Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences


Three Criminal Cases.

I MAY mention three criminal cases which occurred in this neighbourhood quite in my boyish days, and which caused considerable sensation at the time. The first was a burglary, one of many in the neighbourhood at that time, which occurred at my father's house on Christmas Eve, when I was about eleven or twelve years old. The thieves got into the house by removing the iron bars from the cellar window. They took nothing of value, only a gun, a few overcoats and other small articles, but they took what in those days I thought of great importance, namely the beef and plum-pudding intended for the Christmas dinner next day. Being six miles from any town, and all shops being closed, no more beef or materials for plum-pudding could be got, and we were indebted to the Rector, Mr. Tufnell, who kindly helped us out by sending us some pork pies. The second case was the murder of Mr. Griffith. He was a brewer, who used, and I believe owned, the Rock Brewery in St. James's Street, Brighton. It was his custom, at stated times, to drive round the country in a gig to collect money from the various public-houses which he supplied with beer, and he frequently returned home late at night with considerable sums. One day he received an anonymous letter warning him that he would be robbed. On the day of his death he had driven to Horsham, and was returning home late at night after it was dark.

He stopped at Henfield for a time, put up at the "George" Inn, and showed the landlord a pistol he had, but which, the landlord understood, was not loaded. He then started again to drive to Brighton by the road which goes from Henfield to Poynings Cross Roads, then turns sharply to the south and again turns when near the Downs sharply to the east, and is then continued to Dale Hill and Pyecombe. At the bottom of Dale Hill formerly stood a turnpike gate. This was the last time he was seen alive. Mr. Charles Hodson and his brother who lived at the old Black Mill (the remains of which stood in the angle formed by the junction of Dyke Road Drive with the Dyke Road) had been dining at Terry's Lodge, then the residence of Mr. Laurence Smith, a house standing in its own grounds close to the road about a mile from Henfield. They were driving home to Brighton by the same road as that taken by Mr. Griffith, when, about a quarter of a mile from Dale Turnpike Gate, in a very lonely part, they were stopped by the body of a man lying in the road. They got out and ex-amined it and found it was that of Mr. Griffith, with whom they were well acquainted. A pistol was lying by its side. They procured assistance and the body was conveyed to the "Plough" Inn at Pyecombe. The horse and gig were found next morning near Poynings Church, the reins being cut asunder. An inquest was held, the question of suicide was raised, a pistol having been found near the body, but the pistol was quite bright and could not have been fired since it was cleaned.

A verdict of wilful murder was returned, but no clue to the murderers was ever found. Years after when some workmen were cleaning out the mud from a pond close to the road along which the murdered man had passed, and about a mile to the East of Terry's Lodge, a man who was walking by called out to them that they would find Mr. Griffith watch if they searched carefully; this they did, found it and brought it to Mr. Somers Clarke, he being solicitor to the Griffith family.

About the year 1850, as far as I can remember, the whole of this neighbourhood was kept in a state of alarm for some months by a gang of men, who broke into many of the better class of houses and robbed them; and their depredations were so frequent and daring, that in many houses men were employed to sit up at night and keep watch. This was done at Buckingham Place, Shoreham, the residence of Mr. Bridger. These watchers were armed with guns. One night the thieves were heard effecting an entrance into the dairy. Now, in a dairy door there were always six or eight round holes, perhaps two inches in diameter, for ventilation. One of the watchers crept softly up to this door, and, on looking through one of these holes, saw one of the robbers, who, on being disturbed, attempted to escape through the window, which was at a considerable height from the ground. The watchman at once put the muzzle of his gun through one of the holes and fired. On going round on the out-side of the house the body of the robber was found under the window, shot through the liver. An inquest was held and a verdict of justifiable homicide was returned.

<< Previous - Old Brighton Pavements Contents


Cholera at Pyecombe - Next >>