You are in [Events] [Police Murders 1876]

Summary:

On Monday 11 Dec 1876, a gruesome double murder of two police officers, an inspector and a constable, took place near Folly Crossing, just north of Eddington.

The event shocked the whole area. Two small iron crosses still exist to remind us of the event which caused such public concern that several special editions of the Newbury Weekly News were published.

- The murdered policemen were Inspector Joseph Drewitt and PC Thomas Shorter.

- They were found near Folly Crossing shortly after 10.00pm by PC William Golby and PC Charles Brown.

- Early the next morning, four men were arrested - William Day, his son-in-law William Tidbury, and William's brothers Henry and Francis Tidbury, all of Eddington.

- All four were tried at Reading Assizes in February 1877.

- The jury found Henry and Francis Tidbury guilty of murder.

- The two men were hanged at Reading Jail on 12 Mar 1877.

- Public subscription provided some funds for the families of the two murdered policemen, but PC Shorter had served under three years with the force, and his widow was not entitled to any official gratuity.

- Two Memorial Crosses were erected in the 1920s at the site of the murders. They were last replaced in 2004.

"Murder Most South":

In the autumn of 2015, BBC South Today ran a four-part mini-series entitled "Murder Most South". Their 4 minute film on the Hungerford Police Murders was shown on 26 Oct 2015:

Presenter David Allard, BBC South Today; local historian Hugh Pihlens; Berkshire Record Office Mark Stevens; cameraman and sound recordist Trevor Adamson. Filmed 29 Sep 2015.

Photo Gallery:

Folly Crossing
Folly Crossing Folly Crossing
PC Tom Shorter
PC Tom Shorter PC Tom Shorter
PC Golby
PC Golby PC Golby
Tidburys in han...
Tidburys in handcuffs Tidburys in handcuffs
Insp Drewitt
Insp Drewitt Insp Drewitt
JD Memorial
JD Memorial JD Memorial
TS Memorial
TS Memorial TS Memorial
murder in berks...
murder in berkshire murder in berkshire

The gallery includes:

- Inspector Joseph Drewitt

- PC Tom Shorter

- The memorial cross to Inspector Joseph Drewitt.

- The memorial cross to PC Tom Shorter

- PC Golby

- Folly Crossroads, scene of the crimes

- "Henry and Francis Tidbury in handcuffs". This photo has always been described as showing Henry and Francis Tidbury in handcuffs. However, there is now some doubt. Richard Godfrey of Newbury pointed out (Oct 2015) that in "One Hundred Years of Berkshire Constabulary, 1856-1956" the photo is captioned "In Custody", and appears to be associated with a later murder of PC John Charlton in 1899. The quality and style of the photo fits better with 1899 than 1876.

- Ballad commemorating the murders of Inspector Drewitt and Constable Shorter

How the NWN reported the murders:

Successive adjournments in the inquiries conducted by the coroner and the magistrates were made from time to time, and special editions containing reports were issued each day of the trial at Berkshire Assizes and finally on the day of the execution in Reading Jail.

From this calamity, the Newbury Weekly News seized its opportunity and the energetic action taken resulted in the circulation advancing by 1000 a week so that at the close of 1878, the sale of the paper stood at 4000 weekly. It became established in districts where previously it had not obtained a strong hold.

A contemporary newspaper commented in its report on the execution of the murderers, "Rarely does it fall to the lot of a journalist to present such an array of sickening horrors."

'Any murders lately?' is a casual remark frequently made to a reporter, but the particular gruesome facts of the Hungerford murders must have been among the least welcome assignments the Newbury Weekly News staff of 1876 covered.

What happened?

It was on the evening of Monday 11 Dec 1876, that Inspector Joseph Drewitt (42), the Office in Charge of Hungerford Police Station, set out from Hungerfrod town on foot, with the intention of making a conference point with one of the out station officers, the village constable of Great Shefford, PC Thomas Shorter. The rendezvous point was to have been at a turnpike crossing known as Folly Cross-roads, less than a mile north of the town. Whether they made their 'point' was never known. The night was dark - the moon was well into its 3rd quarter, with a new moon due on 15 Dec.

The inspector was due to meet another of the Hungerford officers, PC William Golby, afterwards at another point on the outskirts of the town near the Bear Hotel. Shortly after 10pm PC Golby started out from Hungerford Police Station on his uneventful patrol of the deserted, ill-lit streets on that bleak winter night and reached the meeting-point at The Bear Hotel, but the inspector did not arrive.

There was nothing very alarming about that for game preserves abounded and poaching went hand-in-hand with the poverty of those days.

