The Railway Comes to Cocking

Part of the Crime & Punishment in Cocking in the Nineteenth Century” series

After a false start in the late 1860s, the construction of the Chichester to Midhurst branch of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway began in earnest in January 1879, when contracts were exchanged with Thomas Oliver. The works involved the digging of a 740 yard tunnel under Cocking Hill and other major earthworks.

As a consequence, there was an influx of navvies and other railway staff into the village, and the construction of a temporary worksite with huts to accommodate the men. The population of Cocking village was 493 at the 1871 census, but in 1881, just as the railway was coming to completion, this had shot up to 576. Of these, there were 60 men engaged on the railway, together with their wives and children, another 49. The influx of so many men into the village caused friction with the local population, and there were several incidents of violence involving the railwaymen.

Petersfield Express. 3 June 1879. Shameful Outrage at West Lavington

The first recorded incident involving a navvy came on 27 May 1879, when 11-year old George Murrant had been sent by his father from their home at Todham (between West Lavington and South Ambersham) to purchase some matches in Midhurst. On his return via King John’s Walk, he was stopped by a man (subsequently identified as George Gorden) who knocked young George to the ground and stole the matches (value 1½ pence). Gorden then cut open George’s pockets with a knife, before tying George’s hands behind his back, and then running off.

Poor George was able to walk home (about ¾ mile) but couldn’t get into the house, as his hands were still tied. Eventually, he managed to raise his father who came to the gate and cut him free.

George Gorden had been seen loitering in the area on several previous days, and was soon arrested at Cocking railway works. At the Midhurst Magistrates hearing on 29 May, Gorden pleaded guilty to charges of assault and robbery and was committed to two months hard labour.

Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express. 24 June 1879. Midhurst: Damaging an Engine

A few weeks later, on 24 June 1879, Daniel Ward (described as “a lad”) was in front of the magistrates on a charge of damaging machinery belonging to the contractor, Thomas Oliver, at Cocking brickfield. Oliver testified that he had discovered an axe and a shovel wedged into the rollers on one of his “engines”; had they not been discovered before the machine was started up, it would have been wrecked and he “could not estimate the possible damage”.

When he was arrested, Daniel told the police constable, “I and another lad did it, but I should not have done it had not the other lad told me to do it”. He was fined 5s, with 1s damages and 11s 6d costs.

Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express. 21 October 1879.

Midhurst: Murderous Assault on Gamekeepers

Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express. 4 November 1879.

Midhurst: Brutal Attack on Keepers at Cocking

West Sussex County Times. 8 November 1879. Murderous Assault on a Gamekeeper

Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express. 20 January 1880.

Assault on Gamekeeper at Cocking: A Poaching Affray


On Tuesday 14 October 1879, at about midday, 38-year old James Blunden (under-keeper) was on the west side of Cocking Hill when he spotted two men coming up from the neighbouring field near Crypt Farm from the direction of the railway huts; the men were accompanied by a large black dog and carried nets and bludgeons. They then joined another three men with another dog, who were kneeling down under a yew tree, with nets over a rabbit hole. Blunden challenged the men and asked what they were up to. “Netting a bit”, came the response “but we didn’t get much sport”.

Blunden went in search of Henry Denman (head gamekeeper) and Edwin Hollis (who was living at Warren Bottom and renting the shooting rights from Lord Egmont).  He found them on the next down, shooting; Denman and Blunden returned to where Blunden had seen the men at the rabbit hole. Hollis then reached the spot, and blew his whistle, causing the men to run off, with the two ‘keepers in pursuit.

As they caught up with the men, Denman tried to grab a bag off one man’s back, but he turned and struck Denman across the head with his stick. As the poacher was about to strike a second blow, James Blunden jumped between them and knocked the stick away. Another man then struck Blunden a blow on the head knocking him down. As James looked up he saw the man was about to hit him again, and as he was trying to get away, he was struck again, firstly on his arm by the bludgeon and then on the head with a large rock, which broke the ridge of his nose, leaving him unconscious, as the poachers made their escape.

Denman followed the men down the lane; they turned several times to throw stones at him, and threatened to “knock his brains out”.

