Brandon Police Court, on London Road, heard many low levels cases, usually with local councillors and land owners sat as magistrates. Such cases ranged from acts of disorderly, burglary, alcohol licensing and even trading standards. Solicitors were employed from Norwich and Bury St. Edmunds, with cases often acquiring expert knowledge from specialists, such as analysts, scientist, etc. Penalties usually involved fines and compensation, sometimes jail or hard labour, or if the magistrates felt the crime was too severe for them to hear then the case was referred to a court in Bury St. Edmunds. The Brandon Police (Magistrate or Sessions) Court had an advantage of knowing local residents, so would be aware of any mitigating circumstances. On the other hand, there is no doubt many felons may have been pre-judged based on previous bad behaviour.
In January, before Lieut.-Colonel B.E. Spragge (Chairman) and Mr A.W. Rought-Rought, Town Street shopkeeper, Hannah Prior, was summonsed for selling deficient baking powder. At the time it was the Police who prosecuted trade descriptions and there were no council trading standards to do so. The charge was brought under the Food and Drugs Act. Hannah’s solicitor stated she was too nervous to attend the hearing, so it was conducted in her absence. A Norwich food analyst presented his findings that backed up the case against Hannah, who was then fined 10s.
In March, Robert Cole was fined 10s, with costs of 9s 6d, for using profane and indecent language in Lode Street. The court heard he had a history of appearing in court due to his “filthy language”, so magistrates told him he should pay the fine or go to prison for 14 days. Frank Edwards, landlord of the Five Bells public house on Market Hill, also appeared before magistrates for using foul language. Magistrates thanked the police for bringing the case before them, but this was just after war had been declared and Mr Edwards had not been before the magistrates before, so the case was dismissed.
A rather disturbing case of domestic violence was heard in August, when Emma Gore, of Mile End, complained that her husband, John, a labourer at a children’s home, had severely beaten her. Emma told the court she had left her home to visit Mr Harvey’s shop at Town Street, when she saw her husband at the children’s home. He then hid from her behind a bush. Upon returning from the shop, she saw her husband with Miss White, the matron of the home and they appeared to be talking in the garden. Emma stood for an hour watching them, before a child from the home called Miss White, who then went indoors, followed by Emma’s husband. Soon after, John appeared and jumped over a fence and punched Emma on the head, knocking her down on to the road. She tried to get up, but each time she did so John knocked her down again. Emma said that John prevented anyone from assisting her, until friends arrived and carried her home. Being in pain, she sent for the doctor. This account was supported by the couple’s 14-year old daughter, Maud. Dr Trotter told the court he had been called to see Emma and found her to have a cut on her neck, bruising on her right arm, swelling to both eyes and other aches and pains. Defending, John Gore, said his wife had shouted out insults to him, leading him to slap her face. She had fell on the road and apparently Emma then urged him to put his foot on her neck! He was found guilty and fined 2s 6d. Far less than someone selling deficient baking powder or someone swearing!
Also in August, two boys were found guilty of stealing three handkerchiefs and two pairs of socks from a bicycle parked at Brandon railway station. The boys were bound over for six months and their parents told they would have to pay a hefty £5 fine if the boys re-offended in that time. One boy was 13-year-old Alfred Ashley, the other was 14-year-old Bertie Norton, who would go on to re-offend and be sent to a reform school near Ipswich, and ultimately die in the trenches of Flanders. Incidentally, in 1915, Bertie’s father – Walter; would appear twice in court for failing to pay for his son’s maintenance while at the reform school.
The court then heard of a case of suicide at Brandon railway station. Thomas William Bayne, a mining engineer from Hampstead, leapt off the platform as a train came into the station. He had been staying at a Feltwell doctor, (Dr Hartley – a specialist in mental health) after being diagnosed with depression and was awaiting a train back to his home in London. At the time he was being escorted by a male nurse, Bertie Dominey, of Maidstone, but the nurse had been distracted when a porter asked him about luggage, which Thomas allegedly took advantage of.
The Coroner – “You know the danger with a patient of that kind. Were you taking any precautions of any sort?”
