THE KILLING OF A KING
The New Forest inn, The Sir Walter Tyrrell, gives its name to the man thought to be responsible for the death of King William 11. The Rufus Stone, which can be seen in a clearing nearby at the side of an unclassified road north of the A31, recalls the death of King William 11 (1056 – 1100). It was erected in 1745 to replace a tree which had marked the original spot where William Rufus was killed by an arrow whilst hunting in the New Forest. But was the death an accident ? Called Rufus supposedly because of his ruddy appearance, William was a man, so it is said, who was ill tempered and small both in body and in mind. He was loathed by his people and few tears were shed when he was killed, and indeed the clergy at Winchester Cathedral refused religious rites to his remains.
Whilst his death was probably an accident, Tyrrell has by tradition been suspected of being responsible. Was it an accident or was it regicide? We will never know. The Sir Walter Tyrrell Inn can be found nearby. The former forge at nearby Avon is where, according to legend, Sir William stopped before fording the river, and made the blacksmith reverse his horse’s shoes in order to mislead his pursuers, whilst fleeing the scene.
THE RUFUS STONE
THE KILLING OF A POLICEMAN
THE KILLING OF A POLICEMAN
Some other gypsies were very fortunate at Taunton Assizes in 1876 when, charged with the murder of a policeman, they were rather surprisingly convicted of manslaughter.
PC Nathaniel Cox was the well respected village policeman at East Coker near Yeovil in
where he lived with his wife and four young children. On the night of Somerset 16th November 1876, PC Cox
was kicked and bludgeoned to death whilst in the discharge of his duty. Nat Cox was 37 years of age, broad
shouldered, thick in fist, a brave man who could look after himself and
normally a ready match for any law breaker.
It was the eve of Yeovil Fair which often meant trouble for the local
police with an increase of horse thieving and poaching. Taking no chances, the police were
patrolling in pairs and Cox was with a younger colleague, PC Henry Stacey from
West Coker, when they had occasion to stop and check a horse and cart being
driven by one man with three other men walking alongside. Suddenly PC Cox was struck a heavy blow on
the head which left him sprawled on the road.
PC Stacey, who went to his assistance, was also felled with a blow to
the head which left him unconscious in a ditch. When he came round there was no sign of the
cart, the four men, or indeed PC Cox.
The seriously injured policeman managed to summon assistance from a
nearby farm and PC Cox was subsequently found lying dead a short distance away.
The local doctor later said in evidence, of PC Cox, ‘I found he had a compound comminuted fracture of the scalp on the left side of the head and the brain was protruding. The left ear was badly lacerated.’ He said he thought that the terrible injuries had been caused by a succession of heavy kicks. Comminute means to break into little pieces, to crush or grind. PC Stacey was critically ill for some weeks with severe concussion, but eventually recovered.
A police notice was soon circulating naming three members of a well known family of poachers – George Hutchinson (55) and his two sons, Giles (30) and Peter (26). The three men had disappeared but a fourth man, Charles Baker, was soon arrested and charged with murder. George and Giles Hutchinson eventually gave themselves up and Peter was subsequently found hiding in a loft at West Coker. All four men eventually appeared at Taunton Assizes charged with the murder of PC Cox and the attempted murder of PC Stacey.
The dramatic evidence to’d and fro’d about what had happened on the fateful night. The local populace had no doubt about the guilt of the four accused men, but Lord Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Cockburn, told the jury, ‘ When PC Cox met his death, it was by foul means, both gross and brutal…. That the violence was the act of some, if not all the prisoners is, I feel, clear. But as to how and in what precise circumstances the constable met his death, we are left absolutely in the dark.’ After deliberating for just 45 minutes the jury found all four guilty of manslaughter! There was a gasp of disbelief around the courtroom. His Lordship then said, ‘The jury have taken a merciful view in your case and I think have acted wisely too. I don’t think this was a case of premeditated murder.’ He decided that George Hutchinson had taken no part in the attack and gave him a free pardon. This followed a dramatic interruption by the accused Baker, who told the judge that the older man had not left the cart and took no part in the assaults on the two constables. The other three men were sentenced to 24 years penal servitude.
In time, widow Mrs Cox, told an uncanny story. On the night before her husband’s death he had had a restless night. He told her, ‘I’ve had a bad time. I dreamt that I had a fight with some gypsies and they gave me a horrible smack on the head.’
PC Cox was buried in the churchyard at East Coker where a nice stone marks his grave.