Sir Thomas Hills was enjoying breakfast with his wife. The fire was burning well and for a day in late November 1796, the sky was clear - just a heavy frost on the ground.
He was reading the Times newspaper for the day earlier - it having been brought by the morning coach as it passed through Little Wells. They were both concerned about how Britain's Royal Navy was doing in the war against France and Spain. British troops were also in action - but, mainly in the West Indian Islands.
The Hills family had owned the Manor and it's enormous area of land for over four hundred years and had held the hereditary title of 'Sir' through the purchase of a Baronetcy in the days of King James the 1st. Not only was Sir Thomas the Squire of this enormous holding - which included a total of four villages - he was also the Seniort Magistrate extending into other areas around. Duties that he took very seriously.
Little Wells- was the main village - being on the road for travel between Dover and London. The other three villages in his ownership were - Wells on the Hill - 350 residents ; Lower Wells - 290 residents and Wells Magna. This was the largest village and being on the River Meade, had a larger population with it's fishermen - some 500 villagers in all. Little Wells had about 400 people.
Strangely, the Church at Little Wells housed the Vicar - Revd. Mark Dolton. The others also were Parishes in their own right and had small churches - but the Reverend conducted the Services for all four.
There was a reason for this - Sir Thomas' Father was no lover of the Church and had decided one vicar was enough to deal with. However, they were individual Parishes and therefore, each had it's own Parish Constable. For Wells on the Hill - Constable Hilton ; for Lower Wells - Constable Smith. They were both in their late forties and whilst willing, were not as active as they should have been.
Wells Magna was a different matter. Sir Thomas had picked a younger and more active man - and this was needed with the larger population and the smuggling carried out by the fishermen. Constable Henry Green was only 26 years of age and a big and powerful man. He knew that he had the support of the Squire and kept a strong watch over his area.
Sir Thomas himself, was only 25 years of age and had been married seven years. He and his wife had two healthy children - George, now 6 years and the little daughter, Emily - 4 years old. He was a great supporter of King George 3rd. - who had been on the Throne since 1760. However, the King had an ailment that affected his brain and was not always stable. He was fine at this time and his people thought highly of him - he was known as Farmer George.
Being from an aristocratic background , Sir Thomas had the right of entry to the King's Levees and would attend as often as he could. The Prince of Wales had established his own Court at Carlton House and a wise courtier made a point of calling on him as well.
Seeing that Thomas had finished , his wife rang the small silver bell and the Butler , Macleod came-in immediately. Time to get the day going.
Macleod had been with the family over twenty years and had a staff of 43 house servants - of different talents - to maintain the Manor. Many of the Estate farms were let out to tenant farmers - but, there were another 270 labourers on the Manor Farms that were directly employed.
'Sir' - announced Macleod - 'Constable Green has brought two prisoners for judgement'. This was fairly unusual - the Manor had one of the outbuildings converted to serve as a Courtroom and where longer trials could be heard. For shorter trials each village had a room next to the Constables' houses.
'What is the offence ?' Sir Thomas asked.
'I'm not sure Sir - however, the Constable has two of his Bailiffs to hold them'. 'Alright - have them put in the cell , and warn the Head Gamkeeper that two of his men should stand to help.'
Sir Thomas went out to speak to Constable Green and was shocked to hear that the two men had been drunk the previous evening and had attacked a passing foot traveller. They had killed him with a broken bottle.
Deaths were not a common happening and were outside the jurisdiction of a Magistrate. He would have to hold a hearing and then remand the two prisoners to the Fleet Prison in London. They would be tried in London and no doubt hanged. Attending to this took the remainder of the morning and a decision had to be ,made for the escort of the prisoners to London. He finally decided that a small waggon from the Manor would convey them and return the Constable and his Bailiffs the following day. They were given sufficient money for the night and he then signed the Commital documents made out by his clerk.
The remainder of the afternoon - after a light lunch - was spent with the High Steward going through financial matters. Everything was well and very little was owed by the tenantry.
One of the customs that he - and his wife, Alice - liked to follow when they were at the Manor was a late afternoon horseride. The Manor was surrounded with over 15 acres of the Home Park and this was specially set out to include the lovely countryside and views. However, like everything in their lives there was great formality. Lady Hills was accompanied by her Lady companion and three grooms followed the couple.
