Constable Selmes keeps the peace

Kevin Gordon 21-12-12
Kevin Gordon 21-12-12

I recently wrote about Seaford’s Victorian Constable and how busy he was.

On Sunday 1st July 1866 ,PC Selmes was woken at 1.30am by a coastguardsman who had noticed a glow in the sky towards Sutton. He got dressed and proceeded to the scene where, on arrival, he found that a barn was on fire. This barn was the property of the Reverend J Harison, the vicar of St Andrew’s Church, Bishopstone. PC Selmes quickly assessed the situation noticing that the barn was about half full and that the fire had started to spread to a nearby wooden building. The building contained horses and other animals and the brave officer managed to lead the horses to safety.

He then commenced a search of the area and found two men James Hooper and James Powell, two itinerant turnip-pickers in a nearby shed. They had been drinking and were arrested on suspicion of arson. Despite the efforts of PC Selmes and others, the barn could not be saved and it was destroyed along with several pieces of farm machinery stored inside.

A few weeks later PC Selmes was in court giving evidence, this time for an offence which is no longer on the statute books – the crime of a man absenting himself from the service of his master. The man in the dock was 29-year-old Reuben Green and his master was Thomas Woodhams. After hearing the evidence, the Bailiff Mr Turner, acting as chief magistrate, said that this crime was a “growing evil” and found the defendant guilty, sentencing him to one month’s imprisonment.

A few days later, our officer was again in court after he had reported three men, William Roberts, Thomas Brown and James Ince for stealing pebbles from the beach. PC Selmes had seen the men loading the stones into their boat. He estimated that there was about a ton of shingle in all which apparently had the value of one shilling (5p) The men pleaded not guilty saying that they had been removing shingle from Seaford beach openly for over 30 years and also shingle had been openly removed by Mr Thomas Crook who was a member of the corporation. Evidence was heard from Walter Towner the Treasurer for Seaford Corporation – he skirted around the issue of one of his own members taking shingle and said that the council had put notices on the beach. The men were found guilty and fined. There was a similar case in June 1867 when the vigilant PC Selmes spotted three men taking cartloads of shingle from the beach. They were also convicted.

That same year (1867) PC Selmes was on duty in Church Street Seaford when he saw William Clark walking along with a bulge in his pocket. The officer obviously thought this was suspicious and followed him. He asked Clark what he had in his pocket but Clark refused to show him. Selmes pulled the item out (a bottle of beer) and arrested the suspect. Enquiries were made and it was found that Mr Thompsett, a grocer had had a bottle stolen from his shop in the High Street a few days before. The bottle had no identifying marks but when Tompsett tasted the beer from the bottle he was able to positively identify it as his. (I wonder how many sips he had to take?!) The subsequent jury were obviously not happy with this means of identification and Clarke was acquitted.

Another 1867 arrest was more successful. PC Selmes arrested 20-year-old Ann Harris for theft. Although she was from Hailsham, she was working as a maid at the Terminus Hotel in Dane Road (now the Shore Pub). She had stolen 17 shillings from the landlord Edmund Reeves. Under questioning the girl admitted the theft. She wept bitterly throughout the trial and was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

1867 was busy for the officer who not only dealt with crime and public order. In July that year he was called back to the Buckle Inn where the body of 85-year-old John Guilfoyle had been found drowned in a water-tank outside the pub. The deceased lived nearby and had recently been ill. Guilfoyle was a coastguardsman at Blatchington Coastguard Station so the subsequent inquest could not decide if he had drowned by way of accident or suicide.