Law and Order
Contributed by Sue Burgess
Cuckfield Museum re-opens after the annual winter break with our Law & Order display, featuring a very rare survival of an original Victorian poster, donated by a recent visitor to the museum.
It offers a reward for the capture of members of the notorious Frimley Gang who had "burglariously entered the dwelling house of Elizabeth Kennard" in Haywards Heath on the night of 16th July 1850. (We don't know quite where the Kennard sisters lived except it was near the station, possibly the property now known as The Yews.) It would have been a terrifying ordeal for the two relatively elderly ladies, their servants and others in the household, to be held captive and threatened by four violent men during the robbery. As gang member James Hamilton later admitted in court, referring to the Kennards' house, "we stole a large quantity of property". The Frimley Gang, operating over a wide area, posed as small traders, labourers or craftsmen but in fact specialised in burglary with violence, with an extensive network of accomplices through which to dispose of the stolen goods. Eventually twelve gang members were brought to trial and eleven convicted, one being hanged for murder and at least two sentenced to transportation for life. The Kennard sisters not only survived their ordeal but went on to live to a good age, especially in the case of Anne who was 101 when she died in 1894. Both Elizabeth and Anne are buried in Cuckfield churchyard.
We also show the museum's brutal man trap from Horsgate. We don't know if it was actually used on the estate to deter poachers but it's only too easy to imagine the effect if the trap were to be sprung. Other related items from our collection and some on loan from the Old Police Cells Museum in Brighton all serve as a reminder of how suspects, those on remand or convicted criminals would have been dealt with here in Cuckfield when the village policeman's house ("Peelers" in Church Street) contained a prison cell and the local magistrates' court was held in the upper room of The Talbot.
Drawings from our collection show the Balcombe Tunnel murderer Percy Lefroy Mapleton's appearance before magistrates here in July 1881. He was subsequently tried at Maidstone Assizes and, found guilty of murder, executed at Lewes Prison on November 29th 1881 with no less than fourteen newspaper reporters as witnesses.
With thanks to Andy Revell for research on our behalf.
If you are interested in this or any other Cuckfield topics, why not visit us in the museum. Click here to see our opening hours.