POACHERS AND POLICE
In the summer of 1893 gangs of poachers were at work in the Sherborne and Yeovil areas and the local police were on alert. One suspected poacher, Frederick Moors of South Barrow had been seen in Sherborne on Friday evening 14 July, and his horse trap was parked in the yard of James Lyne’s house in Bristol Road. Lyne was a convicted poacher and the local constabulary suspected that something was in the air.
At about 5 o’clock the next morning, Sherborne constable, PC Payne, was patrolling the Bristol Road when in the early dawn light he saw a trap coming towards him at a fast pace. As it drew nearer the constable recognised Frederick Moors as the driver and James Lyne in the passenger seat but as he shouted ‘Halt’, Moors whipped the horse into a gallop and disappeared down the Bristol Road. However as the trap passed, PC Payne glimpsed a large sack bag in the back of the vehicle.
Five miles away at Yeovil Bridge, four police officers were also on poacher alert; PC Meech of Yetminster and PC Miller from Nether Compton were concealed behind hedges at the bottom of Babylon Hill and PC’s Marsh and Wise from Yeovil were on the Somerset side of the bridge.
At about 5.30 the officers saw a trap being driven quickly down Babylon Hill and as it approached the bridge, the driver and his passenger were recognised as Moors and the convicted poacher Lyne; a large bag could also be seen in the back of the trap. PC Miller ran out into the road with raised hands shouting for the driver to stop but Moors swerved the trap around him and urged the horse into a gallop. At this moment PC Meech rushed from his hiding place tried to seize the reins from the driver but missed and fell under the trap. The constable was knocked unconscious, dragged for several yards but as his body was freed from the trap, one of the wheels of the speeding vehicle ran over him.
The trap raced over Yeovil Bridge and PC’s Marsh and Wise were forced to jump for their lives as it drove furiously towards them and disappeared up the Sherborne Road to Yeovil. Despite their narrow escape, the two constables had time to glimpse a large bag in the back of the trap.
All this was witnessed by Thomas Score, the dairyman at Yeovil Bridge Farm, who was standing on the bridge at the time, and who would later corroborate in Court the statements of the policemen; he would also confirm that there was a large bag in the back of the trap.
PC Meech recovered consciousness but was badly hurt and bleeding heavily from a head wound. He was taken to Dr. Williams in Sherborne, and after treatment for severe lacerations to his back where the wheel had gone over him, a deep scalp wound and heavy bruising, the constable was taken home.
Later that Saturday, Frederick Moors and James Lyne were arrested and taken into custody. On 20 July the two men were brought before the Sherborne Magistrates charged with causing grievous bodily harm to PC Meech and assaulting the officer in the execution of his duty. The events of the Saturday morning were recalled by the prosecution who stated that the police officers had tried to arrest the prisoners on suspicion poaching. The four constables described their actions and those of the prisoners and Thomas Score recounted what he had witnessed as he stood on Yeovil Bridge. Yeovil solicitor, Mr. W. Marsh, defending, stated that before the police had the right to stop his clients, they must have good cause to suspect that they had come from land where they had been in search of game. The fact that James Lyne had once been convicted of poaching did not justify the attempts to stop his clients without proper authority and the police must take the consequences of their actions. His clients had been lawfully driving to Yeovil, the constables had suddenly jumped into the road, frightened the horse which broke its rein and ran away out of control accidentally knocking down PC Meech. Mr. Marsh therefore sought the dismissal of the charges. However the Magistrates committed the prisoners for trial but allowed bail at £25 each with two sureties of £25.
Frederick Moors and James Lyne appeared at the Dorset October Quarter Sessions but despite further pleas that there was no proof that they had been on a poaching expedition, the sack contained mushrooms, and the because the police had no authority to seek to arrest the two men, the injuries to PC Meech had been the result of an unlawful act on his part and therefore accidental, they were found guilty and sentenced to nine months hard labour.
PC Meech made a full recovery from his injuries.
‘A MOCK H BOMB ATTACK’
For those of us who grew up and lived through the Cold War Years, when the threat of nuclear holocaust was only too real, there could always be a fear working away in the far recesses of the mind that one day, one day ‘the balloon might go up.’
In September 1958, 150 Civil Defence Controllers, Heads of Sections and Volunteers from Chard, Crewkerne, Ilminster, Langport, Wincanton and Yeovil met in the Territorial Army Drill Hall in Southville to study the problems which a nuclear attack could cause.
‘Operation Sextus’ envisaged the explosion of an H-Bomb over a large city and the radio active fallout had severely contaminated the Yeovil area. The exercise divided into six syndicates and showed that although a great deal could be done to lessen the loss of life following a nuclear attack, the need for more volunteers to join the Civil Defence Corps was as great in peace as in war.
