Friday, April 12, 2013

Walter Underwood: An Unknown Chapter

Although I never met my great-grandfather Walter Underwood, I always had a feeling that I knew him. This was mostly thanks to the many stories that his daughter, my great-aunt Elsie, included in her manuscript. However, even the ancestors you think you know can surprise you.

Walter Underwood had worked as a bobby, or police constable, in England. In the United States he sometimes was gone all night searching for a criminal. Everything I have ever heard portrays him as a fine, upstanding citizen. Yet it seems that shortly before his immigration to the U.S. he had his own brush with the law.

I found this series of articles in the British NewspaperArchive, detailing the episode. Never before had I heard anything about it, and I suspect that he and his wife Flora were inclined to try to forget it. However, it is interesting not only in itself, but also in the timing. This was just over a year before the young family departed for America, and I can’t help but think that perhaps it had something to do with Flora’s willingness to leave England and begin a new life elsewhere. Even though he was acquitted, the vindictiveness of the trial must have been a strain, and one not easily forgotten. I have seen small-town politics at work, and I have seen how a person can come to be ostracized by a community to the point that the only bearable choice is to move away.

Since I cannot add any information to the articles, I will simply present them as they appeared.

Sat 12 Apr 1902, Essex Newsman, p. 2
An Ex-Policeman Charged With Stealing a Bicycle
 On Thursday, at Great Bardfield, Walter Underwood, lately a constable stationed at that place, was charged before the Rev. W. E. L. Lampet, J.P., with stealing a bicycle, the property of Mr. Frank Adams, of the Mount Cycle Works, Great Bardfield. The accused was remanded until the Bench on Monday next. Bail was opposed by the police.

Sat 19 Apr 1902, Essex Newsman, p. 3
Ex-Policeman, the Bike, and the Brace
 At Great Bardfield, on Monday, before the Rev. W. E. L. Lampet, in the chair, Capt. J. N. Harrison, Joseph Smith, and A. W. Ruggles Brise, Esqrs., Walter Underwood, late a police-constable stationed at Bardfield, was charged with stealing a bicycle, the property of Mr. Frank Adams, of Great Bardfield.--Mr. Elliot F. Baker appeared for the accused.--Frank Turner Adams, cycle agent, said: On the 19th of March I was in a cottage in Brook-street, where I keep bicycles. Underwood was there with my brother Ben. Underwood looked at a bicycle which was not finished. I said I had a machine like that, but on looking for it I found it was missing. Underwood said, “You may have sold it, or got it put by somewhere.” On the 9th of April the bicycle was shown to me by P.s. Stock. I value the machine at £9.--Police-sergeant Stock said: On the evening of the 9th inst., on receiving certain information, I had an interview with the accused, and went to a shed in his occupation. He unlocked the shed and I saw something covered up, in a corner. Accused said it was rubbish. I looked and found the bicycle wheels produced, and underneath the other parts produced. Accused said, “This is a nice thing; someone must have put it there while I was away.”
   A second charge against the accused was that of stealing a carpenter’s brace, value 5s., the property of Edward Carder.--Police-sergeant Stock stated: At the interview with the accused I said, “Two or three robberies have taken place since you have been stationed here, and you are suspected. Some boards and a carpenter’s brace have been stolen from the cottage that Carder is building near the chapel.” Accused replied, “I know nothing about them.” Just inside the shed, among some tools, I found the brace. Underwood said, “I borrowed that of a man in this road.” I asked his name, and the accused said, “I cannot think of it now.” Carder identified the brace in the presence of the accused.
   The accused reserved his defence, and was committed for trial at the Adjourned Quarter Session. Bail in two sureties of £40 each and himself in £20 was allowed.
   Underwood is a young married man, and he only resigned the Essex police on April 5.

Fri 30 May 1902, Chelmsford Chronicle, p. 5
At the Quarter Session
 A case which excited more than common interest was that in which Walter Underwood, a young man who had been in the Essex Constabulary but had resigned, was charged, on one count, with stealing a carpenter’s brace, and, on another, with stealing a bicycle at Great Bardfield. The carpenter’s brace was alleged to have been the property of Edward Carder, and to have been stolen on the 8th Feb. last, and the bicycle, the property of Frank Turner Adams, was alleged to have been stolen on the 19th of March. The defence urged was that the brace had been the property of the accused for some years, and that the bicycle was planted upon him by some person who placed it in his shed, in pieces, while he was away on a holiday. Captain Showers, the Chief Constable, gave the accused a good character, and he was found not guilty and discharged.

