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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.

Jack Sweet
February 2018

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