Nurse – “Yes, I was. I have only been a fortnight with this patient, who never gave me any trouble whatever. I have had four years’ experience in mental cases.”
Replying to the Foreman, the nurse said the deceased never showed any suicidal tendency. However a suicide note had later been found, which the Coroner read a piece of to the court …
“I cannot stand this terrible depression any longer. I am leaving Dr Hartley’s, as he does not take patients who do not take their meals in the dining-room.”
The jury returned a verdict of “Suicide while of unsound mind”.
Dangerous driving was often reported to the police, despite a lack of motorised vehicles in those times. In October, Walter Howard was charged with …
“furiously driving a carriage to the danger of the public on London Road”
Dr Trotter told the court he was cycling on the London Road toward the town centre when he heard the sound of a galloping horse approaching and had just enough time to get his bicycle to the far side of the road. It was Walter Howard, driving a horse and trap at speed and Dr Trotter was sure it was not because the horse was out of control. Inspector Mobbs said he saw the Mr Howard drive past at a speed dangerous to the public – between 12 to 15 mph. Walter Howard was fined 5s, with 8s 6d costs, the alternative being 14 days’ in prison.
There was some excitement in town, when on the morning of Monday 26th October, an arrest was made under the Alien Act. The man, likely to be Mr Housman, a co-owner of the High Street shop – Housman & Relhan; and of Irish descent. He had been in the town for a number of years and the arrest was probably a result of a surge of nationalism and nervous locals worried about spies readying a German invasion. The man was questioned at Mildenhall Police Station and soon released.
In November Charles Tilney was sentenced to three months’ prison, with one month’s hard labour, for being drunk and disorderly and attacking a policeman when he was being arrested. The court heard this was the 63rd conviction, with 37 being heard at Brandon, 13 at Thetford and the rest across the region. In contrast, it was reported that December was the first time in 1914 that the court had no cases to hear.
January saw a return to the cases heard by the magistrates. First up were Frank Norton and Jack Edwards, both labourers, charged with trespassing on Colonel Mackenzie’s estate and poaching rabbits. Edwards was found guilty and fined 10s. On the day of the trial Norton had allegedly gone to enlist, so the magistrates dismissed his case as long as he did actually enlist, otherwise he would be brought before the court if he did not. It should be noted that Colonel Mackenzie was a long serving magistrate at the court.
Brandon observed a strict blackout in wartime, so there was some surprise when, in March, a local military officer, Captain W.W. Burrell, appeared before the court for driving a motor car without a permit after dark. His headlights had not been shielded from any prospective enemy Zeppelin that may have been flying above. He was fined 9s. A similar fate fell to Lieutenant William Wood, who pleaded guilty and was fined 2s 6d, Arthur Roberts from London – fined £1; and Samson Southgate of Fakenham – fined £5 5s. In September, Edith Clarke – landlord of the White Hart Inn; was fined 5s for failing to close Venetian blinds at night which allowed light to shine across the High Street. She was the first Brandon person convicted of allowing light to shine from a building. Similarly, Walter Talbot – landlord of the Duke of Wellington public house on the Thetford Road, was also fined 2s 6d for allowing a door to be open and shining light onto the road. Similar fines befell Arthur Footer (tobacconist) and Harry Toombs (barber). Walter Knights, when fined 5s, or be put in prison, for allowing a large oil lamp to shine light across a yard, replied,
“I’ve a good mind to take the seven days”
Throughout the year, the court addressed many cases of anti-social behaviour. Such as in June, when Thetford resident Albert Barber was fined 3s for being drunk and disorderly, then the following month John Thompson was fined 2s 6d for using indecent language on Market Hill. On 16th October, William Dyer, a labourer, also used indecent language and Inspector Mobbs hauled before the magistrates, resulting in him being fined 7s 6d, including costs.
It was expected children would attend school unless there was a valid reason for not doing so. Elijah Wharf was ordered to send his son, Alec, to school after the boy had only gone twelve times from May 10th to 9th July. Richard Curson was also ordered to send his 11-year-old son, Crosly, to school after the boy had only attended school 29 times out of a possible 60.
