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Odell Sharnbrook Paths to Crime Walk stop 6 The Old Swan

The Old Swan Inn

Sharnbrook High Street

Sharnbrook High Street c.1900 [ref.Z1306/100/3/4]

A Joke and a Grudge

Many cases heard at the Quarter Sessions arose out of either high spirits or too much alcohol (or both!) at feasts and fairs. After Sharnbrook Feast in 1846 William Blundell, a tailor from Podington, fell asleep at the Swan public house in Sharnbrook, wearing his hat. At about 2.30am PC Joseph Miller went down to the stalls near the Swan and found Blundell. Realising that Blundell's hat was no longer on his head PC Miller looked around the stalls for it. He saw three men going down the street including Joseph Edwards who had the hat in his hand. When Edwards saw the policeman he put the hat over a wall. Confronted by PC Miller, Edwards at first denied knowing anything about the hat, then when it became apparent that Miller knew where the hat was Edwards tried to run away. Edwards later said that the three of them had taken the hat for a joke, but the other two men denied this. Blundell slept through the whole episode until he was woken by PC Miller who told him "Blundell, you've lost your hat and I've been after it". The case was not brought to court.

Before the Sharnbrook Police Station was built in 1872 the Old Swan was on occasion used by the police to hold prisoners as there was no village cage or lock-up. This led to the pub featuring in one of the more bizarre cases to come before the Quarter Sessions. Robert Toll of Pavenham worked as a gardener, both on his own account and for others in the village. He had rented a garden and a cottage from Joseph Tucker of Pavenham, who served him with notice to quit in the spring of 1856. Following this Toll was heard talking angrily about Tucker – James Pearson heard Toll say that there was a damnation curse hung over all the Tuckers had and that they would never prosper in the village, and to John Pearson he said that Tucker would have a mighty fall. On the night of 15th September Joseph Tucker's own garden was vandalised. The scale of destruction was spectacular, encompassing fifty two fruit trees (cherry, mulberry, peach, nectarine, apricot, plum, pear and fig), twenty vines and 335 other plants. The trees had been "barked" with the bark cut off around six to eight inches above the soil, ensuring that they would be totally destroyed. The damage was done so cleverly it could only have been carried out by someone with gardening skills. It was also evident from marks left that the perpetrator was left handed. Further evidence was found in the form of footprints and the impression of a man's knee that was made by someone wearing breeches with a corded pattern. The garden wall was over twelve feet high and as there was nothing to indicate it had been climbed it appeared the culprit must have unlocked the door with a false key.

As a left hander with a grudge against Joseph Tucker Robert Toll must have been an obvious suspect. A warrant was issued for his arrest and on 19th September he was apprehended by police sergeant William Green. Toll was taken to Sharnbrook where he was remanded by the magistrate and taken to the Swan public house. He was put to bed for the night by Sergeant Green, who secured him to the bed with a chain and handcuffs. Benjamin Tunn, servant to the landlord of the Swan, slept in an adjoining room. At ten to three in the morning Tunn was called up by a railway contractor and could not find his clothes, which he had left on the side of his bed.

Deposition of Benjamin Tunn 1856

The deposition of Benjamin Tunn [ref.QSR1846/4/5/12a] - click to enlarge.

It then became apparent that Toll had escaped and Sergeant Green was informed. Green went to the house of Toll's son-in-law, James Ward, at Pavenham where he found the miscreant. Mrs Ward had a hatchet in her hand and the handcuffs and chain were on the floor with the cuffs cut in two. Toll said that if the policeman had arrived just a few minutes later he would have been gone; he had planned to hide until nightfall then make his way to London. Instead Toll was taken back to the Swan, where Tunn identified the clothes he was wearing as his property. A shoe owned by Toll was matched with the footprint in the garden and the pattern on his breeches appeared to correspond with the mark left by the knee of the perpetrator. Toll was found guilty of wilfully damaging trees belonging to Joseph Tucker and sentenced to four years penal servitude.

References: QSR1846/4/5/1; QSR1856/4/5/12