When it began to appear that the inspector had indeed been delayed, PC Golby started to walk in the direction from which he expected the Inspector to appear. He walked to Eddington, and went through the turnpike gate at the foot of the hill leading northwards. High wooded banks on either side surmounted by massive overhanging oaks added to the darkness, but although the constable wondered a little at the non-appearance of his chief he little dreamt of the danger that lurked so close.

At the top of the hill, the trees were less dense and PC Golby was still some 20 paces away when he first saw a figure sprawled across the centre of the roadway.

The prostrate form was not what he had at first thought, that of a drunken man, but that of his colleague, PC Shorter. The face and head had been battered by frenzied blows, and his face was almost beyond recognition.

Running back to the turnpike gatehouse. PC Golby roused the gatekeeper, William Hedges, and his wife. He issued orders to the trembling couple for observation to be kept on the gate and then hastened back to the town for help. A messenger was sent to Supt. Bennett at Newbury and arrangements were made for the body of PC Shorter to be moved from the road.

At around midnight, PC Golby, who had by this time been joined by PC Charles Brown from Kintbury, returned up the Wantage Road with a horse and cart. They removed the body of PC Shorter to the coach house of the John of Gaunt Inn in Bridge Street.

They returned then back to the Folly Crossing, increasingly concerned for the welfare of Inspector Drewitt. At the crossroads they parted, Golby taking the lane to the left leading to Chilton Foliat (known as Gypsy Lane or Beggar's Lane), and Brown the one to Denford (known as Denford Lane).

Almost immediately, PC Golby heard a shout from PC Brown, who had found Inspector Drewitt's body lying on the grass verge some 20-30 yards down the lane. His face had been severely battered, and he had been shot in the neck at very close range by a shot gun. Like his unfortunate subordinate, Insp. Drewitt had never drawn his truncheon and again there was no sign of a struggle. This second gruesome discovery was made at around 3.00am.

The body of Inspector Drewitt was also taken to the coach house at the John of Gaunt Inn. Under the body was found a man's cap.

An urgent message was sent to Supt. George Bennett in Newbury, who was roused at 4.40am. By 5.00am he was on his way to Hungerford to lead the investigation. Along with two other officers he drove his pony and trap at full speed to Hungerford.

Working in the darkness of that December morning, by which time rain was falling, they were armed with the solitary clue of the mud-stained cap.

Their investigation began with a check with the Eddington Toll Gate Keeper, who revealed that two men had been seen, William Day (39) and his son-in-law William Tidbury (24), both of whom lived in one row of cottages in Eddington.

The arrests:

Soon after 7.00am the police arrived at William Day's cottage, where he was just finishing his breakfast. He was immediately charged and taken to Hungerford police station. Shortly after he was joined by his son-in-law William Tidbury, and William's two brothers, Henry and Francis Tidbury. All four men were under lock and key by 9.00am.

Two chief constables, those of Berkshire and Wiltshire, assisted in the subsequent enquiries.

The men arrested were all notorious poachers. The three Tidbury brothers were all in regular employment at the local Cottrell's Iron Works. Day was described as being employed in ferreting. 

The evidence:

The evidence upon which they were detained might not have been held sufficient nowadays, but the police felt confident that the murderers were among the four men arrested.

Superintendent Bennett appears to have been a competent officer, and he set about gathering evidence.

  • Footprints were found in the soft soil near the scene of the crime, and he arranged with a moulder from the local foundry to make wax impressions of the footprints. They compared well with the prisoners' footwear, with the exception of William Tidbury's boots. It seems that all the prisoners' boots were very distinctive, presumably as in those days the working class man carried out boot repairs himself in the majority of cases.
  • Blood was found on some of the prisoners' clothing, but it was never fully established whether the blood was human or animal.
  • Gun stocks and barrels were found concealed in the open, near to where the prisoners lived, and one of the stocks was bloodstained.
  • Shot taken from Inspector Drewitt's wounds appeared to compare favourably with other shot found in Day's house. The cap found under Inspector Drewitt's body was positively identified by a witness as belonging to Henry Tidbury.
  • A ferret line that had been found close to PC Shorter's body was subsequently identified as belonging to Day.
  • A broken hammer from a shot gun was also found near PC Shorter's body,and a tobacco box and trigger plate was found close to where Inspector Drewitt had been killed. The trigger plate fitted one of the gun stocks that were recovered by the police, from their place of concealment near the prisoners' homes.

The inquest:

The coroner's inquest opened at 2.00pm the following day (Tues 12 Dec) at the John o'Gaunt Inn.

