A policeman’s life – Samuel Hicklin (1858-1924) Part 2

Part 1 – A (very) young constable 

 Part 3 – Chief Superintendent Hicklin 

Climbing the ladder  – from Sergeant to Superintendent

Bradley Green Police Station  (from Edina Digimap 1880)

Hicklin’s next move was to a completely different area – Bradley Green, near Biddulph in the Potteries District, where he took up a position as Sergeant 2nd class on December 1st1884. Perhaps oddly, as he scaled the promotion ladder, he becomes somewhat less visible, because of fewer court appearances and, one suspects, because the Congleton and Macclesfield Mercury, on which we rely for this period of Hicklin’s career, provided a less comprehensive news coverage than the County Express and County Advertiser between them for Tividale and Pensnett. But the necessity to deal with drunks and disorderly behavior continued, and we meet Hicklin in court a number of times proving cases of this type. In addition there are the usual incidences of petty theft and “furious” driving of horse and carts that needed to be addressed. He was also called to a number of suicides usually by hanging, then a criminal offence of course, and had to cut down the body. He was clearly becoming involved in more administrative duties, and we hear reports of him attending the Biddulph Local Board, and being given authority by that board to prosecute for “stone-throwing, swearing and dis-orderliness in the public street” on behalf of the Board.  

Of the more unusual incidents he had to deal with, perhaps the most distressing was that of Emily Poole of Hanley, who was very badly mistreated by her stepmother Priscilla Poole, a case which came to court in 1887. Emily was about 20, but looked much younger, and had been repeatedly beaten, left unfed with very little clothing, and was often required to work naked around the house. The neighbours, taking pity, gave her some clothes, but the step-mother pawned these. She slept in a damp, leaking garret room with very little bedding. Hicklin in giving evidence said he would rather sleep in the open air than in such a room as that. Over the past year Emily had tried to commit suicide, and Priscilla had continually abused the neighbours who remonstrated with her over step-daughter’s treatment.  The magistrate stated that this was the worst crime that he had ever had to deal with and sentenced Priscilla Poole to the maximum level he was allowed – six months in prison with hard labour. 

Perhaps the main incident that occurred during his time at Bradley Green, was in 1889 when he and one of his constables. PC Clay were charged with assaulting Samson Chadwick, a collier, in 1889. Chadwick had clearly been acting in a disruptive fashion in public, almost certainly due to drink, and PC Clay had tried to arrest him. He went with the PC quietly at first, but then began to resist. In a scuffle Clay threw him to the ground and tried to drag him, handcuffed, to the police station. Being unable to do so, he fetched Hicklin and another PC and between them they dragged Chadwick along the ground for three hundred yards to the station, in full view of the public.  At the station he was put into a cell, and was allegedly thrown roughly onto a bench, resulting in a black eye and other injuries. Witnesses testified that Clay kicked Chadwick on the ground while he was being dragged and that he did not have any injuries when he was put into the cell. According to Hicklin’s statement he was “laid very carefully upon the bench in the cell”.  Despite what appeared to be quite strong evidence that the police had been somewhat rougher than they ought to have been, and the less than convincing police statements, the magistrates conferred and decided in favour of the police.  And Samuel Hicklin was able to continue his career. 

The Hicklin’s third son Samuel was born in March 1891 and was baptized at Oldbury in early September. In the census of that year, Hicklin’s age had increased again to 36, giving a birth date of 1854/1855. In reality he was coming up to 33 at the time.  Eliza’s age was given as 35 and thus a birth year of 1855/56.

In November 1891, Hicklin moved directly from being a Sergeant 2nd class to being an Inspector 2nd class, thus jumping a grade. This involved a move to Burton upon Trent in the Rural District in 1891 and a subsequent move to Tipton, back in the Mining district for a brief period in 1896, at the same grade. Burton was of course near to his home, and the duties would have involved policing the area where he was born and brought up. In 1896 there were 17 Inspectors and 14 Superintendents in the Staffordshire Constabulary, which implies roughly one each per division. In this period of his career, Hicklin is at his least visible and the Burton Chronicle makes few mentions of him – too senior to be required to make many press-reported court appearances, but not quite senior enough to be the public face of the force. But where he does appear, the incidents he was dealing with were far removed from the drunkards of earlier years. At Burton in 1892, he rather wonderfully identified a shop-breaking suspect by comparing a boot print at the crime scene with the suspect’s boots – proper police procedure! In 1895, he was instrumental in the arrest of a fraudster on the run from the police in Oxford, having obtained jewelry by false pretenses; and in the same year, he arrested another travelling fraudster, who had pretended to be an old acquaintance of a number of leading cricketers of the day, now suffering from sickness, in order to obtain donations.  He moved to Tipton in early 1996 on what would seem to be a short term posting. The major incident that he was involved with there was the trial of Sarah Jane Williams (43) and Frederick Ward (49) were charged with the theft on significant money and property to the value of £400 from John Williams, Sarah’s husband, and then eloping via Liverpool to the United States.  Hicklin was entrusted with sailing to the United States in their pursuit and received them into custody on board the Belgenlandin Washington Docks, Philadelphia. It is to be hoped that he was actually allowed to disembark and see something of the USA after such a trip!