Fri 30 May 1902, Chelmsford Chronicle, p. 7
Ex-Policeman Charged
 Walter Underwood, 25, a fitter, on bail, a smart handsome man, was charged with stealing a brace, the property of Edward Carder, at Great Bardfield, on Feb. 8; and with stealing a bicycle, the property of Frank Turner Adams, at Great Bardfield, on March 19.--Mr. Warburton prosecuted; and Mr. Jones defended.--Mr. Warburton stated that the prisoner was in the Essex Police Force, but retired on April 5th.--The prosecutor said he was a cycle maker, and had built a number of machines and placed them in an upstair room of a cottage. The prisoner was friendly with him, and was teaching witness’s brother photography. He missed the bicycle.--P.s. Stock deposed that he went to the prisoner’s house, and on looking into a shed where the accused said there was some rubbish he found the missing bicycle. The prisoner exclaimed, “This is a nice thing; someone must have put it there while I was away.” --Cross-examined, witness said he intimated to the accused that he did not think the bicycle was stolen at all.--The prisoner, on oath, stated that he joined the police force on Jan. 11, 1897, and was stationed at Chelmsford, Southend, and Bardfield. He resigned voluntarily, as he wished to take a restaurant at Bardfield, together with a newspaper agency. He also purposed starting a photographer’s business. He went away for two days’ holiday early in April, and on coming back the bicycle was found in his shed. P.s. Stock told him in the presence of his wife that he did not think “this” would have happened had the prisoner stopped at home. The shed was a common one, with a padlock on the door, and a footpath passed close by. He denied most emphatically stealing the bicycle or going into the prosecutor’s shop except when the prosecutor was there.--P.s. Stock stated that he did not use the remark attributed to him by the prisoner.--The prisoner’s wife deposed that there was no bicycle in the shed when she and her husband went away in April.--Captain Showers, chief constable of Essex, said the prisoner bore an exemplary character while in the Police Force.--Mr. Jones, in his speech, suggested that some other person took the bicycle, and, to get rid of any evidence, put it in the prisoner’s shed while the accused was away. The prisoner had also, about this time, complained to P.s. Stock that he had missed some coal from the shed.--The prisoner was found not guilty on the charge of stealing the bicycle.--The indictment for stealing a brace was proceeded with.--Mr. Warburton said the brace was found in the prisoner's possession.--The accused, on oath, said he bought the brace at a rummage sale at Maldon nine years ago. He always had a lot of tools.—Prisoner’s wife stated that her husband possessed the brace in question long before they went to Bardfield.--Other relatives deposed that they believed the brace to be the one they had seen the prisoner use. --Mr. Jones, in addressing the jury, said that in his 13 years’ experience he did not think he had seen a case conducted with greater vindictiveness that this one.--The prisoner was found not guilty of this charge also, and he was discharged.

Incidentally, the July 4th edition of the Chelmsford Chronicle of that year records that the license for the Engineers Arms in Latchingdon was transferred to Walter Underwood on June 28. I can only presume that this is my Walter Underwood, based on the statement above that “he wished to take a restaurant at Bardfield.”


“An Ex-Policeman Charged With Stealing a Bicycle.” Essex Newsman [Chelmsford] 12 Apr 1902: 2. British Newspaper Archive. Web. Accessed 26 Dec 2012.

“At the Quarter Session” Chelmsford Chronicle 30 May 1902: 5. British Newspaper Archive. Web. Accessed 6 Nov 2012.

“Ex-Policeman Charged” Chelmsford Chronicle 30 May 1902: 7. British Newspaper Archive. Web. Accessed 26 Dec 2012.

“Ex-Policeman, the Bike, and the Brace” Essex Newsman [Chelmsford] 19 Apr 1902: 3. British Newspaper Archive. Web. Accessed 26 Dec 2012.

“Petty Sessions: Latchingdon, June 28.” Chelmsford Chronicle 4 July 1902: 2. British Newspaper Archive. Web. Accessed 26 Dec 2012.

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