As the war progressed, Brandon Police Court began hearing cases about soldiers who had deserted, or gone Absent Without Leave (AWOL). Inspector Mobbs received a complaint that a soldier was acting in a suspicious manner by Bury Road. He found the soldier, Thomas Fairbrother, hiding nearby. The soldier was locked up in the police cells to await a military escort back to his unit – 2/5th Battery Essex Regiment (Territorials).
In October, Frederick W. Smith was summoned in respect of the non payment of £1 16s 11½d poor rate. He sold cold meat, which should have been profitable with all the soldiers billeted in the town, but Mr Smith claimed he had fallen on hard times. He said neither the soldiers nor the locals were spending. There was some sympathy for Mr Smith and the magistrates allowed him extra time to pay the rate.
In November, Clara Edwards appeared before magistrates for assaulting her neighbour, Amelia Dennis. The case was due to have been heard the previous month, but Clara had just lost her son and claimed to be suffering a nervous breakdown because of this. Amelia claimed she had only gone outside to read aloud local soldiers’ letters, printed in a newspaper, to some neighbours who were in a shed. She said Clara came outside, smelling of alcohol, swore at her, slapped her face and pushed her head against a brick wall. She said Clara also threw gravel at the wheels of her pram. Until that time they had been good friends. Two other local residents supported this evidence. Clara, in defence, said she had become fed up with the many soldiers on Mrs Dennis’ property and the fact Mrs Dennis had become too friendly with them. She said there had been some swearing and pushing, but no violence in the confrontation. Clara was fined £1.
Another sad case was heard in November, when Harriet Randall was found guilty of stealing a galvanised pail, an enamel bowl, and a towel, total value 2s 4d, from the premises of Mary Ann Presland, of the Avenue. The police had discovered the items in Harriet’s home, after she had spotted them outside the house of Mrs Presland, while walking along the Avenue. The magistrates had nothing by sympathy for Harriet. Harriet had been widowed a few years previously, then her son Walter Randall had just been killed in Gallipoli. She had suffered a bout of rheumatic fever with temporary paralysis, then gone to her sister’s in London, where the cinema she visited was bombed by a Zeppelin, both leading her to have a nervous breakdown. Harriet was bound over under the Probation of Offenders’ Act.
In January, Walter Talbot, landlord of the Duke of Wellington public house, was fined £1 for selling stout to 9-year-old Evelyn Bullock. This was just a month after he was found guilty of breaking the blackout. The court heard the bottles were not sealed, so the child could have consumed the drink. Walter Talbot replied,
“What am I to do if children come with jugs? I cannot seal them.”
Anti-social behaviour was a common theme. In January, a soldier, James White, was sent to prison for a month after being found drunk and disorderly in High Street. The sentence no doubt swayed by his military officer telling the court that James was a bad character to have in his unit. In April, Charles Tilney appeared again, this time for sleeping rough in Mr R Hyam’s haystack. Tilney had only just come out of prison after the Brandon Police Court sent him there a few months before, so he was remanded over to appear the following month. At least Brandon residence were free of him for that time. The following month Tilney appeared for his 64th conviction and was sentenced to six months’ hard labour. A welcome extension to the time Brandon residents were free of him. Reuben Cray was also found rough sleeping in a haystack after loitering around town for two days. He was sentenced to 10 days’ hard labour, with Inspector Mobbs advising the local army recruitment officer to enlist Cray when the man was released. Another repeat offender, Robert Cole, was summoned for being drunk and disorderly in Brandon on September 16th. He did not appear before magistrates, so the case was heard in his absence.
Residents caught breaking the black-out carried on through 1916. Frederick Woodrow was fined £1 in May. Frederick Mutum allowed a bonfire to burn unattended, but extinguished it when Inspector Mobbs challenged him about it. The magistrates showed leniency and he was given a caution. In June, magistrates took a dim view of Randall Cooper, grocer manager at the Co-Operative store. He had already been cautioned about showing light, so on his second account he was fined 10s. Alfred English was fined £1, for showing light from his tailor premises on High Street. In November, Sidney Jones, a fish shop manager, was fined 10s, 76-year-old Albert Flack, postmaster at Elveden, was fined £1. Joseph Trett, a carpenter from Elveden, also fell foul of the black-out rules and was fined 10s.
