Monthly Archives: February 2018
VILLAINS AND HEROES
On a Saturday night in April 1790 fire broke out at the Greyhound Inn on South Street destroying the cellar and several outhouses. A couple of days later, a second fire was discovered in some outbuildings but it was extinguished before it could spread to the Inn. When a third fire broke in the next door smithy, arson was suspected and 19 years-old Alexander Pearce, a servant at the Greyhound was arrested. He was put on trial at the Somerset Assizes, found guilty and hanged at Ilchester Gaol.
On the night of 16 November 1876, the East Coker policeman, Nathaniel Cox, was killed and his colleague Constable Henry Stacey, severely beaten in a fight with four poachers. Charles Baker of West Coker was arrested, but the other three from Hardington Mandeville, George Hutchings and his sons, Giles and Peter, went into hiding and were not arrested until January 1877. The following March they appeared at the Somerset Assizes charged with murder, but because it was impossible to establish who struck the fatal blow, the prisoners were sentenced to 24 years penal servitude for manslaughter. However, it was later testified that George Hutchings had not been involved and he was given a free pardon but died before he could be released. This is not the end of the story because twelve months later Giles Hutchings , who was reported as being a troublesome prisoner, escaped from a working party and stayed on the run for some three years. He was recaptured on the Isle of Wight where he had been living as a labourer and on one occasion had worked on building the new police station at Newport!
Now, for a couple of heroes. George Strong was an Odcombe man, the son of a Ham Hill stone mason, and was serving with the Coldstream Guards at the siege of Sebastopol during the Crimean War in September 1855. Under a heavy Russian bombardment, a live shell with its burning fuse hissing, crashed into the trench he was manning with several comrades but before it could explode, George picked up the hot live missile and threw it over the parapet where it burst harmlessly. For this act of selfless bravery which saved the lives of his comrades, George Strong was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Yeovil born Corporal James Knight, was serving with The Kings (Liverpool) Regiment on operations near Pretoria on 21 August 1900 during the South African Boer War, and was covering the rear of a small detachment which was in danger of being surrounded. Corporal Knight with four men fought off continuous Boer attacks for nearly an hour and when forced to give ground he withdrew carrying one of his wounded comrades for nearly two miles under heavy rifle fire. For this act of gallantry, Corporal Knight was awarded the Victoria Cross.
LOVELY WOMEN, FAIR BUT FALSE
George Brooke, described by the Western Flying Post as ‘A bill sticker, an old man well known in the town’, appeared before the Yeovil Town Magistrates on Friday 14 September 1866, charged with stealing the sum of six shillings and three pence (6s 3d) from Jane Kean.
Jane Kean told the Bench that on Wednesday 12 September, in company with George Brooke, she had gone into the Half Moon Public House in Silver Street, and called for two half quarterns of gin. She had taken a golden sovereign (£1) from her purse to pay for the drink which came to six pence, and the defendant had received the change of 19 shillings and 6 pence which he had put in the purse and given it back. Jane Kean stated that she had then gone into the parlour and sat down with the old bill sticker. Later, when she had looked into her purse, she found that 6s 3d was missing but had to admit that she was very tipsy at the time. In reply to George Brooke’s solicitor, Mr S Watts, Jane Kean also admitted that she could not remember whether or not she had invited the defendant to accompany her into the Half Moon, but she was certain that she had not given him her purse – he had taken it and put it in his pocket.
The next witness was the barmaid of the Half Moon, a Miss Cross, who stated that George Brooke and Jane Kean had come in together, and the woman had called for gin for which she had paid six pence. The couple had then gone into the parlour and shortly after Jane Kean called for two more half quarterns of gin for which she emptied her purse containing one sovereign onto the table. Miss Cross took the coin and returned with the gin and 19s 6d change in silver coins. She saw George Brooke put the coins into the purse and hand it to his lady companion. Later however, Miss Cross, who could see into the parlour from the bar, observed the bill sticker take the purse and put it into his pocket. He had then shaken the pocket, pulled out the purse and hand it back to Jane Kean. The barmaid told the Bench that she had become suspicious that something was not quite right, and when George Brooke made to leave she had told him to sit down, and she sent for the police. Miss Cross went on to say that Jane Kean had been drinking and did not seem to know what was going on.
Police Constable Everley told the Bench that he had been called to the Half Moon, and found the defendant and Jane Kean, who was drunk, sitting in the parlour. George Brooke was sober and when questioned denied having any change belonging to the woman. Despite this denial, the constable searched the defendant and found 6s 3d in silver coins in his pocket.
Mr Watts then addressed the magistrates on the defendant’s behalf. He admitted that his client had the woman’s money, but he had been holding it at her request. He could only account for the change being found in his pocket was because the purse had no fastening and some of the coins had fallen out by accident. Mr Watts stated that his client had a good character for honesty, and if the charge was proved against him he would lose his club benefit.
The Mayor, who was Chairman of the Town Magistrates, asked the defendant if he had been in Sherborne on the day in question and how much he had drunk?. In reply, George Brooke confirmed that he had, and stated that he had drunk two half pints of ‘half and half’. When he had arrived back in Yeovil he had seen Jane Kean who had called out to him ‘Come here my dear, and show me the way to the Half Moon.’ George Brooke told how he had taken the woman to the public house and had accepted her invitation to have some gin ‘provided she paid’. They had both gone in and Jane Kean, who was very tipsy had sat on his lap and twice fallen off. The defendant explained that when he handed back the purse after paying for the gin she had said – ‘Thee shall have it and I too.’ Every time he tried to leave Jane Kean had pulled him back and would not let him go.
After a short consultation with his fellow magistrates, the Mayor addressed George Brooke saying that this was one of those drunken cases which perplexed the Bench as to how they should deal with it. With the exception of being too fond of drink, the defendant had a good character, and it was because of this the Bench was inclined to be lenient. Believing that the money might have been accidentally emptied into his pocket, and what he had done was through drink and not with any felonious intention, the case was dismissed but at the same time George Brooke was cautioned to keep out of bad company, to give up drinking, and avoid ‘lovely women, fair but false’.