Riotous Epsom:

"Murderous Assault on a Policeman", Section-house attacked
8 May 1841

"Outrage at Epsom", 21 August 1841

As evidenced by a brief reference on this website to 'Drunk and Disorderly', brawling in the town under the influence of alcohol has a long history. Accounts of what happened in 1676 vary; in one version Captain Down(e)s fell upon the Earl of Rochester's drawn sword and in another the victim was impaled on a watchman's pike. The Epsom Riot in 1919 during which Station Sergeant Green was killed has, however, been well documented.

A lesser riot and attack upon the police and their station-house took place in 1841.

Watch House & Clock c1840 from Dugdale's England & Wales
Watch House & Clock c1840 from Dugdale's England & Wales
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre

As reported by John Toland in 1711, Epsom had an old weather-boarded watch-house by the pond in the High Street: used as a lock-up in the early 19th century and mentioned as 'the Cage' in Horrid Murder and Highway Robbery, it survived until 1847.

An article on Policing Epsom explains: - 'With the extension of the Metropolitan Police district in 1839, Epsom formed part of V or Wandsworth Division. A police document in the Office for National Statistics shows in V Division, there were six PCs living in a private house in Epsom. A Mounted Sergeant supervised Morden, North Cheam, Malden, Ewell and Epsom. He must have spent most of his time in the saddle! It is also noted that magistrates would hear charges in their private houses. Although the document is undated, it presumably refers to a period earlier than 1852 when the police station in Epsom was built in Ashley Rd. Another document also undated shows there was a police station or police office in Epsom where charges were taken and six constables were residing in a Section House,'

On Saturday 8 May 1841, just before midnight, PC 269V Joseph Russell was on patrol in the High Street when he heard a disturbance at the King's Head inn. On investigation, Charles Fincher was found kicking at the tap-room door. On being told that he could get no more beer, Fincher, a labourer, became abusive, tore the officer's rolled cape from the back of his coat and used it to hit PC Russell in the face. A violent struggle ensued and a number of people emerged from the tap-room to become involved in the fracas.

Epsom's first major building, the Kings Head dominated the High Street until it was pulled down for shopping in 1957.
Epsom's first major building, the Kings Head dominated the High Street
until it was pulled down for shopping in 1957.

Link to our Public Houses page

A drunken George Gardom intervened, shouting: - "You shall not take that man to the station. I'm a gentleman and I'll bail him... You you and you. Come on ten of you and assist me to get this man away." A number of men then assaulted the constable with sticks and their fists.

PC Russell drew his truncheon to defend himself and kept hold of Fincher until a colleague, PC Price arrived to assist him.

When giving evidence to the Magistrates, Baron de Teissier and Mr Goss, about the event PC Russell declared that George Edes, James Phipps and John Ratcliffe (the latter two, recruits to 89th Regiment of Foot) had subsequently belaboured him with heavy sticks. "I was knocked down. Ede knelt upon my back, struck me and attempted to kick me in the ribs but kicked my lanthorn. I got up and struck him with my staff very violently, as I thought he intended to do me some serious hurt."

The original police station was situated in the High Street at the eastern end on the south side. As explained in 'The Court House' "From an article in one of the local papers in 1935, it appears that when number 45 High Street, now the ASK restaurant, was being vacated the remains of what appeared to be two cells were discovered. Although the some alterations had been made to the doors, the door bolts were still attached. Each door contained small trap about 6"x8" presumably to allow food to be given to the prisoner." At the time of the 1851 Census these premises were occupied by a Sergeant, his family, 6 constables and a lodger.

The two Police constables escorted their prisoner towards the section-house but only got as far as the (Spread) Eagle tap before Gardom again incited the mob.

George Gardom seized Phipps' stick, struck constable Russell down, and beat him about the head. The officer's leather top hat, then part of police uniform rather than a helmet, was 'cut to pieces'.

Epsom Police c.1860
Epsom Police c.1860
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

Eventually the constables managed to struggle back into the station-house with their prisoner and closed some gates behind them. A hail of stones were hurled after the group and the mob burst open the gates threatening to storm the building. Alerted by all the noise, other officers rushed out to assist their colleagues, beat off the attack and apprehend, additionally, Gardom, Edes, Phipps and Ratcliffe.