The jury were taken to view the bodies of the murdered officers, who were lying side by side on straw in the Coach House, in the same condition they had been found the previous night.

It appears that general evidence of identification was given, and the inquest was then adjourned to the 16 December, at the Corn Exchange, clearly a much larger venue.

Hungerford's whole populace was in mourning, and very angry scenes were witnessed when the accused appeared locally.

Although there was cell accommodation at Hungerford Police Station, it was decided that as the Inspector's widow and family lived at the station house, it would cause them too much distress to have the prisoners sharing the same roof.Two were sent to reading, and two to the cells at newbury Police Station.

The prisoners were brought back to Hungerford for the adjourned inquest on 16 Dec by train. On their arrival, they were met by a large hostile crowd - so large it practically brought the town to a standstill. When the doors of the Corn Exchange were opened, there was an almighty rush for seats.

Evidence was taken from Dr Harry Major, who had examined the bodies. Both deaths were the result of the gun shot wounds. Over 40 shots were removed from Inspector Drewitt's wound, and others were found lodged in his coat.

PC Isaacs of the Wiltshire Force gave evidence that he had been with Inspector Drewitt from 9.30 to 10.10pm on the night in question, and that they had parted at the Bear Hotel, the Inspector saying that he was heading for Denford Cross Bar (presumably another name for the Eddington Turnpike Gate). PC Isaacs said he heard the sound of a shot some 20 minutes later, coming from the general direction of where the incident occurred.

Evidence was also given by PC Brown, who also heard the sound of a gun coming from the general direction of the murder scene. He also gave evidence of finding the cap under the Inspector's body.

Various other witnesses were called, and gave evidence of finding exhibits, seeing the accused, etc.

Superintendent Bennett gave evidence of the arrest and various other facts. It is interesting to note that he informed the court that on the first Sunday morning, thhe visited the prisoners in the Newbury cells and read to them from the bible.

None of the four prisoners appears to have had legal representation during these proceedings.

After hearing all the evidence, the jury retired. When they returned, they stated that the deceased had been wilfully murdered, but although the prisoners were implicated, they declined to say that they wre the murderers. This verdict could not be received, and the jury retired again, later giving a verdict of wilful murder against all four of the accused. The jury commended the actions of PC Golby and a subscription was commenced for him for his good tact and efficiency on the night of the murders.

The prisoners were returned to the cells at Newbury and Reading, followed to the railway station by an angry mob.

A large subscription was started in aid of the widows and families of the murdered officers. The Newbury Weekly News advertised this collection, and gave a detailed list of all subscribers and the amount each had donated.

The committal proceedings subsequently took place before the Hungerford Bench on Friday 12 Jan 1877. All four prisoners were committee for trial to the Berkshire Assizes.

More about the Day and Tidbury families:

The only William Day in the 1871 census (a labourer) was living in a cottage in Back Lane, Hungerford Newtown. In the 1871 census he was aged 31, living with his wife Maria (31) and their daughter Annie (11). By 1876, this William Day would have been 36. We do not know where he was living in 1876.

In the 1871 census, the Tidbury family were living in the first cottage (probably the easternmost one) in "Leverton Road", now Upper Eddington: William (45), a farm labourer, his wife Hannah (46), and their children William (18) a farm labourer, Francis (13) a farm labourer, Annie (9), Joseph (7), and Emily (4).

The only Henry Tidbury was a "farm servant" at North Hidden Farm, aged 21 in 1871. It seems that Henry Tidbury had moved from North Hidden between 1871 and 1876 to be back with his family in "Leverton Road", Eddington. It is reported that the brothers Henry and Francis Tidbury were both employed at the local iron works, probably Cottrell's Iron Works, which had opened c1869.

By the 1881 census, five years after the event, it seems that William and Maria Day had moved away from the area. William and Hannah Tidbury were in the same cottage in Leverton Road, but their only remaining family at home was their daughter Annie, by then aged 20.

The funerals:

On the day of the funeral of the two policemen, later in December 1876, over sixty Police Officers attended, and the two coffins were carried on the shoulders of the Police Bearer parties from the Police Station in Park Street to the churchyard at St Saviour's, close to the scene of the murders. The town of Hungerford went into mourning. Shops were shut and everywhere blinds were drawn. The graves of the two men can still be seen in the Eddington churchyard.

The trial:

The four accused men were committed for trial to Reading Assizes in 19 Feb 1877 before Mr Justice Lindley.