Gambling was frowned upon in 1916. A soldier, Charles Stokes, along with three Brandon labourers – Jack Field, Gordon Rissen and Harry Norton, were charged with playing cards for money on the High Street at Brandon on May 14th. Stokes did not appear, but the other defendants pleaded guilty. Inspector Mobbs had spied on the men for over five minutes, looking through a fence while the men played cards. In mitigation the men were only playing for pennies and had an unblemished character before this. The men were fined 9s.
Another AWOL case was heard before the magistrates in June. James Carr, of the 2/3th Gordon Highlanders, was apprehended at midnight on 7th June after hiding in a hedge near the railway station. He was remanded to await a military escort.
As food restriction tightened, people chanced their luck with poaching rabbits on the large estates around Brandon. However some were caught and hauled in front of the magistrates, such as Robert Vale, a hawker from Thetford. He had been caught with two rabbits after poaching on Colonel Mackenzie’s Elveden estate, but the magistrates threw the case out on account of a “lack of evidence”.
Richard Curson, again appeared before Brandon Police Court for his son’s absence from school. An order was made for the boy to be sent to an industrial school until he was 16 years of age, and his father ordered to contribute 1s per week towards his maintenance. A similar charge against John Gathercole, a labourer, for not sending his 11-year-old son, George, to school was dismissed when it was proved the boy had attended 31 times out of 36.
In November, four women from the Rayner family – Laura (mother), Lily, Ruth and Maud (daughters); were accused of assaulting Emma Kent, 4 Stanley Row, It seems all five women had gone out to collect sticks for firewood, when Emma Kent asked to put her coat in the wheelbarrow of the other women. She then forgot her coat and later went to the women;’s home to enquire about it. The women said they had not seen it, but a few days later spotted hanging up in the cloakroom of Roughts’ fur factory, where all the women worked. Emma reclaimed the coat and thought no more of it. However the Rayner women took exception to this and ambushed Emma as she walked home, dragging her into the road and ripping the coat off her. This account was supported by two other women – Edith Newell, Alice Lingwood and Maud Rolph. Laura Rayner, was fined 5s, while Lily and Maud were fined 2s 6d each. The case against Ruth was dismissed, as was a subsequent charge against Emma Kent for feloniously stealing a jacket, the property of Laura Rayner!
The magistrates had an early start in 1917, when on New Year’s Day, they heard a charge of stealing against 14-year-old errand boy, Herbert Thompson. He was accused of stealing a silver-plated carriage watch from a parked car at the railway station, value 10s, the property of William Cowlishaw, of Methwold, on December 5th 1916. He then sold it to another errand boy, 15-year-old Ernest Edwards, who was charged with receiving stolen property, despite paying 2s for it. Thompson, upon being charged of theft by Inspector Mobbs, replied,
“I will tell you the truth, Mr Mobbs. I did steal it, and I intend to steal until I am sent away again. You know I have got no home and I hope you will ask the magistrates to send me away.”
Thompson was bound over, or be sent to a reform school for a period up to his 19th birthday, while the case against Edwards was dismissed.
In October, Charles Curson and Charles Tuck, both Brandon labourers, were charged with stealing plums to the value of 2s 6d, from the property of Alfred Hardy. Both pleaded guilty and were each fined 10s.
In March, Private Herbert Edward Newton, of Town Street, was charged with being a deserter from a Labour Battalion. He was remanded in custody to await a military escort. Private William Reynolds was caught on Thetford Road in June and met a similar fate. In October, another soldier, Thomas Crooke Dake, was spotted walking through Brandon late one night and heading toward Mildenhall. Inspector Mobbs caught up with Dake, challenged him and when the soldier could not produce any information, he took him into custody to be remanded to await a military escort. Brandon lad, Percy Wicks was arrested at about 7.30pm on 6th October, when he admitted being an absentee from the Royal Fusiliers.
In may, Elizabeth Baker and Rose Wilson were summoned for using profane language and annoying local residents. The women were arguing in Rookery Row, Town Street, much to the delight of local children who gathered round them. Alfred Challis, special constable, tried to intervene but the women continued for another 20 minutes, it seemed their arguing was a regular event, as corroborated by Inspector Mobbs confirmed. The court fined Elizabeth 15s and Rose 10s.
