Crime and punishment in 1914


When it came to crime in 1914, some dirty deeds were no different than today’s but some have become a rarity.

One such case involved two lads called Ernest Cheal and Alfred Holmwood, who found themselves in court charged with trespassing in search of game.

The case was reported in the Sussex & Surrey Courier on March 14 1914 and included testimony from arguably the worst witness in the history of the world.

The report read: “Ernest Cheal and Alfred Holmwood, of Crawley, were charged with trespassing in search of game in the daytime at Magpie Wood, Worth, the property of Mrs Montefiore.

The case was adjourned from the previous Court to give the prosecution the opportunity to subpena a witness.

Defendants pleaded not guilty.

Ernest Edward Maynard the underkeeper at Worth Park, said that on February 16th he went to Magpie Wood to see if there were any birds on the line.

He saw Cheal take a bird out of a cage and kill it.”

Strangely, while denying the charge, the report stated that Messrs Cheal and Holmwood wanted to know why the witness had not approached them – surely not the wisest way to conduct a defence!

But the case became even more bizarre.

The paper printed a transcript of the questioning of one witness, Henry White, a labourer.

The conversation between the clerk of the court and Henry went as follows: “What do you know about the matter? I don’t know anything about it. Do you know these men?No, sir. Did you see them on February 16th?No, sir. Have you seen them before? No, sir. Have you made any statement to the keeper? No, sir. Did you have any conversation with him on the 17th? Dates never worry me.

You have to admire a man with such a laid back attitude to time.

The case was dismissed.

Bert Watts, of Three Bridges, wasn’t quite so lucky.

A report in the same paper stated he had been “summoned for using a hand truck without a light”.

The offence happened in Three Bridges at 7.15pm on February 20th.

The report continued: “PC Steer proved the case, and said that when he stopped defendant he admitted he knew he ought to have had a light, but he said he was going only a short distance.

Bert was fined one shilling for his trouble.

One of the most wonderfully worded crimes was committed by Charles Laughton, who was summoned under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 “for allowing his chimney to be on fire”.

Charles committed the crime on February 28th 1914 - though we have to hope he quickly did something to correct the mistake.

He was taken to court by PC May and was fined two shillings and sixpence.

Finally, a case which will ring true with cyclists today.

“Dr Samuel A Clarke, of Horley, was summoned for cycling on the footpath. PC West, who stopped the defendant, said the latter stated: ‘The road is rough and I have fallen off my machine once’.”

Potholes or no potholes, the good doctor was fined five shillings.