Storytime: Setting The Scene
The year is 1881 and my Great Grandfather (Theophillus Adcock) is 30 years old and his wife, Sarah, is pregnant with their 5th child. Queen Victoria has been on the English throne for 44 years and the Crown Hotel, which takes centre stage for this story, has already been serving the locals for over 200 years.
The Story: When Great Grandfather Went To Town
Theophilus didn’t stand out in a crowd. If I was asked to describe him the one word I would use would be “ordinary” ……..apart from his eyes. Ordinary eyes would have been brown and they would have matched his swarthy, weather tanned complexion. Theophilus had blue eyes that were as clear and bright as those of someone much younger. When he entered a room his gaze would sweep around as if to calculate unexpected opportunities waiting to be discovered. Unless he was working. Watchmaking was his trade as was his fathers. At these times his demeanor changed. He became calmer. Hunched over his workbench surrounded by delicate tools, small wheels. cogs, screws and a miniature oil can, he became melded into the very fabric of his surroundings.
The night that Theophilus left home he had his mother’s blessing in one ear and her threats “not to end up like your Da” in the other. Outside a buggy waited. The frost laden breath from the driver and his horse drifted in silent companionship into the clear night air. Abruptly this bucolic scene was disturbed by the exuberance of Theophilus’s greeting.
“Ow do Watts. Reckin’ I’m in fer a good’n tonight me lad”.
Mr Watts was somewhat surprised by this greeting from the normally taciturn Theophilus but his surprise was soon replaced by incredulity as Theophilus waved a pouch of money and opened his jacket to show a bottle of brandy and a bottle of whiskey tucked inside.
“A up Watts, yer in luck! I got a plan to share summat this with you. This ‘ere money belongs t’ Doctor Parker. I’m goin’ to deliver it to ‘im and then I’m gunna takes it off ‘im! All’s I need is some ‘elp from me mates. Wot yer say to that?”.
Theophilus it seems was not your typical thief. His plan was to set the local Doctor Parker up in a popular card game of “Brag”. Apparently he saw this as a more legitimate way to take his money than the more direct ‘mugging’ approach. Any observer would have quickly pointed out that the elaborate plan of engaging other people in his card scam not only reduced his payout but also increased the possibility that one of them would alert the unsuspecting Parker.
At the same time as Theophilus and Watts were traveling the 5 miles to the Crown Hotel the unsuspecting Doctor Parker was enjoying a pint with Frederick Mullenger in the Crown Hotel.. Sitting in the dimly lit room beside a roaring open fire, the two men supped quietly at their tankards. Although Doctor Parker was not a local, having been born in India, his time in the small village had made him comfortable in the company of the locals.
Outside, the atmosphere was anything but quiet. Watts and Adcock had arrived & Theophilus wasted no time in approaching a group of his friends. He could hardly contain himself as he dangled the pouch of money in front of them and held out a bottle of brandy. The men were confused at first. In their world cash and alcohol were rarely seen in the hands of the same person at the same time. In rapid fire he explained the purpose of both.
Unsuspecting of the machinations going on outside. Parker and Mullenger continued to sit in a comfortable, contemplative silence. In unison they slowly raised their tankards and savoured the locally produced ale. Setting down his tankard, Mullenger pulled his fob watch out of his waistcoat pocket and sighed . 10 o’clock was his leaving time. As foreman of the Ordinance Survey Team he liked to set a good example and be ready to set the men to work as soon as they arrived in the morning.
Leaving the hotel together the two men were surprised to see a large group milling around rather than taking advantage of the warmth of the fire inside. Parker recognised the men as part of the Ordinance Survey Team he’d seen working around the village. A few of them had been his patients. There was Walter Christmas who had fallen over in the forest a few weeks ago and sprained his ankle. He looked back to farewell Mullenger but, noticing him engaged in a very animated conversation with the local watchmaker he left without disturbing him. Had he known HE was the topic of conversation I would never had a story to write. Lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper he approached his friend.
“Oi Frank, listen up.. Sees this ‘ere bag., It belongs to Parker be rights. Now I reckon if you ‘n’ yer mates work with me in a game of Brag we can see to it that Parker loses the lot. I’ll even lend yer all a 5 shilling stake. Wots ta loose? I got brandy and whiskey to tempt Parker back inside. He wont suspect a fing. Wot yer say?