Although powerfully built, PC Russell had been badly injured and remained dangerously ill when examined by the surgeon-in-chief to the Metropolitan Police and Arthur O'Brien Jones, surgeon to V Division, some days later.

The charges brought were:
  • Edes - Assaulting and wounding Joseph Russell, PC 269 V, with intent to do him grievous bodily harm;
  • Phipps and Ratcliffe - Attempting to rescue a prisoner;
  • Gardom - Assaulting and resisting the police in the execution of their duty;
  • Fincher - Being drunk and disorderly and assaulting the police.

Initially, Gardom and Edes had been bailed for £100 and two sureties of £50 each. At a further hearing, however, the Magistrates remanded all the accused to Kingston gaol to await trial. Gardom's father appealed to the bench, explaining that George was his only son and being sent to prison would break his parents' hearts. His offer to stand bail to the extent of many thousands of pounds for security to ensure his son's appearance was declined.

The outcome of trial at Guildford assize is revealed by the Criminal Registers published on the Ancestry UK website. George Gardom, George Edes, James Phipps and John Ratcliffe were all tried at the Assizes on 29 June 1841. Gardom got 12 months' imprisonment and the others 9 months each. Charles Fincher was not mentioned.

This narrative begs a question: Who was the rabble rouser, George Gardom? He is described as "Upholsterer, High Street, son of a most respectable tradesman" and appears to have been the grandson of Barnabas Gardom of Ebbisham House, Epsom, Auctioneer, Carpenter, Broker and Retail Shopkeeper. Barnabas' widow was in business as Martha Gardom and Sons adjacent to the retail premises of John Bailey in the complex of buildings near the junction of High Street and South Street - once the New Tavern, otherwise the Long Room, Assembly or Ball Room, also known as Waterloo House [1843 Tithe Plots 501& 502 - James and George Gardom]. George's christening took place at St Martin's parish church on 8 August 1817, born 14 May 1817 son of George Gardom (senior), Upholsterer, and his wife, Sarah, of Epsom. It seems that both George Gardoms died in 1849 - the father, aged 67, buried 9 May and son, only 33, on 20 July in St Martin's churchyard. Mary, relict of the younger George, may be found in the 1851 Census enumerated in South Street as a Needle Woman with six dependent children.

Carpenter sign-board on side of Assembly Rooms. Detail from Watch House & Clock image above
Carpenter sign-board on side of Assembly Rooms.
Detail from Watch House & Clock image above
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre

A similar incident was reported in The Morning Post on Wednesday 25 August 1841. The previous Saturday, 21 August 1841, at ten minutes to midnight, five men left the Bull's Head*, Ewell, "drunk and noisy", before travelling to Epsom. In the town centre, they were encountered by Police Constables 219V Butcher and 217V Duncan Stewart who remonstrated with them. Charles Robinson from Putney flourished a reaping hook [indicating that the men could have been itinerant harvesters] over PC Butcher swearing he would cut off the officer's head. Disarmed by Butcher, Robinson was given into the custody of PC Stewart. George Morrett, of Brentford, then struck Constable Butcher over the head with a heavy stick before kicking him and breaking one of the officer's ribs. A man called Jarrett went to the assistance of the felled constable and both assailants were escorted towards the police-station. On their way to the station house PC Butcher collapsed in the street resulting in him being carried home. Examined by the divisional surgeon, Mr Jones, his injuries were declared to be of a most serious character. On Monday, 23 August 1841, the men appeared before local magistrates, Baron de Tessier & Captain Gough [Henry Gosse, Lord of the Manor of Chessington?]: after a surgeon's certificate had been produced testifying that PC Butcher remained in imminent danger the prisoners were remanded until Friday 3 September 1841. Details of their trial have not been traced.

Brian Bouchard © 2011
With contributions from Linda Jackson

* The Bull's Head was sited on the Cheam Road, Ewell, where the HSBC Bank, 27 High Street, now stands on the village roundabout.

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