They were gently cantering down one of the rides when Sir Thomas saw a figure in the bushes some distance to the right - the side that the village of Little Wells stood. He gestured to his grooms and two of them rode around the figure to block escape.
When he was nearer, the figure stood and was recognised as young Matt Tiller - the new Petty Constable for the village.. 'Hello Matt - are you on duty?' asked the Squire. ' Well, yes Sir - in a manner of speaking. I heard that a party of men from the village were going to see if they could snare a deer on your estate - I thought I should come and have a look '
'Well done Matt - that's the action we need. Did you have any idea where they would go ?' 'No Sir - they were overheard talking about the forest area below the Home Park - but, I wasn't sure which side.'
This spurred Sir Thomas into action. 'Alice - you return to the Manor with Lady Violet - Mr. Ives - send one of the grooms as escort and alert the Chief Gamekeeper to take 20 men and come round in front of where we are now - that should cut-off their escape route.'
'Matt - get up behind me. Are you armed ?' 'Only my truncheon Sir'. Both of the grooms carried two pistols and the Squire had two heavy cavalry pistols in holsters either side of his saddle. Matt did not have a uniform - no policeman did - however, Sir Thomas liked to see them well dressed in blue coats and - from his own money - provided a single cross belt over the left shoulder.. This had a brass badge identifying the wearer as the Parish Constable of Little Wells. He was only the Petty - or, assistant to Mr. Stokes - however, there had been no time to have a new one made for him. The cross belt could also carry a sword on occasions when one was required.
They waited for 30 minutes to let the Gamekeepers get into position, They then spread out into a long line - well, as long as three men could and still see each other - and then set off slowly towards the edge of the forest. As they came out of a particularly thick area of brush, they spotted a number of men ahead of them - obviously 'beating ' the forest to disturb and make the animals run. Ahead of them they could see other men holding nets to catch anything running towards them.
One of the grooms had a hunting horn over his shoulder and was told to start the ' Alert'. At once the shrill notes broke the calm, the whole party ahead of them scattered and started running in the direction of the village. Too late ! The large party of mounted gamekeepers - spread in a line - started to close-in on them and they were herded together like sheep.
Matt was off the Squirte's horse like lightening and with truncheon drawn ran over to the men. He looked at them closely - to get an identification fixed in his mind - and then told them they were under arrest for poaching. This was a hanging offence and some of the prisoners started crying - and one screamed. Most of the others were tougher and stayed quiet.
Sir Thomas Hills - apart from being the Landowner - took charge as a Magistrate and he ordered that the men be closely guarded and brought before him in the Manor Court in one hour. He then returned to the Manor with his two grooms.
Matt, being a sworn constable, was actually senior to the gamekeepers - however, he recognised his own youth and lack of experience and assisted the keepers. Altogether there were eight grown men - three boys of about twelve years of age and four dogs of a hunting type. All were taken to the cells attached to the Manor Court and at the appointed time were taken-in to stand in front of Sir Thomas. Papers had been made out formally charging them with poaching on private land.
For a small Country Court - there were, of course, no Lawyers. The Magistrate's word would be final- although theoretically - they did have a right for an appeal. But these were uneducated people - most of whom could not even sign their names.
Matt - as the Constable - gave evidence of what he had heard and what he saw at the scene. The Head Gamekeeper also gave his evidence. Finally, each man was allowed to speak to the Court and try to explain his actions.
The Magistrate sat quietly when all had finished. He was not a hard man and did not want to invoke the death penalty - particularly since no game had been killed. Also youngsters were involved.
After some ten minutes - and whilst he made notes in his register - he sat-up and warned the prisoners to listen carefully.
Firstly, he allowed the three youngsters to be released - with a warning of much harsher punishment on any future occasion. He then dealt with the eight adults. Five were given two months detention with hard labour on the Estate farms. Two were ordered 24 lashes - they were obviously some of the organisers. The last was the leader - he was ordered to transportation for five years - let some other place have him. Finally the four dogs were ordered to be destroyed.
