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A policeman's lot

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

In 2021 we are very accustomed to the protection we have from the police service. Our area police station is now in Amersham since the premises in Tatling End were closed in 2017 to make room for a housing project. Policing responsibility for Denham now lies with the Thames Valley Police and it has been so since 1968 when it was first called the Thames Valley Constabulary. Denham’s current local policing team consists of an inspector, a police sergeant, two senior police officers and one police constable.

In this month’s post we explore the evolution of the police force, some of the crimes committed through the years and meet some of the people involved. How do they compare with 2021? Read on!

The ninth to the early nineteenth centuries

Until the ninth century there was no organised service that could be called anything like policing. It was simply the responsibility and duty of every citizen to keep the laws of the land and assist in their maintenance.

But by the ninth century, as the population had increased, demand grew for the establishment of a better and more peaceful social order. So, the post of local sheriff (shire reeve) was created. Together with a group of people collectively known as a ‘posse comitatus’, the task of the sheriffs was to keep order, tackle crime and defend the counties in which they lived.

In 1181, during the reign of Henry II, all men were obliged to possess and bear arms in the service of king and country, according to their wealth and position in society. To enforce this obligation in 1233, the role of watchmen was created and in 1252, that of “constable”, a word derived from old French simply meaning a holder of public office.

The job of the watchmen and constables was to call to arms, keep the peace and hand over offenders to the sheriff. A system known as ‘watch and ward’ was adopted. With the gates of towns and cities closed from dusk to dawn, it was the duty of a constable to keep ‘watch’ during the night-time and to ‘ward’ off crime during the day. A city might have as many as sixteen constables and around four in a smaller community.

In 1285, the Statute of Winchester, also known as the Statute of Winton, was enacted. This statute required that anyone who witnessed a crime was obliged to call a ‘hue and cry’. This simply meant calling out very loudly so that others followed suit, verbally passing the cry on until the perpetrator was captured and taken to the sheriff. All able-bodied men were expected to give chase and were entitled to arrest the person being pursued even if he or she was later proved innocent. Anyone resisting arrest could lawfully be killed on the spot. This statute remarkably remained in place until the nineteenth century.

The nineteenth century.

From the early 1800s, watchmen and constables were organised in a more structured way within their local communities. This movement was led by Sir John Fielding who worked to ensure that, during the late 18th century, the Bow Street Runners became a team of efficient, paid constables. It was his magistrate brother, Henry who had set up the Runners in 1754.

Then on 29 September 1829, the Metropolitan Police force was established in London following governmental agreement to the proposal by the then Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel. The constables were nicknamed ‘peelers’ or ‘bobbies’ after Sir Robert. Today, there are many who still refer to policemen as bobbies. To avoid any similarity with a military force these men were not armed and wore a blue uniform. There were 450 constables and 4,500 night watchmen responsible for a London population of almost a million and a half.


During the early nineteenth century, when watchmen and constables policed the area, the most prevalent crimes in Denham were poaching, theft and possession of firearms - a relatively low level of crime compared with other parts of the county of Buckinghamshire which suffered far more serious crimes.

Our thanks are owed to ex police officer Leonard Woodley for his research into crimes committed in Denham, just a few of which are outlined below. They were sourced from the Bucks Chronicle archives and court calendars currently held at the Buckinghamshire records office.


Poachers were particularly unpopular amongst the local landowners who maintained the criminal justice system in early 19th century England. They could not expect leniency.

The Bucks Chronicle reported on January 19th, 1828 that William Holt and Alfred Dancer were convicted of being in a wood in Denham armed with a gun with the intent to kill and destroy game. The court in this case was relatively lenient as they had not actually used the weapon, but still Dancer was sentenced to six months hard labour and as Holt had a previous conviction for being armed in a wood intent on killing rabbits and another conviction in 1825 for stealing fowl, his sentence was twelve months hard labour.

Two other poacher miscreants were even less fortunate. At the Assizes of March 1831, George Hanstead, 48, and James Walden, 28 were charged with being together on the night of December 16th 1830, in the company of another, armed for the purpose of destroying game. The gamekeeper heard a gun being fired in Spring Park Wood in Denham and saw them leave the park with a gun. The person not charged was found to have a warm pheasant in his pocket. The gamekeeper was attacked by the two named men, but his son arrived and helped arrest them. The third man ran off. Hanstead was transported to New South Wales for seven years. He left on the ship, ‘Mary’ on May 21st 1832, arriving on August 21st 1832 there to serve his time and perhaps aid the colonisation of Australia.

