled through the upstairs and downstairs windows.

When the bonfire had been prepared a pedal cycle together with a full size effigy with complete uniform of a police sergeant was carried up ladders and secured to the top of the bonfire. It was eventually fired with the whole area of the village green massed with people throwing fireworks and shouting abuse at the police. Charlie's effigy was well and truly burnt at the stake.

It was many years later when a sergeant at Guildford did I hear that a local poacher caught and charged by Charles revealed on his death bed that he had been responsible for setting light to the Chiddingfold bonfire and spread the word that my father was the fire bug.

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51 Off Beat, March 1977.

52 Off Beat, March 1977.

 

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