Matt was then called before Sir Thomas Hills and praised for his quick thinking and immediate action. After just two weeks in the new job , this was praise indeed.
Not unusually for a British November it was quite cold and there was a definite hint of rain.
Mathew Tiller was hurrying to get home before it was dark - at 4 p.m. in the afternoon
it was already twilight.
He was a young lad of 17 years - big for his age - standing nearly six feet tall and with a
solid build. This was unusual, for in 1796 there were many young people who did not go to bed well fed.
Matt, as his parents called him was lucky that his family ran the village grocery and supplies shop -
had done so for over fifty years. They were well known and respected in the area and known by
all of the local farmers from whom they bought their meat and other essentials.
Little Wells was a village in Kent, of some 400 residents - it's nearest large neighbour was the City of
Rochester. This had about 2000 people living in it - however, because it had a Cathedral it was
rated as a City.
The village was lucky to have it's own small Church and a resident Vicar - although he also looked
after the three adjoining villages. Having a Church also brought with it the luxury of a Parish Constable -
Mr. Stokes. He had held the position for over thirty years, taking it over from his Father. He was a
greatly respected figure in the Community - and a terror to the youngsters if he caught them stealing
fruit from the farmers.
The village was mostly people who worked in agriculture - perhaps having small holdings to raise
vegetables and pigs and chickens for local sale. Apart from the Tillers small grocery shop , there was
a candlemaker , a seamstress and a local livery stable - and , of course, a smithy. Run by two brothers
Tom and John Smith, they were always busy.
Apart from all of these, there was the local pub - 'The Wells Inn '. This was a source of more trouble
to Mr. Stokes then anything else in his Parish - and earn't more then a few mentions in the sermons
of the Reverend Dolton.
Running through the centre of the village was the main road from Dover to London. The stage coaches
and their passengers would stop to water the horses at the Inn - but spent overnight when they reached
Rochester. There was always at least one coach a day - and often special post chaises that carried
people who need to travel quickly. There were also the carriages of the gentry passing through.
Alongside the main road was the village common for Little Wells and a fairly large pond. This could be more
like a small lake - particularly in Winter with the extra rain. By Right of Charter the original families in the
village had the right to keep animals on the Common and to water them at the pond.
Matt hurried to get himself home before the rain came - he was worried - but, mostly about could he find
a job anywhere away from the Grocery. He just felt there should be more in life then humping sacks and
serving people he knew. London - or, Rochester were possibilities,but he didn't know anyone in either place
and was very nervous of up-setting his family.
One of his other worries was his sixteen year old friend Mary - whose family lived in the village. The only job
they could find for her was as a scullery maid at the Inn. She had told Matt how unhappy she was with the
coarse farm labourers trying to get her to go out with them. Whilst they were not going out, they liked
each other and he kept thinking how nice it would be if he had a wage and could buy her something.
CHAPTER 2 - A SURPRISE TO ALL
He was getting close to the village now and was passing the outer cottages. He would be passing the Inn to
get home and as he came in sight of it he could see a group of men struggling. Getting closer he could see
Mr. Stokes, the Constable, with three roughly dressed men - and losing the battle !
Matt started to run towards them to help Mr. Stokes when one of the men pulled the Constable's decorated
truncheon from his hand and struck him on the head. When they saw Matt running towards them and heard
him shouting for help - which brought people out of their cottages - they turned to run. However they
hadn't allowed for a stong seventeen year old and he just ran straight into them. Two fell over and he
grappled with the man that held the truncheon. He managed to hold the man's right arm to stop a blow and
as he struggled at least ten men of the village joined-in and held all three.
Now they had a dilemma - what to do with three prisoners - and also help the Constable who was unconcious
and bleeding badly from a head wound.
Matt had the right idea. He asked some of the older and more sensible women to wash Mr. Stokes wound and to bandage it to staunch the blood. He then suggested to the others that Mr. Stokes cottage had a special cell to
hold prisoners overnight. Matt first checked the Constable's pockets for keys and then they marched the
three men over to the cell.
Fortunately the keys workedand all three were locked in the single cell. They then returned and carried Mr.