These were times when punishment for crime was being reassessed. Sentences for petty crimes in particular were getting lighter. In their place, other ideas were being tried out with a new emphasis on rehabilitation rather than just retribution and deterrence. The change was apparent in Denham cases. By 1842 rather less harsh penalties were being imposed for poaching. On May 75th 1842, Richard Baker, ‘a working man, very decently dressed' was fined 10 shillings (£56 in today’s money) for trespassing on land in Denham in search of conies (rabbit furs) and a further 18 shillings costs. Then at Eton Petty Sessions, May 21st, 1842 Denham poacher William Peedle was fined £2 (over £200) plus costs, or two months hard labour if the fine was not paid.

Other Denham miscreants and felons

The same evolving new approach to sentencing was evident in other cases in the village.

At the Lent Assizes in 1803 John Haynes aged 26 and William Gregory were sentenced to be hanged for stealing a bay gelding. However at the Bucks Summer Assizes on July 18th 1833 20 year old Richard Ashlee suffered a sentence of just 12 months imprisonment for stealing 27 shillings from Ann Verney whilst at the fair in Denham. (She had felt his hand in her pocket). At the Easter Sessions in the following year, James Hearn and Anthony Hedge were sentenced to six weeks imprisonment with hard labour, the last week of which to be spent in solitary confinement. Their crime was the theft of one live cock, valued at 2 shillings, one live hen, 2 shillings and one live fowl, also 2 shillings.

Then at the Bucks Assizes on July 19th 1836. Joseph Turner, aged 21 and Frederick Whitfield, aged 19 were convicted of the manslaughter of Eleanor Turner in Denham by giving her a quantity of the Spanish Fly drink thought to be a natural aphrodisiac. They escaped with sentences limited to 12 months imprisonment. Rape nonetheless still attracted severe penalty. At the Summer Assizes in 1845, Henry Channer was ordered to be deported for life for the rape of Sarah Oxley at Denham. It is not known whether the conditions he encountered where he was deported gave him his just desserts.


In 1856 legislation required that constabulary police forces be set up in all areas paid for by government money distributed to local authorities. By 1900, 46,800 policemen had been appointed to 117 constabularies throughout England, Wales and Scotland.

The Buckinghamshire Constabulary was established on 6th February 1857 with its Headquarters in Aylesbury. Thirty-two candidates applied for the post of Chief Constable. Captain Willoughby Harcourt Carter was the successful candidate and was appointed as the first Chief Constable of the Buckinghamshire for. He had charge of 100 men. There were five Superintendents, five first class Inspectors, five second class Inspectors, five Sergeants, 30 first class constables, 30 second class constables and 20 third class constables.

We have a detailed description of the conditions encountered by Chief Constable Carter when he first took up his post:

“The Chief Constable travelled around the county in a pony and trap accompanied by his groom. Old lock-ups were converted into police stations until purpose built stations could be built. The Chief Constable was given a house near the present Judge's lodgings at Aylesbury. Constables were found lodgings and found themselves sharing up to four a room.

A search was made for suitable sites for the new police stations, and a housing policy was formed. When the first constables were posted to their respective beats it was their responsibility to find their own lodgings, which would then, in each case, become the police house.

Outside the constable would have to place a metal plate marked "County Police" with which he was issued at the time of his posting. The Chief Constable considered this metal plate very important and it was considered to be part of the constable's appointments.

These metal plates could be seen outside "Beat Houses" up until the late 1980s.”

The role of Chief Constable was quite powerful. Carter gained a reputation as a particularly strict disciplinarian with constables being reported for the most trivial of matters. Many were fined for minor misdemeanours. One of the first constables was dismissed for being drunk at his lodgings and one of the first General Orders of the Chief Constable set out strict requirements as to how constables should conduct themselves:

“Chief Constables Office, Aylesbury, 21st March 1857.

“The Force will parade on Sunday morning at 10 o'clock and such men as are already in possession of waist belts will appear in them. As the men are yet but incompletely clothed they will not be marched to church, but every member of the Force is distinctly reminded that he is expected to appear at the parish church and to sit in that part of it which the minister has appointed for the use of the Constabulary.

The Superintendents will be in attendance to point out the sittings and it is expected that every man will be in possession of a prayer book. The Chief Constable directs that everyone will be seated a quarter of an hour before the service commences and that the utmost order and decorum will be observed. On the service being concluded the men will continue seated until the congregation have left the church when Superintendent Bragg will give the signal to rise and quit the church; and this must be done in the most orderly and quiet manner; the men on no account to passing over the gravestones or quitting the church yard with unbecoming haste.

The more quiet and orderly the police on all occasions are, the more they will be respected as a body, and the Chief Constable trusts that every member of the Force will do his utmost to gain for himself the respect of all classes.