Alfred Rolph fell foul of the licensing laws, when Inspector Mobbs caught Herbert Docking, Edward Lingwood and Batley Thompson drinking beer on his premises during prohibited hours. The three drinkers were fined 10s each, while Rolph received a £3 fine. No doubt the magistrates were not amused when it was reported that one of the men, when being arrested, replied,
“We are fairly caught, and I suppose we might as well drink the remainder of this beer, as I expect we shall have to pay for it!”
Spreading false information was the charge made against Sidney Jones, a fish merchant int he town. Last November he had been fined for breaking the black-out, but this was a more serious charge. He had claimed to have seen an enemy bombing raid on Lowestoft, in which he claimed there had been hundreds of casualties and he heard Herbert Dye (Brandon man) had his leg blown off. This claim had spread like wildfire through the town and had caused a lot of concern among residents. In fact Sidney Jones had made it up as a joke, which in hindsight he regretted. He was prosecuted under the ‘Defence of the Realm Consolidated Regulations‘ which could have led to a fine of up to £100 or six months in prison. However, the magistrates relented somewhat, stating this was the first case of its kind to come before them and fined Sidney £5, or 3 months in prison if he failed to pay. They then allowed him three months to pay it.
Brandon Police Court also heard what we would consider trading standards cases. Alfred Jessop, a Mildenhall market gardener, was summoned for selling potatoes at hugely inflated prices. Mary Hunt, Thetford Road, brought the case when she paid 19s 4d for what she thought to be seed potatoes but turned out to be the regular, and cheaper, eating variety. However other residents defending Mr Jessop, saying they had received seed potatoes for the money they paid. Even Jessop’s potato supplier had claimed to have not supplied eating potatoes since last year. Despite the defence’s evidence, the magistrate found Alfred Jessop guilty and fined him £2.
Another year, and another case against Robert Cole. This time he had assaulted William Royal at the Half Moon public house, on 10th July. It seemed Cole asked Royal to buy him a beer, but when Royal refused Cole punched him in the face. Robert Cole was fined 5s.
In September, Colonel Mackenzie and Colonel Hamilton bade farewell to Brandon Police Court, when both announced their retirement. Mackenzie first served in 1872 and Hamilton in 1888, becoming Chairman the following year. At the end of the year, Mr A.W. Rought-Rought, fur factory owner living at Heath House, Brandon, took the oath to become the latest magistrate in town.
Tight food restrictions meant the town was in danger of starving, therefore people turned toward an abundant natural source of food – rabbits. However, illegal hunting on private property, poaching, led many residents to appear before the magistrates. In January, Frank Curl, a butcher, was charged with receiving rabbits but the case was thrown out. Robert Cole (yes, him again) was find 2s for poaching, while his accomplice, Samuel Williams, received a hefty £2 fine, perhaps because he did not attend the hearing.
Animal cruelty cases were reported more. Annie Kent, of Town Street, was summoned for causing a horse to be worked in an unfit state, at Brandon, on 26th January. James Laithwaite, a soldier, was summonsed for working the horse while it was in an unfit state. Inspector Mobbs claimed Annie had made the horse pull heavy timber drugs despite the horse having huge sores, the size of Mobbs’ hand, across both shoulders and on its back. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) gave evidence against Annie and she was fined £5, with Laithwaite having to pay 10s. Another cruelty case saw William Wortley, farm manager, and his two two land-girls, charged with working their horse despite it having sores on its shoulders, back and under its tail. There may have been some political motivation with the magistrates’ judgement, they knew Wortley was supplying milk to the town and had threatened to cut off this supply, so they dismissed the case against him. However his land-girls were not so fortunate and they were fined a hefty £2 2s each.
Two lads, Cecil Mallett and Frederick Cole, were charged with stealing two flash lamps, three bicycle oil lamps, and three tins of oil, and one tube, from a lock-up shop on October 18th. Mallet was ordered to receive six strokes of the birch rod, while Cole got four strokes.