It is interesting to note that at the start of the trial, two jurors asked the Judge to be excused jury service. Mr Rolfe, who was eventually to become the Foreman of the Jury, stated that he had some pressing engagements, and Mr Roberts, the railway manager at Reading, stated that several special trains were running, and his absence would be dangerous to the public. The Judge stated that he could make no exceptions, and they would both have to sit on the jury.

A large squad of officers under the command of Superintendent Iremonger of Maidenhead was given the job of controlling the large crowd that beseiged the court. Admission was by ticket only, and apart from the public galleries, areas were specially reserved for the County notables.

All the accused pleaded "not guilty". The prosecution was conducted by Mr JO Grifiths, QC and Mr HD Greene. Mr Montague William acted for William Day and William Tidbury, and Mr TBaker Smith, who was understood to have unsolicitedly offered his services, appeared for the prisoners Henry Tidbury and Francis George Tidbury.

The charge of wilful murder of PC Shorter was put to the accursed. All pleaded "not guilty".

Mr Griffiths' opening address to the court lasted for just over an hour. In total 39 witnesses were called by the prosecution. Most of the evidence was circumstantial. However, Sergeant Butcher of readomg gave evidence that he had been in charge of the prisoners on various remands, and on 15 Dec 1876, the day of the inquest, William Day had made a statement in the railway carriage to the other prisoners to the effect that he was innocent, and would speak up for himself at the next hearing, blaming the other three for the murders.

PC Brown also gave evidence to the effect that "On Friday the 5th January 1877, after the bench at Hungerford had risen, he accompanied Henry Tidbury from one room to another at the Town Hall, when he admitted that the cap that had been found under the Inspector's body was his, and that he was a guilty man".

Also, at the committal hearing, William Tidbury had given a long verbal unsworn explanation from the dock, in which he described meeting with Harry (Henry) on the road, who said "I have been  and killed two plicemen", and he also stated that he had lost his hat.

The case appears to have been well put together. Evidence was given by Mr Morris, the Counbty Surveyor, who produced scale plans of the scene and the surrounding area, with lithographed copies for the jury, Judge and Counsel.

Mr George Hiddem a Land Surveyor, gave detailed evidence of distances, etc, as shown on te plan. Evidence was also given by Charles Maymott Tidy, Professor of Chemistry and Jurisprudence at the London Hospital, to the effect that he had examined the prisoners' clothing, which had been delivered to him in a sealed box by Superintendent Bennett. Blood was found on all the prisoners' clothing, except Henry Tidbury's. He stated that the blood stains were mammalian, but he could not say whether they were human or not.

The other witnesses described

  • the finding of the various articles at the scene, and near the prisoners' cottages,
  • hearing voices near the Turnpike Gate,
  • hearing the sound of gun shots,
  • seeing the deceased Constable pass by on his beat,
  • the fact that the two prisoners William Day and William Tidbury had been working on a threshing machine earlier that evening, and of these same two men passing through the Turnpike Gate after PC Goldby had gone through it to get assistance,
  • evidence of the finding and recording of the footprints,
  • the finding of the gun stocks and barrels,
  • the subsequent arrest and interrogation.

The trial lasted for two days, the jury being accommodated overnight in the Queen's Hotel at Reading, all sleeping in the same large room that had been specially prepared for such an event.

After the final submission and the Judge's final summing up, the jury retired for two hours before bringing their verdict. Two of accused, William Day and William Tidbury were found "Not Guilty". They considered that William Tidbury was guilty of being an accessory after the fact, but as no such charge had been places on the indictment, this matter was not proceeded with, and both these two men were stood down.

Brothers Henry and Francis Tidbury were found guilty of the charge of murdering PC Shorter, but in the case of Francis Tidbury, the jury recommended mercy, firstly as they considered the murder to be unpremeditated, and secondly because of his youth (Frances was aged 13 years). The Judge stated that the only sentence he could give for such an offence was as prescribed by the law, and that was hanging. Both prisoners were sentenced accordingly. Mr Justice Lindley did state, however, that he would pass on the jury's recommendation to the appropriate quaerter.

The second charge of murdering Inspector Drewitt was put over to the following day. A fresh jury was enpannelled and only the two acquitted prisoners were put back before the court, and, one assumes, that this charge was "left on the table" as far as the two convicted men were concerned. Counsel for the prosecution stated that he did not think it would be right to get a new jury to hear this charge, as the facts were substantially the same, and would in effect put the present jury into a position whereby it would be like hearing an appeal against the first jury's decision. As no new facts could be given, he offered no evidence against the pair, and the charge was dismissed.