P.C. Alfred Hawkins had been called and saw the men hiding in a copse at the end of Box Lane; when he tried to question them, they said, “Come any closer, and we’ll murder you.” He ordered them to come quietly, to which they raised their sticks, saying, “We’ll settle you if you come any closer”. Hawkins then blew his whistle, and took hold of one of the men, George Taylor, described as a “miner”. Taylor, and his dog, were taken to Cocking police house, but the other poachers escaped. Taylor was left in the charge of P.C. Edward Churcher, and P.C. Hawkins returned to the railway workers’ huts, but was unable to identify the other poachers.

In the meantime, James Blunden was taken to Midhurst where he was attended to by Dr. Joseph Stenson Hooker. James’s injuries included two large, lacerated wounds on the scalp, through which the bone was visible, a broken nose, a sprained wrist and severe bruising between the shoulder and elbow, with a large loss of blood. He was unable to return to his duties for two months after the beating.

George Taylor came before the magistrates at Midhurst on 31 October, when he was committed for trial at the next Assizes on a charge of feloniously assaulting James Blunden. The trial was heard at the Sussex Winter Assizes held at Lewes on Monday 19 January 1880 in front of Lord Justice Bramwell.

After the evidence was heard, L.J. Bramwell summed up for the jury, saying that the gamekeepers had no legal right to try to detain the poachers, so that a second charge of trying to avoid arrest was dismissed. Furthermore, the legislation only applied to poaching during the night; the keepers had no right to try to stop the men taking rabbits during the day. There was also some doubt if the gamekeepers were lawfully allowed even to take the game back from the poachers, as the animals belonged to the owner of the land (Lord Egmont) and not to Edwin Hollis, who was merely the tenant of the shooting rights.

Thus Taylor and his compatriots were entitled to resist arrest, but were only permitted to use reasonable force to do so. He was only allowed to use “such force as was called for by the character of the force used against him”. In the judge’s opinion, the prisoner had used excessive violence in resistance, such that the wounding was unlawful. He advised the jury that they could only find Taylor guilty of intending to cause the gamekeeper grievous bodily harm if they were certain of the intention in his mind.

The jury only took a few minutes to find Taylor guilty of unlawful wounding.

L.J. Bramwell then addressed Taylor, saying that he did not intend to tell him not to go poaching again; he was certain that he would go poaching directly he was released from prison, but advised him to just run away if challenged in future. He then criticised the cruel and cowardly way that the men had beaten James Blunden with sticks and stones. In the circumstances, he could not do less than sentence Taylor to twelve months’ hard labour.

Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express. 3 February 1880.

Stealing Wood met by a Fine – The new Act

In February 1880, William Taylor, (possibly related to George Taylor, above) a navigator on the line was in front of the magistrates on a charge of stealing two pieces of wood from Thomas Oliver, the contractor from the works at Cocking.

The magistrates used their powers under the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879, which came into force in January, to issue a fine of 10s rather than a custodial sentence.

Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express. 20 April 1880.

An Affray between the Navvies and Police

West Sussex County Times. 24 April 1880.

Savage Assault on a Constable

Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express. 27 April 1880.

Brutal treatment of a Police Constable

West Sussex County Times. 3 July 1880. Murderous Assault

Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express. 6 July 1880.

Determined Assault on the Police at Cocking

On Saturday 10 April 1880, a rowdy group of navvies were abusive and noisy in Cocking Street. When P.C. Edward Churcher advised them to return home, they set upon him, beating him up, leaving him with serious injuries.

At Midhurst Magistrates Court on Monday 19 April, Edmund Davis, alias Teddy O’Neil, and Frederick Ward, alias George Ward, were charged with assault on P.C. Edward Churcher.

Churcher testified that at about 11:20 pm on Saturday 10 April, he was in his uniform in Cocking Street when he saw a group of navvies quarrelling and “making use of filthy language”. He approached them intending to advise them to stop the noise and go home, but before he could get past “I advise you chaps …”, they turned on him. One of the group kicked him in the back, sending him to the ground, when O’Neil jumped onto his stomach, while the others kicked him several times in the ribs. O’Neil said, “I promised this a long time ago, you bastard, and now we’ll do for you.”