Signed W.H. Carter, Chief Constable.”

Although successive Chief Constables were rather less strict, some of the practices demanded by Willoughby Carter continued until 1934.

“A Constable's shifts consisted of six hours during the night and three hours during the day. During this period, he would have to meet his superior officers at conference points at pre-arranged times. A conference point would be held at a local landmark - for instance, outside a well-known house or a road junction. The constable would be given information and updated on matters of crime, observations, etc. The superior officer sometimes did not turn up but the constable would have to be there. He would also have to note the fact he was there in his journal. In the very early days if the constable was found to be only a minute late he would be fined 2/6d out of his pay. During his off-duty time he was not allowed to leave the location of his lodgings in case a member of the public required the constable.”

The photo here shows the Aylesbury force as it was in 1894 with the then Chief Constable John C. Tyrwhitt-Drake

at centre with his walking stick

The Buckinghamshire Constabulary existed for 111 years until on April 1st, 1968 it merged with the Oxford City Police, Oxfordshire Constabulary, Berkshire Constabulary and Reading Borough Police to form the Thames Valley Constabulary, now called The Thames Valley Police. Viewers of the fictional TV series, ‘Endeavour’ may recall some of the teething problems such a merger can create.


PC Charles William Trevener, seen here as an elderly man, had the misfortune to be the first constable to enter the house belonging to the Marshall family and therefore discovering the bodies of the seven members of the family murdered there in May 1870. Previously working as a labourer, he became a 3rd Class Constable in 1869 and transferred to Denham as a 1st Class Sergeant in May 1869. Here he found lodgings in one of the four cottages which have since become one property, namely Fayrestede. He was married with two young sons, the oldest of which, also called, Charles and also became a policeman.

It was at his home on Village Road at 7pm on May 23rd 1870 that Constable Trevener was called upon by Charles Alderman, an agricultural labourer living in Yew Tree Cottage, to head to the Marshall’s home in Cheapside Lane. Coincidentally, PC Trevener had encountered the convicted killer at 3am the previous morning. He believed him to be a poacher but without any evidence he was unable to act further. He certainly recalled that meeting the following day.

With seven people callously cut down, this was a major crime and too great for a resident village policeman. Once he had handed over to more senior officers PC Trevener became an important participant as principal witness at the inquest, the magistrate’s hearing and at the trial of John Jones who was subsequently convicted and hanged for the crime. He didn’t have far to go for the first inquest as it was held in the Swan Inn, just a few doors away from his home.

He must have conducted himself well as in August 1870, just two weeks after John Jones was hanged, Chief Constable John C.T Drake promoted him to Acting Sergeant. His record shows he transferred to Burnham in January 1872 and retired from the force in 1893. His record does identify a couple of drink-related misdemeanours in the later years of his service. And it may be unsurprising that in his retirement from the police force, Charles William Trevener ran a public house in Colnbrook.

The dreadful murder of members of the Marshall family is very well documented by Neil Watson in his book, “The Denham Massacre” and we are grateful to him for his assistance and photographs, currently in the website Gallery.

PC Benjamin Bunker, seen here with his son William, was living in Cedar Cottage in 1881 and working as resident police constable for Denham. At the time he was a 3rd Class Sergeant but by his retirement in 1914, he had been a Superintendent for ten years and was awarded the George V Coronation medal. He also later suffered a reprimand for his conduct - for daring to express his opinion at the Borough Elections at Bledlow.

Benjamin’s son, William Bunker was also in the force although not stationed in Denham.

William Payne became a police constable in1875 and served his last few years as Merit Class Constable. He lived in Cheapside Lane and later in Meadowside cottage on Old Mill Road or “New Road” as it was then apparently called. Ann remembers hearing about a Constable Payne, patrolling the streets, carrying a truncheon and according to her father, putting “the fear of God into most of the residents”.


Much is known in the village about the horrific murder of seven members of the Marshall family in Cheapside Lane in 1870. Several local people have read Neil Watson's book on "The Denham Massacre", telling not just of the crime itself but with fascinating information about then then farming community.

There have been other serious crimes in the village in addition to the Cheapside murders in 1870. Mercifully, these incidents have been few.

Charley Plumridge

On a hot summer's day in August 1886, Charles Plumridge and former soldier Alfred Hitch were hoeing turnips together on James Morten's 1800 acre Savay Farm. Quite what happened between them is unclear, but Hitch was soon seen wandering off from his work. He found his way to The Falcon where he stopped for a beer, then wandered on down to the Dog and Duck on the road to Uxbridge where he paid for another with a half sovereign. He was in quite a state, noisily rambling and proclaiming how he had plenty of money and how he had murdered Charley Plumridge. The landlord threw him out

Back on the farm, two days later local gamekeeper William Peverill came across the body of Charles Plumridge, a man who lived alone near Red Hill. He had not been missed. His body was removed to The Swan where later an inquest jury decided that he had been the victim of wilful murder.