The fact that William Day and William Tidbury escaped the noose appears to have caused some astonishment among the local residents, while the sentence on the teenager Frances Tidbury resulted in reprieve petitions being sent to the Home Secretary. These were rejected on 10 March.

Press reports contained details of the last-minute interviews between the condemned men and their relatives, the efforts at the reprieve, and finally the execution.

The executions:

Finally, at 8.00am on Monday 12 Mar 1877, exactly three months after the arrests, they were taken to the gallows at Reading Jail and hanged.

These executions were the first to take place at Reading since the abolition of public hanging, and they took place in the photography room at Reading County Jail. It was recorded that the execution was 'in view of the public only so far as its representative of the Press was concerned'. A black flag fluttered over the jail for an hour, signalling the notice of death, and this was lowered as the bodies were cut down.

The confessions:

Copies of the written confessions made by both men whilst awaiting execution, were then handed to the press reporters, who had been allowed to witness the executions. Both confessions were fairly long and detailed, but briefly they both admitted their guilt, and said that they were returning home after shooting two pheasants and a jay in a wood, when they were surprised by the Police Officers. Francis Tidbury was caught and Henry went to his aid. In the struggle, Henry's gun went off, wounding the Inspector. Francis took a shot at PC Shorter, but missed. Both men then chased and clubbed the Constable with their guns, and then attacked the wounded and staggering Inspector.

A note about public hanging:

Public punishments such as whippings, the stocks, the pillory, but particularly executions, were always very popular with the general public and were normally well attended events.  In the days before newspapers and when few of the general public could read, they also served a practical purpose of allowing the inhabitants of a town to see justice done and hopefully be deterred from committing crime.

However, during the early Victorian period, efforts were made to reduced the number of public hangings. During the decade 1850-59 there were just 95 executions, the lowest 10 year total yet. The Criminal Law Consolidation Act of 1861 reduced the number of capital crimes to four - murder, high treason, piracy and arson in a Royal Dockyard.

England’s last fully public hanging was to be that of Michael Barrett at Newgate on 26 May 1868. Just three days later, on 29 May 1868, the Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act came into force ending public hanging as such, and requiring all future executions to be carried out within prisons.

The hanging of Henry and Francis Tidbury on 12 Mar 1877 was therefore certainly not "the first execution to take place out of view of the general public", but  were the first to be held out of public view at Reading jail.

The aftermath:

PC Golby and Superintendent Bennett, the two officers who played leading roles in the investigation, were presented with subscribed testimonials, and PC Golby was promoted to Sergeant.

A further Special Edition of the Newbury Weekly News was produced on Monday 12 Mar 1877, reporting on the trial and subsequent hanging of the two men. The report also contains the confession of Henry Tidbury. (Piggott's Farm mentioned in the confession was Great Hidden Farm, run by John Rushly Piggott).

Public subscription provided £2,350, a large sum of money, for the benefit of the policemen's widows and Inspector Drewitt's five children.

Tributes were paid to the two men by the Chief Constable of Berkshire, Col. Adam Blandy. He described Insp. Drewitt, a native of Weston, near Welford, as a man whose career afforded a striking example of perseverance, intelligence, and obedience.

Of PC Shorter, whose home was at Bray, near Maidenhead, the Chief Constable said that he had only served just over two years in the force, but his conduct had been unexceptionably good and merited the confidence of his superior officers. PC Shorter had not served the three years necessary for his widow to be entitled to a gratuity, so the money subscribed was of even greater value to her.

The Memorial Crosses:

Much later, in the 1920s, two memorial crosses were erected near Folly Road crossing, at the scenes of the murders.

In Dec 1995, one of the two commemorative crosses was stolen and never traced. Hungerford Town Council and local businesses rallied round to produce a new one, which was dedicated by Rev Andrew Sawyer in Oct 1996. Present at the ceremony was Bill Hussey, a retired police officer who remembered the day the original crosses were erected. See "Sombre scenes as new memorial to slain policemen is dedicated", NWN 17 Oct 1996.

The other cross was damaged in an act of vandalism in December 2002, and two new crosses were unveiled on Fri 9 Jan 2004, attended by representatives of Hungerford Police and Hungerford Town Council, who paid for one cross each.

See also:

- Police

- Special Edition of the NWN, 12 Mar 1877, reporting on the trial and subsequent hanging of the two men. The report also contains the confession of Henry Tidbury.

- Police Station [HHA Archives A3]

- "A Murder of two local policemen, 11 Dec 1876" [HHA Archives A3]

- "The Hungerford Police Murders" by Chief Inspector R Godfrey, Dec 1986.

- The murder of William and Ann Cheyney, 11 Dec 1762