Stokes to his cottage on an old door and put him to bed. Matt asked if someone could borrow a horse from
the livery and ride to Rochester to obtain help from the High Constable. One man - Jim Wade - an ostler at the Inn was soon on his way. It was at this point that his Mother - Mrs . Tiller arrived - having heard the story as it spread through
Having looked at Mr. Stokes, she said to let him rest - he was breathing normally. She then told her Son that
he would have to go to Rochester with the Constable, to give evidence. She had brought some bread and
cheese and gave him five shillings to be able to get back to Little Wells.
Finally, she said the Squire must be informed of this happening- something which Mr.Stokes would normally
do. She said his Father would go to the Manor House , which was about two miles away and beyond the Church.
Matt sat quietly keeping an eye on Mr. Stokes and also on the prisoners. After about five hours he heard horses
and shouting and they came straight to the door. The High Constable of Rochester - holding his official gilt
tipstaff with the Arms of Rochester - came into the small front room and asked what had happened. He was
followed by two Petty Constables, who carried decorated truncheons like Mr. Stokes.
Matt had the whole story sorted out in his mind and gave a clear account - the High Constable spoke to the
prisoners who confessed that they were deserters from the Army Barracks at Dover.
They were confined in a waggon and Matt had to accompany them. One of the village women said she would
stay with Mr. Stokes as they didn't think it a good idea to put him in a waggon. The High Constable said he
would send a Doctor from Rochester the next day.
The waggon didn't arrive in Rochester until the early hours and after locking the prisoners up in the small gaol
Matt was invited to stay with the Constable's family. He told Matt how very impressed he was with his handling
of the situation and said he would contact the Squire of Little Wells - Sir Thomas Hills.
The three men were brought before the local Magistrates and given seven years transportation to Australia.
They also rewarded Matt with ten shillings from funds for his bravery. He made his way home two days later to
find that he was the hero of the village - even the Vicar commended him from the pulpit.
This would have been the natural end to the matter - however, Sir Thomas Hills - who was also the Magistrate, asked to see Matt and Mr. Stokes, who had now recovered enough to be able to walk.
Mr. Stokes was used to going to the Manor on Parish business - however, this was Matt's first time and he was
very impressed. He wondered why one man and his wife and two children needed such a big home. However, Sir
Thomas held a title that could be passed down - and so, was an important person.
After giving all the details and Mr. Stokes telling how he had attempted to arrest the three men for stealing, Sir
Thomas asked the Constable if the village wasn't becoming a little too big for one person. The Constable
agreed and said at 53 old he couldn't chase them like he used to,
Sir Thomas said - ' I have just the solution - how would you like to have Matt as your Petty Constable ?'
So, Matt gained a wonderful job that would become his future career - and brave Parish Constable Stokes
gained an assistant. Matt was given the princeley sum of one pound a week ($1.6) and moved into the spare
bedroom at Mr. Stokes, since his wife had died five years earlier.
Watch for the exploits of these gallant two - and remember, all this took place over 216 years ago.
Firstly, this is a genre outside of the usual Blogs and entries to be found on Forums - it is an ongoing Novel.
I have had the idea for many years to write a series of Novels on our early British Police - starting in the late
18th Century and continuing to the start of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. This is a big undertaking and one
that I have put off. However, our new blog section is now doing well, Greg is writing regularly and is interesting
and Brian has a brilliant little series coming out twice a month - and very thought provoking they are.
My story will be fictional and will start in 1796 (216 years ago). THe young central figure - Matt Tiller, will go
through many adventures over coming years and we will follow his achievements and promotions.
This is a story with author's license - I have created my own characters and the villages and Manor Houses
that they will be living in and around. You will quickly realise that I have used the area around Kent near the
Medway and near to the Cathedral City of Rochester. By not using existing villages and areas it allows the story
to move in different directions. However, the historical context is as close to reality as it can be - with this distance in time.
I am allowing GMIC to have first viewership of the story - which - If I live long enough, will extend to some 15 chapters -
each a self contained short story. When finished I expect it will be published. I retain ownership and copyright and any
similarity to persons living or, dead is co-incidental.
I am aware that to people living outside of the UK some of the story and terms may not be immediately clear -
please do not hesitate to ask questions in the Comments section.