“I say yer can count me out Adcock. I’ve jest been havin’ a pint with the Doctor. He’s a good ‘n’ he is!”
With that Mullinger moved away to join his friends. As quickly as he could he told them about Adcock’s card scam . He wasn’t surprised to learn that they had already been approached to be part of the plan. Being from such a small village Theophilus’s options of engaging able bodied men were limited.
Young Walter Christmas was the first to voice his disapproval.
“e don’t deserve to be robbed of ‘is money. E works ‘ard he does ‘n’ did a good job fixing me ankle. Its not right. We’ll walk him ‘ome that’s wot we’ll do and Adcock can stay ‘ere until he gets drunk on ‘is own!”
Seeing the men in deep conversation Doctor Parker felt the first stirrings of apprehension. Maybe walking home on his own wasn’t such a good idea after all. Quietly he approached the owner of the empty buggy.
“Are you returning to Methwold sir? May I engage your services?
Nervously Watts glanced over at the huddle of men as he quietly, spat out his answer,
“No, I’m not!”
Taking a step back the Doctor look shocked, then angry.
“My money is not tainted sir, & your buggy is empty. What reason do you have to refuse my request?”
“Cos I’ve come for an ale that’s why an’ I aint ‘ad it yet!”
Hearing the exchange of words alerted Theophilus that the night was not unfolding in quite the way he had planned. Without warning he produced a large knobbly stick and waved it above his head. A deep rumble of words propelled him towards the Doctor.
His cry of, “I’ll soon settle ‘im!” Became a triumphant announcement to his friends that the battle had begun. One can only assume his confidence in their supporting him was not in doubt. In a matter of moments Doctor Parker found him self in the arms of the watch maker surrounded by men who were as immobilised as he was. Obviously Theophilus thought a surprise attack would encourage his mates to follow his lead but instead all Theophilus heard was,
“You ‘alf ratted idiot. Put ‘im down!
Theophilus was having none of it. In an alcohol fuelled haze the original card scam was a distant memory. A straight out mugging was now his only way out.
” Yer goin’ to git the throshin of yer life Parker!”
At the sight of Theophilus wielding a large stick and threatening to use it on his earlier drinking companion, Mullenger threw himself between them. The end result of the flying body weight Mullenger resulted in both Theophilus and the Doctor crashing heavily on to the frosty ground.
“You didnt ort ‘era dun it! Adcock. You didn’t ort ‘a dun it!”
For a few moments the tableau of the watching men was one of silent disbelief at the unfolding mayhem. No lights fractured the darkness as the group surrounded Theophilus & Mullinger. The sturdy oaks in Thetford Forest loomed above them all. In the still air the dark silhouettes of the trees stood like soldiers waiting to be called to action. It was Parker who took up the call to action first as he scrambled to his feet. Before Theophilus had time to do the same the Doctor latched on to the stick and threw it into the ferns at the side of the road. The Doctors actions and the reality that no one was coming to his aid was almost more than Theophilus could comprehend. With flailing arms he scrambled to his feet. This time his attack was one of self preservation.
“I’m dun! Let me go ‘ome! I’m dun! On me ‘ands ‘n knees if yus want. I begs yer!”
Now, either Theophilus was very convincing in his pleas or the men were used to his alcohol driven behavior but, whatever the reason, they all agreed to leave him where he was until he was ready to take himself home now that his plan had been exposed. They headed towards the church where they had a final huddle to go over the happenings of the night. Mullenger was the first to decide that home was a better option than the chilly night air of Thetford forest. Turning off the main path he quickened his step as thoughts of his lodgings and a cup of tea no doubt took the place of the adrenaline rush brought on by the unplanned excitement of the night.
Without warning Theophilus appeared out of nowhere, blocking any further progress for the physically & emotionally drained Mullenger. Having once again retrieved his stick Theophilus rushed forwards with just as much fight in him as before,
“Now you b*******d I’ve got yer alone. I’ll make yer pay for tellin’ Parker”
The bewildered Mullinger had no time to think. Frozen to the spot he was a standing target for the crazed watch maker. In the space of a few seconds he was struck across his head & neck. In a tumbled heap of limbs , Adcock & Mullinger fell to the ground The icy path turned to mud as they wrestled themselves off the gravel and into the darkness of the forest. The cries of Mullinger did little to curb Adcock’s intentions to inflict harm but it did alert the other men who stumbled along the unlit path to rescue their friend. Once again they teamed up to wrestle the stick from Adcock, And, once again, the out numbered Adcock begged for mercy. This time promising to go home .
