Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The wrong side of the law

PC George Cannon Smith found himself on the wrong side of the law in the Midsummer quarter of 1888.  He was accused of stealing wood from a construction site close to his home in Pondswick Road, Luton.  A neighbour, Mrs Fanny Hyde, spotted him, in full police uniform, taking wood from the new houses around daybreak one Sunday morning.   The depositions suggest Mrs Hyde may have already been familiar with PC Smith.  Her and her husband, Martin George had formerly run the Jolly Topper public house in Stopsley, Luton.  Whilst under cross examination, it was put to Fanny that she was familiar with PC Smith from her days at the public house.  In fact it was suggested he had on occasion spoken to her about her management.  Mrs Hyde disputed this fact!
The Jolly Toppers 2010

There was additional evidence against the officer.  The foreman of the building site was able to identify a piece of wood found in the constable’s house.  The foreman, Elias Hill, believed the wood bore the grease marks from the candle he had used and the nail marks from where it had been fixed to the window.

Meanwhile, PC Smith, who lived with his brother Albert Cannon Smith, said that the wood had been used by his brother.  Albert elaborated describing how it was a well travelled piece of wood.  It had been originally at the house when they moved in, and had then been nailed above a sitting hen.  From there the piece of wood went off to the  stables Albert rented, where he used it to secure his pigs, until it finally made its way back to the Smith household.

George Smith was found not guilty in this case, but it interested us to see if George remained in the force.  Less than 2 years later, the 1891 census shows George and his family having moved to Wiltshire, and he is resident at the Police Station in Hungerford.  However, 10 years later his family has rapidly expanded and they have been on the move again.  This time he is a farm bailiff in Walton on Thames.  George had come from a farming background, as his father had been a farmer of 187 acres in Redbourne, Herts whilst George was growing up. By 1911, at 52 years old and with 13 children having been born to him and his wife, he can be found as a council roadman in Hersham, Surrey.    What happened in these intervening years is a mystery, but George Cannon Smith appears to have spent his later years in a very different occupation to that which he held in 1888.


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