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
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
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
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
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
'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
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
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.