“I’m beaten lads, you’ve knocked the shite out of me!”
It may be the men took little convincing to take Theophilus at his word as the men took no further action against Theophilus. Mullinger it seems wanted to put as much distance between him and Adcock as possible as he volunteered to walk home with Doctor Parker.
I accept it beggars belief but, as Mullinger turned his back to look for his hat, yet another quarrel erupted .This time between Theophilus & Herbert Norman wrestling like two testosterone driven teenagers they rolled among the dirt and pine needles of the surrounding oak forest. Theophilus however was not a teenager. he was a grown man who had started the night with the idea that a simple game of cards would reward him handsomely. Yet, here he was, once again losing a fight to the very man he had given the opportunity to earn some ready cash. With one last effort to win some support Theophilus called out,
“Mac, Mac. “elp me out, I’m dun fer!”
At last, some measure of reality seeped into Adcock’s thinking as he realised that his mates had let him down and sided with the “outsider” But, instead of cutting his loses, this final betrayal escalated a village pub brawl to something far more sinister when Adcock took out a knife. Perhaps the men knew it was only a pride saving attempt as he waved it in front of Norman for, instead of retreating to safety, they acted as one to quickly remove the knife from Theophilus. At last the alcohol and greed fueled rage left Adcock and with it the bravado of a simple plan to rob an honest man of his money with friends who had no intention of helping him! Without a word, he turned and shuffled along the path. In only a few steps the darkness engulfed him. What thoughts accompanied him on his long walk home? What was more fearful to him……retribution from his mother or those he once called his mates? Some of these question can be answered in the conclusion below but I have a sneaking suspicion the true story will never be written!
The story of “When My Great-grandfather Went To Town” reached its conclusion with all parties relatively unhurt and safely ensconced in their own homes. In the days to come there would be many re-tellings of this night but in the end only one version would be recorded for posterity. The official conclusion took place two weeks later in the Mundford County Court where Theophilus Adcock and Frederick Mullenger brought charges………. against each other!
The case was heard before two Reverends, one Member of Parliament and two Esquires It proved to be a straight forward hearing when a surprise witness come forward.. Mr James Smith gave testimony that, unseen by everyone, he had watched the final altercation between Norman and Adcock from his front window. He testified that he had seen the knife in Adcock’s hand and heard him call out,
“I’ll kill yer!
His testimony went unchallenged and the four esteemed gentlemen brought down an unanimous verdict. Theophilus Adcock was fined 6 pence & costs of 13 shillings for the assault on Mullenger. His counter claim was dismissed.
Post Script To Story Time
Call me a cynic, but I must admit that I am somewhat skeptical as to the appearance of Mr James Smith. Even more unbelievable than the arrival of a witness is why a group of men would continue to accept one of their friends repeatedly ambushing them into various levels of fisti-cuffs. The passage of time has rendered these questions unanswerable & irrelevant. Perhaps though, like me, you are left wondering why, throughout the whole trial, no mention was made of the pouch of money that Theophilus was supposed to deliver to Doctor Parker! Could it be that Theophilus was not as out of control as he appeared?
The Facts Behind The Story
I admit that much of this story reads like a B rated movie script. Repeated brawls in the dark of night among grown men all known to each other and all residing in the same small village shows little comparison to criminal activity in real life. In support of the truth behind the various embellished scenes of my story, I have included actual transcripts from the Court Sessions. Sometimes truth is stranger than fictions or perhaps times were simpler then…….even criminal ones!
This story time post would not be complete without an update for travelers in the UK (2020) Those fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel during these troubled times will be pleased to know that the The Crown Hotel, Thetford Forest and St Leonard’s Church are all still open for business. I have alerted the Crown Hotel to expect an increase in visitors! You may need to book here (A blogger can & should dream big!)
I want to know who my ancestors are. I want to remember them. I want to tell their stories. I don’t want them to diminish & fade away into the past.Dickerson
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I would love to hear from anyone who visits the Crown Hotel after reading this post. I have contacted the owners and shared this post with them. Who knows, you may get rewarded for you visit…….no promises though!Just Vicki