Many former National Servicemen will remember going on a couple of weeks’ civil defence course at Chorley in Lancashire just before they were demobbed; for some reason this did not apply to the Regulars.
When I was working in the Town Clerk’s Department of the old Yeovil Borough Council, I was standing in for a colleague who was clerk of the Council’s Civil Defence Committee, and went to Crewkerne with several Town Councillors for a private showing of The War Game . This was a documentary-style film depicting the effects of a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom and which for many years was not released for public showing as it was considered too graphic and not good for public morale. I must admit that it was pretty scary and a nightmare scenario because it could have been all too real if war had broken out. However, the film was finally released and broadcast on BBC 2 in July 1985.
Exercises such as ‘Sextus’ were regularly held in the following thirty or so years of the Cold War, but now the nation’s civil defence services as they were then organised have all but disappeared, and the local command bunker under the Ambulance Station on Reckleford was closed down over 20 years ago.
Walter Raymond (1852-1931), wrote may popular books and articles for over 30 years, but today, sadly, he is almost forgotten, even in his beloved Somerset.
For sixteen years, Walter Raymond rented a cottage in Withypool, which he named ‘Hazelgrove-Plucknut’ in the many articles he wrote about the Exmoor village for national newspapers and periodicals and in the two much-loved books published in the early years of the last century – The Book of Simple Delights and The Book of Crafts and Character.
The following extract from The Book of Simple Delights, first published in 1906 and which ran for at least four editions, describes the gathering of whortle berries or ‘wurts‘ on the moor above the village on a warm summer day. The village children have just started their summer holidays and with three youngsters the author sets out to harvest some ‘wurts‘.
‘For the whortleberries – “wurts“ they called them, and even “hurts” – were turning purple-ripe on the moor, and the holidays had begun. Those summer holidays, that began on no fixed date, but were a removable festival, changing according to the season, so that the children might gather the wild harvest of the moorland. There were little more than a score though they made enough noise for a hundred as they ran down the village street.
‘I have an affection for this moorland village street. It is so far away, so quaint so old world.
‘It runs along the hill-side, with little by-ways up the incline, so that the houses stand one behind and above the other. But the squat embattle tower of the old grey church rears higher than them all.
‘Before each cottage is a slanting garden. Ranks of peas and tall scarlet runners, laden at the time with flowers, as well as files of broad beans with black bulging pods left too long without picking, run parallel with the path of flat stones from the front door to the hatch. There are tall hollyhocks, groups of blue monks-hood, and here and there a fuchsia bush, bearing tiny red flowers less than an inch in length.
‘All sorts of creepers clamber over the white-washed fronts and geraniums blind the downstair windows. There is a clothes-line, too, from which, when the air is drying, household clouts and wonderful garments of many hues and sizes flutter gaily in the wind. The faggot pile and dark brown stack of turves stand close by. The smoke that rises out of the chimneys is blue and has no smuts.
Down the valley, merrily humming around rocks and boulders, leaps the silver river; and above the woods and the enclosed fields that skirt its course, both before and behind the village, lies the broad moor where the whortleberries grow.
It is quite a little industry, this picking of “wurts,“ though it lasts only about three weeks. No other fruit possesses so unexpected a flavour. None gives so fine a blend of with the scald-cream, which is one of the most admirable institutions of the neighbourhood. So there is invariably a great demand. And when the crop is small, why, the price goes so much higher. We must all go “a-wurting.“ If not for trade, as a sort of picnic.
‘To Norton Moor we went.
‘We began with a mile of lane. But a glorious lane between walled banks with sheltering beech hedgerows high above. On either hand were bright green ferns and tall purple foxgloves, to which great bumble-bees paid visits, buzzing from flower to flower all up the tapering stem, and silent only went they crept in to drink. Wild strawberries, with deep crimson fruit, sprang from the crevices and hung ripening above the mossy stones. Wild raspberries, too, on Lillipution canes, drawing an ancestry, it may be, from bird-carried seed of a more cultured stock, flourished in profusion,
‘Out of the shady lane, by a narrow pathway up the slope, where bracken grows waist-high after the old heather has been burnt off, we climbed to the ridge of the open breezy moor. Masses of purple heather and the paler-coloured ling were in full flower: and growing amongst them, and intermingled everywhere, was the little dark green myrtle-shaped myrtle-shaped leaf, that half conceals a berry almost the size of a black-currant and covered with a thicker bloom than the wild sloe. Honey-bees were humming on all sides, and butterflies went flitting by in the sun. Upon the brown hill-side of the next ridge, where wild ponies were dotted about and here and there broke the even line against the sky, was passing the dark shadow of an August thundercloud.’
The Western Gazette in its obituary to Walter Raymond on 10 April 1931, wrote that he was; ‘A national writer who wrote about Somerset because he knew and loved the county. He made his readers feel and see the places and people they loved so well. He has been described as the“Thomas Hardy of Somerset.“