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Matt Tiller becomes a Parish Constable - 1

Mervyn Mitton




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.


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
the village.

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.

Long gone - but, not forgotten.



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