Hitch was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to hang for his crime, though he claimed to have no recollection. The jury at his trial had recommended mercy acknowledging his mental state and he was later granted a reprieve.

A fuller account can be found under the title "A Summer Madness" in Len Woodley's book "Buckinghamshire Murders" (See "Sources" below)

Joyce Vera Green

In the final ten years of the Buckinghamshire Constabulary there was one serious, crime in Denham that is remembered by some villagers to this day. It is the unsolved murder of Joyce Vera Green in 1958. Ann recalls lying on a beach on holiday reading the news of Joyce’s murder in a national newspaper.

Monday morning, August 25th, 1958, a man knocked on the back door of Mrs. Green's home on Old Mill Road. He pushed in the door and forced Mrs. Green and her seven year old son back into the hall leading to the front of the cottage. He then wrestled Mrs. Green to the floor. The boy ran upstairs but the man followed him and locked him in a cupboard. The boy broke out but hearing him the man ran upstairs again and assured the distraught lad that his mother was alive and well. The man then stole all he could find in the house and fled. No-one has ever been prosecuted. There has been much speculation about one suspect but the police files on the case held in the National Archives are closed until 2044.


Some of our readers have told us their own recollections of minor criminal incidents.

Christine told us of a foiled crime in Baconsmead from the early 1950s. She wrote:

“My father managed a Christmas savings club for years for The Falcon in the village on a Friday night. Pay out was just before Christmas. One year my father must have collected the annual savings from the bank in a small brown suitcase the day before payout. I remember that he slept with it under his pillow! That very night there was a burglary in the house behind the Baconsmead cottages, then named Redenham, It was thought that someone must have been tipped off. Luckily for us they went to the wrong house. Needless to say, my father made sure he never had the responsibility of keeping savings' cash in the house ever again.”

Val shared the following: “I once caught four burglars…I had left some meringues in the oven and I went to deliver “Meals on Wheels”. When I returned, I was sitting in the car when I heard a noise! I hurried into the house and four burglars were emptying drawers and piling everything up on the patio out back. I ran into the house and they ran out and ran back to a car on Ashmead Lane! I chased after them with a notebook and pencil to copy their license, so I could (and did) notify the police! Later, it was discovered that the burglars were actually three men and a woman in trousers. The police caught the burglars as they were throwing silver out the windows!! I went to Aylesbury Court and they were sentenced to two years, except for the woman. Brave woman foils burglary!! was the headline in the local paper: The Buckinghamshire Advertiser.”

John's recollections of crime are rather less serious. He told us that he remembers being fined 10/6d for cycling down Redhill without lights.

David Sykes was one of the earliest Thames Valley Police beat officers for Denham serving the community from 1970 to 1972, having been posted to the Gerrard’s Cross Police Station in 1969. One of his memories of that time was being called to Savay Farm where children were reportedly trespassing. The incident became rather more serious when it was discovered that some of the children had removed parts of a skeleton from the tomb of a member of the Mosley family. The CID became involved. No further action was taken against the children. The skeletal remains were interred by the local vicar during a religious ceremony with the family.

But, finally, a policeman’s lot is not always a less than happy one. On a lighter note, David tells of a rather a close and unusual encounter for a police officer seeking to protect the citizens of our village community. A charity event with a Roman theme was being held in the grounds of Denham Place with tents for the guests as, at the time, the building was uninhabited and required a lot of renovation.

PC Sykes was walking with the security guard through a walkway with high rose bushes when a fully grown male lion appeared on the path ahead of them. It was only when they were able to see past the dense vegetation that they were relieved to discover that the animal was clearly held on a chain in the firm grasp of a previously hidden keeper. He assured the two men that the lion would not bite but merely suck them to death. The lion was from the Animal Kingdom, a company that provided a variety of animals for film productions.


Portrait of Sir Robert Peel by John Linnell 1838 © National Portrait Gallery, London -

The Poacher by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


British Newspaper Archive -

Colin Boyes, Curator, Thames Valley Police Museum

The National Archives of the United Kingdom

Mick Shaw, Buckinghamshire Constabulary website

“Buckinghamshire Murders” by Len Woodley published by The Book Castle, Dunstable

Neil Watson, author of “The Denham Massacre”

David Sykes, retired police officer

The Journal of the Police History Society


Aylesbury Buckinghamshire Constabulary Headquarters 1894

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