Edward Churcher passed out at this point, he was kicked again and kneed in the stomach by O’Neil. He pleaded for them to stop, “For Good Luck’s state, give a fellow a chance.” He was again hit in the face by O’Neil, who said, “Will you let us go free, if we leave you alone?” Churcher replied, “It strikes me that I shan’t be able to move far”. O’Neil released the constable, who still had sufficient presence of mind to draw his truncheon and strike O’Neil on the head.

O’Neil yelled out, “Murder!” as his companions ran off. The two men tussled on the ground when O’Neil bit Churcher on the right hand. Churcher responded by hitting O’Neil with his left hand, managing at the same time to get one handcuff on to O’Neil.

By this time, a large group had formed including retired constable, Frederick Marshall, who helped Churcher manhandle O’Neil into a van and take him to Midhurst police station. In the van, O’Neil continued to threaten and lash out at both Churcher and Marshall, kicking Churcher in the face and “rendering [him] insensible”. When O’Neil’s boots were removed at the police station, they were found to be full of blood.

Early the following morning, other constables returned to the railway huts and identified Ward as the second culprit.

At the magistrates’ hearing, witnesses confirmed that both defendants were sober. Dr J. Shenton Hooker testified that Churcher had had part of his whiskers pulled out during the mêlée.  Churcher’s injuries had prevented him from returning to duty, although there were no internal injuries. He had severe bruising about the face, especially the right eye, there were bite marks on his hand and his ribs and shins were bruised.

O’Neil and Ward were committed to trial at the next Quarter Sessions. The Midsummer Sessions were held at Horsham on Thursday 1 July in front of The Hon. J.J. Carnegie. In his defence, O’Neil claimed to be “quite drunk” and he could recall nothing of the incident, while Ward denied having been there.

After the jury had found the men guilty, the judge thanked P.C. Churcher for his remarkable behaviour during the assault, and recommended him for a suitable honour from his Chief Constable. He told the prisoners that he had never come across a more serious case of assault on a uniformed police officer during the performance of his duties. The attack was “most un-English and cowardly”, while the constable had “behaved like an Englishman and tried to do his duty”.

O’Neil was sentenced to 18 month’s hard labour, taking into account his continued assault while in the van. Ward’s part in the affair was lesser and he was sentenced to nine months’ hard labour.



The railway line was opened on 11 July 1881, following which relative peace and tranquillity returned to the village. At the 1891 census, the population of Cocking had fallen back to 449.

James Blunden

James Blunden (the gamekeeper who was injured in the assault in October 1879) was born at South Ambersham, then part of Liss parish, Hampshire, on 28 September 1837. The fifth of nine children born to Robert (1803–1861) and Amy (1807–1886) Blunden, he was baptised at Easebourne church on 22 October 1837.

At the 1851 census, Robert was the gamekeeper at Warren Bottom where he was living with Amy and their eight surviving children. As well as Robert, his two eldest sons, Charles (18) and George (16) gave their occupation as gamekeeper

James married Susan Treagus, (both aged 21) at Cocking church on 25 September 1859. On the marriage register, both James and his father are described as “woodsmen”; Susan’s occupation was given as “domestic servant”. Her father was a farm labourer at Colworth Farm, near West Dean.

James and Susan had ten children, all baptised at Cocking, as follows:

Rose                                    29 April 1860

Alice                                    4 May 1862

Jane                                     3 July 1864

Lydia                                    4 November 1866

Mary                                    8 September 1868

Charles                                8 September 1868

Amy                                      7 May 1871

James                                  1 Jun 1873

Alfred Perceval                 4 April 1875

Esther Hannah                  2 December 1876

By the time of the 1871 census, James and his family had moved into Warren Bottom, where he was also employed as a gamekeeper. It is not known when Susan died, but at the 1891 census, James was now living at Cocking Street and was recorded as a widower, working as a 54-year old general labourer.

James died in 1913, aged 75, and was buried at Cocking church on 22 March.