During their time in Burton, the Hicklin’s daughter Flora was born in Burton in August 1892.

Burton upon Trent and Tipton Police stations  (from Edina Digimap 1900)

On December 1st1896, Hicklin was appointed as a Superintendent (again jumping the grade) of Inspector 1st class and moved back to Burton upon Trent where he was in charge of the Burton Division, with 18 stations including Uttoxeter, Tutbury, Horninglow, Alrewas, Yoxall and Burton itself. By this time the Districts had been renamed –the Mining District as District A, the Rural District as District B and the Potteries District as District C. After the years as Inspector when his activities weren’t very visible, becoming the Superintendent put him very much in the public eye. Whilst he was no longer involved in arresting drunks he was responsible for licensing public houses, and had to report on an annual basis to the various licensing authorities in the area on the number of licenses, number of offences of drunken behavior, recommendations for granting or withholding licenses etc. He seems to have exchanged catching drunks for counting them! He can also be seen making reports to local council committees on various aspects of policing; attending fund raising functions, including kicking off a charity football match between Burton and Lichfield Police; organizing inspections of police forces; and attending funerals and delivering tributes. In short he became a public representative of the police in the area. 

He and his family lived in accommodation at the Police Station on Station Street, together with 8 police constables (presumably in some sort of dormitory facility) and for the night of the 1901 census, three prisoners in the cells. The picture below is from the Burton upon Trent History website and is captioned there as showing the newly appointed Superintendent Moss in 1898. Moss was actually appointed in late 1906 / early 1907, after Hicklin left Burton. So either the picture is wrongly dated and shows Superintendent Moss in 1907, or the picture is of Samuel Hicklin himself. I would of course like the latter to be true, but even if it is not, it does give clear indication of the sort of uniform worn by the Staffordshire Constabulary at the time. 

Description: Macintosh HD:Users:chrisbaker:Dropbox:Web site:Blog material:Hicklin:Pictures:Burton police andstation 1898 - superintendent Moss? or Hicklin.jpg

Superintendent Moss or Hicklin? (from http://www.burton-on-trent.org.uk/category/amenities/police/police1)

Some things however remained the same – he continued to bring malefactors to court for not being in proper control of their horse and cart, or for causing obstructions on the highway. “Reckless cycling” through the borough was also becoming an issue. The range of minor crimes he and his men investigated was very wide – for example house breaking, cruelty to animals, shoplifting, perjury, embezzlement and fraud, illegal betting, trespass and family maintenance defaulters. He also had to deal with a distressing number of suicides and attempted suicides. In general both Hicklin and the bench of magistrates were very gentle with survivors, and tried to place them in situations where they might find help.   

Amongst the most amusing of these minor incidents was the case in 1899 of the shop fire at Burton-upon-Trent where the owner, a Mr. joseph North, a draper from Uxbridge Street, was unable explain to Hicklin how the fire had started at around midnight and why he and his wife were fully dressed at that time after retiring to bed early. Hicklin, unsurprisingly, found the facts that Mr Richardson’s attire included collar and tie and laced up boots more than a little suspicious, particularly in the light of the fact that the level of insurance was about eight times the value of the stock that was burnt.  There was a further case in 1905, when Hicklin was able to solve a series of robberies that had been committed by Elizabeth Smith and Mary Parkes, through the initiative of a local shoe shop owner, who attached an enticing pair of slippers to a cord, leading to a mousetrap that was activated (presumably loudly!) when the slippers were taken. When Hicklin searched the suspect’s homes, he found, to quote his evidence “a cartload of stuff, including boots, shoes and clothing”. 

The ongoing series of relatively minor offences however were punctuated by major incidents of violence and murder, which naturally made the headlines in the local (and sometimes national) press. Of these two incidents stand out –the first that ultimately involved only minor injury, and the third that involved quite a complex murder investigation. Both were reported very widely in newspapers across the UK. In both, Hicklin showed himself to be much more than a desk bound administrator. 

