The New Police Investigate a Sussex Crime

On Saturday 14th November 1829 William Mockford, the ‘Keeper of the King’s and Parochial Taxes‘ at Eastbourne ran off with a sum of money, leaving his wife and four children behind. 29-year-old William was the Vestry Clerk for St Mary’s Church, Eastbourne and it was reported that £300 of public money (about £22,000 today) had been stolen. 

The following day Eastbourne’s ‘Principal Police Officer’, William Ray, made local enquires and discovered that Mockford had told friends that he intended travel to the United States.  Ray also discovered that the missing man was last seen taking a gig to Battle near Hastings. 

Ray and one of his assistants immediately travelled to London where at 11am they applied to the Bow Street Police Office for assistance.  The Metropolitan Police had been established just a few weeks earlier on 29th September 1829. 

The Bow Street Police Office

A detective called Salmon, ‘one of the principal officers concerned with the Bow-Street Establishment’, was detailed to assist the Eastbourne Police Officers. 

Salmon suspected that the missing man would have caught the Hastings Mail Coach to London and made enquires at the Golden Cross Inn at Charing Cross, the London terminus of the coach.  His hunch was right; a man fitting Mockford’s description had indeed arrived on the mail coach having boarded at Battle. The suspect had breakfasted at the inn and had told a coachman that he intended to travel to France. 

The Hastings Mail Coach

Further enquiries established that the man who had arrived from Battle had taken a place on the Dover Coach.  Salmon and the two Eastbourne men took a post-chaise to Dover arriving on Sunday evening.  They made enquiries at the Ship Inn (the terminus of the Dover Coach) and discovered that a man fitting Mockford’s description had taken a room at the Packet Boat Inn. 

The Pack Boat Inn, Dover

The three officers spoke to Mr Woode, the landlord of the Packet Boat. His staff recognised the description and took the officers to the room where Mockford was sleeping and opened the door for them.  Mockford was in a deep sleep but the Eastbourne officers recognised him as the missing tax-collector.  They also saw large pocket-book poking out from the pillow and carefully removed it.  The wallet contained 42-gold sovereigns, 60 pounds in notes and two razors. The Police now had their man and the evidence. Mockford was woken and arrested at 11pm. The prisoner became violent but was soon restrained in handcuffs and arrested.  The following morning Ray and his colleague returned to Eastbourne with Mockford and Salmon returned to the capital to make his report to his Commissioners who complimented him on his skill, ingenuity and promptitude in the matter.  He had solved the crime and made the arrest in just 12 hours having travelled over 70 miles. 

The crime and subsequent arrest were reported widely across the country.  It was a serious crime, not only to steal from the church, but the crown too.  How long did he spend in prison? Was he transported? Did he pay the ultimate price for his crime and be executed? Well it appears nothing at all happened!

The 1841 Census shows that William Mockford was living at 50, Seaside with his family. His occupation is shown as ‘Painter’.  So what happened?

On the 7thJanuary 1830 the Brighton Gazettereported that the investigation into the ‘defaulter’ William Mockford had been concluded. The paper reproduced a statement issued by the vicar of St Mary’s, Thomas Pitman:

We whose names are hereunto subscribed, being the Vicar, Churchwardens and Overseers of the parish of Eastbourne, do hereby certify that the investigation having taken place into the accounts of William Mockford, the late Vestry Clerk, he does not appear to be a defaulter thereon and that the cause of the supposed deficiency in the assessed taxes arose from his having expended a sum towards the payment of parochial bills and relief. The sum which has since been collected having been found sufficient to cover the deficiency in assessed taxes.

Thomas Pitman, Vicar

Benjamin Waters, and J.J. Lanyon, Churchwardens

Thomas Hurst, and J.P. Gorringe, Overseers

Thomas, Jonathon Mann, Henry Hurst (Assessor), Thomas Baker (Coal Merchant) and Samuel Rason. Vestry

The Rev. Thomas Pitman

The newspaper report indicates that when arrested in Dover he only actually had £68 on him which was his own money. The Brighton Gazettehaughtily reports “We trust that the London papers, which so injuriously blazoned forth to the public at large so erroneous a statement will be equally ready to contradict it!

Now this all seems rather odd.  If it was all just a misunderstanding why did Mockford run off and try to abscond to France?  How come he had so much money on him when arrested?  Why did he put up a fight?  Why were the police advised of the matter in the first place?

I suspect that William was unhappy at home and had decided to leave his family for a new life in France, taking with him the family savings.   As he was the Vestry Clerk at St Mary’s and responsible for Eastbourne’s parish taxes, his sudden disappearance must have caused alarm.  The ‘hue and cry’ was called before anyone could check if any taxes were actually missing.  In saying that, it does seem odd that it took over two months for Mockford’s name to be cleared. 

Today this matter would be stamped ‘NO CRIME’ but the case sheds light onto the early methods of the police in Sussex.  

There were no organised police in Sussex until about 10 years after this incident. William Ray, Eastbourne’s ‘Principal Police Officer’ was probably just the Parish Constable.  He did, however have the authority to conduct a criminal investigation and had the financial backing to hire transport to track the suspected criminal. 

The 1841 Census shows that Ray had moved from Eastbourne, and was living with his wife Mary-Ann in London Road, Brighton. His occupation is shown as ‘Watchman’.   It may be a different person but the Brighton Gazetteof 28thAugust 1856 has the following short news report “A Man named William Ray, formerly a police officer, residing in Liverpool with an abandoned woman named Mason, was stabbed by her with a pen-knife during a drunken quarrel on Saturday night and expired shortly afterwards.”

Prior to the establishment of the Metropolitan Police the London detective William Salmon was recorded as being a ‘Principal officer of the Bow Street Office’ In other words a Bow Street Runner.  He usually worked with another detective called ‘Farmer’.  Salmon’s name regularly appears in court transcripts for the Old Bailey.  It is recorded that he also was used to recruit spies for the Government and in 1820 was one of the twelve Bow Street Runners involved in the arrest of the Cato Street Conspirators.  The conspirators were planning to assassinate the cabinet of Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool. During the arrest one Bow Street runner was killed when he was run through with a sword. 

The Cato Street arrests

This matter may not have been a crime after all, but it is interesting to see how the early police both in Sussex and London operated. This case was almost certainly the first corroboration between police in Sussex and the newly formed Metropolitan Police.


Weekly Despatch (London) 22nd November 1829

Old Bailey Court Transcripts (accessed on line)

Currency conversion via National Archives website. 

Hastings Pub History (picture of the Hastings Mail Coach) (picture the Dover inn.)

Gresham College (picture of the Cato Street arrest)

Other sources are given in the text. 


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