1841 England Census

1851 England Census

1861 England Census

1871 England Census

1881 England Census

1891 England Census

1901 England Census

1911 England Census

West Sussex, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1920

West Sussex, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1995

West Sussex, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936

Easebourne parish register. 22 Oct 1837 Baptism of James Blunden

Cocking parish register. 25 September 1859. Marriage of James Blunden and Susan Treagus

Cocking parish register. 29 April 1860. Baptism of Rose Blunden

Cocking parish register. 4 May 1862. Baptism of Alice Blunden

Cocking parish register. 3 July 1864. Baptism of Jane Blunden

Cocking parish register. 4 November 1866. Baptism of Lydia Blunden

Cocking parish register. 8 September 1868. Baptism of Mary Blunden

Cocking parish register. 8 September 1868. Baptism of Charles Blunden

Cocking parish register. 7 May 1871. Baptism of Amy Blunden

Cocking parish register. 1 June 1873. Baptism of James Blunden

Cocking parish register. 4 Apr il 1875. Baptism of Alfred Perceval Blunden

Cocking parish register. 2 December 1876. Baptism of Esther Hannah Blunden

Edward Churcher

Edward Churcher (the police constable who was the subject of the assault in April 1880, when he was 26) was born at Rowner, near Gosport, Hampshire He was the fourth of six children born to Edward (1819–1903) and Frances (1820–1881) Cooper, and was baptised at Rowner parish church on 3 September 1854.

At the 1871 census, 16-year old Edward was still living with his parents at Bridgemary Lane, Rowner when he and his father were both recorded as farm labourers.

In 1881, a year after the assault in Cocking, he was lodging in South Bersted, near Bognor, when he was recorded as a policeman.

On 13 February 1888, Edward, aged 33, married 30-year old Maria Farley (known as Annie), at Broadwater, a few miles north of Worthing. Maria’s father, Charles Paskins had died in 1874, following which she and her mother, Sarah, had reverted to Sarah’s maiden name.

There were six children of the marriage, although three died as children:

Alfred Edward, baptised at Broadwater on 27 May 1888

Twins, Charlotte and Nellie, baptised at Horsham on 11 May 1889

Charlotte died at a few weeks old, and was buried at Horsham on 6 June 1889. Nellie died in 1894.

Twins, Albert George and Ethel May, baptised at Horsham on 29 May 1891

Leonard Arthur, baptised at Angmering on 28 September 1892

Leonard died in 1893, before reaching his first birthday.

Edward retired from the police on medical grounds in November 1892, and was awarded a pension of £25 19s 7d, calculated at 25/60 of his pay.

At the 1901 census, Edward and Maria, with their three surviving children were living at Zion Road, Worthing, where Edward was employed as a general labourer. Ten years later, they were at nearby Tarring Road, with their two sons, and Maria’s mother, Sarah, now 83. Edward was now a self-employed jobbing gardener.

Alfred Edward was killed on 2 October 1916 in Northern France while serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery. He is buried at the Dartmoor Cemetery at Becordel-Becourt, near Albert in the Somme. His brother, Albert George, served with the Royal Sussex Regiment and survived the war.

Maria died on 18 October 1923, followed by Edward on 18 September 1926. They are both buried at Broadwater Cemetery in Worthing.


1861 England Census

1871 England Census

1881 England Census

1891 England Census

1901 England Census

1911 England Census

West Sussex, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1920

West Sussex, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936

Commonwealth War Graves Commission: Gunner Edward Churcher Broadwater Cemetery, Worthing – Edward Churcher

Broadwater parish register. 27 May 1888. Baptism of Alfred Edward Churcher

Horsham parish register. 11 May 1889. Baptism of Charlotte Churcher

Horsham parish register. 11 May 1889. Baptism of Nellie Churcher

Horsham parish register. 6 June 1889. Burial of Charlotte Churcher

Horsham parish register. 29 May 1891. Baptism of Ethel May Churcher

Horsham parish register. 29 May 1891. Baptism of Albert George Churcher

Angmering parish register. 28 September 1892. Baptism of Leonard Arthur Churcher

Sussex Agricultural Express: 26 November 1892. Standing Joint Committee