In the first of these, in 1900, some children were standing on the Recreation Ground  canal bridge in Burton, when one of the boatmen on a passing barge shot at them from below with a pellet gun. Five of the children were injured in the face and shoulders. The incident was reported to the police in Burton and we read that Hicklin chased them for seven miles along the canal (presumably mounted) and then arrested them at Alrewas. The claim was made that the children had been throwing stones.  The three boatmen – Benjamin Nixon, Emmanuel Lloyd and Harry Banks- were charged with causing grievous bodily harm to the children. From the evidence presented it was not clear which of the three had fired the shots. They were committed for trial at the Quarter Sessions. From our perspective, the interesting aspect is that Hicklin, even at the rank of Superintendent, rode after them, and arrested them, knowing that they were potentially armed – an act of considerable bravery. 

We find a similar pattern in perhaps the major incident of Hicklin’s time in Burton.  On a Sunday morning, in late January 1903, PC William Price, based at Stretton near Burton, was investigating the stealing of some ferrets. His enquiries led him to a “gypsy” encampment consisting of several caravans, where he arrested a certain Tom Sherrif.  Sherriff’s two brothers John and William then attacked him with sticks and stones. When trying to use his baton, Price was repeatedly hit and forced to the ground where they continued to beat him. They eventually made their escape, despite the efforts of Price who tried to pursue them before collapsing. He was taken to Burton Infirmary and wounds on his head dressed. Later however at home he became delirious and was readmitted to hospital, where a fractured skull was diagnosed and an operation performed. Price however died later that night. It would seem that when Hicklin heard of the events, he drove (a horse and trap) and having driven through his home territory of Marston-on-Dove and Hilton, caught up with the caravans at Hatton, and arrested the group. He was assisted by a number of constables it would seem, although reports are a little vague. Those he arrested however, were the mother and father of the three brothers – Hope and Hattie Sherriff , who were traveling Hawkers, and another Hawker Arkless Holland, together with other younger family members.  The evidence that these gave at the inquest the following day suggested they were not involved in the assault although they did little to prevent it. The three brothers in the meantime were nowhere to be found and a search was instigated. Again the actions of Hicklin are interesting – driving after what could have been a group of very violent youths in order to make an arrest, with little support. The runaways were eventually sighted at Scropton about eight miles from Burton, but overpowered and maltreated the officer, Sergeant Hutchinson ,who tried to arrest them. Reports were later received of them being sighted in Derby and Belper. They were eventually captured at Buxton on Wednesday night and Hicklin and a Sergeant went by train to collect them, suitably handcuffed, on Thursday morning. They met with a hostile reception from a large crowd at Burton station, and were brought to court very quickly, where they were remanded in custody. At the County Sessions a week later the three brothers pleaded guilty to murder, but stated that their father and Holland were not guilty. They were all committed for trail at Stafford Assizes in March 1903. In the train on the way to Stafford Jail the three brothers were overheard discussing the fight with the Price by the constable accompanying them.  The charges against Hope Sherriff and Arkless Holland were not proceeded with at the Assizes due to lack of evidence, but the three brothers, who had changed their plea to not guilty, were found guilty of manslaughter, based partly on the overheard conversation on the train.  This sentence was possibly arrived at, as it was not possible to say which, if any of them, was actually responsible for the blow that fractured Price’s  skull and resulted in his death. They were each sentenced to 15 years penal servitude. In 1911 they were all held in the prison on the Isle of Portland.  Whether they were actually gypsies (i.e. Romany) or not is debatable, and they might simply have been travelling tinkers. The term “gypsy” however was clearly used in a derogatory way in much of the press coverage.

Samuel and Eliza’s time second period in Burton was not without personal trauma. Their two older sons, both in their twenties, died in that period – John in 1899 and William in 1904.  Their youngest child Reginald was born in 1899. In the 1901 census, Samuel’s age is given as 46 and Eliza’s as 43 and thus implying birth years of 1854/5 and 1857/58. At that time, William, aged 18, is recorded as an Engineer’s apprentice. 

In August 1906, Hicklin was promoted to the rank of Chief Superintendent, and left Burton with fulsome tributes from the Mayor, the bench of Magistrates and court officials and counsel. The tone of the tributes as reported in the press was warm and he seems to have been held in genuine respect and affection. 

Part 1 – A (very) young constable 

 Part 3 – Chief Superintendent Hicklin 

4 thoughts on “A policeman’s life – Samuel Hicklin (1858-1924) Part 2

  1. I can confirm the sheriff’s were Romany gypsies, I’m curious why you would find it debatable? The story regarding Pc Price differs greatly depending which source you choose to follow.


  2. Thanks for this. I guess my scepticism reflects my background to some extent – when I was brought up in the Black Country in the 60s, the word gypsy was used indiscriminately to refer to a whole host of those on the margins of society be they Romany or not. I agree with you too re the accounts of the murder. Most of the accounts were written very close to the event when things weren’t terribly clear. and the story fluctuated somewhat. I have tried to use the trial sources which may or may not be more reliable, But there is room for uncertainty certainly.

    Thanks again – it is nice that someone has read the story!


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