Wincanton Police Notes

Before 1856 policing in Wincanton was performed by the Town Constable, a particularly unpopular post; it was badly paid and the incumbent had to occasionally deal with disorder from drunks or criminals.  While there was a lock up in South Street, to the left of the Town Hall, until 1843 any criminals would be sent to Ilchester Prison.  Most Constables were usually elderly so would be reluctant to risk life and limb for so little reward. In 1810 the local Constable was ducked in the Cale when he tried to stop bread riots.

In 1856 the newly created Somerset Constabulary took over these duties.  The Constabulary was split into 14 police districts of which Wincanton was one.  It covered 12 villages, each having a Constable posted; Castle Cary, South Brewham, Bruton, Stoke Trister, Cucklington, Charlton Musgrove, North Cadbury, Horsington, Templecombe, Henstridge, Charlton Horethorne and Milborne Port.

Most crime would be poaching, petty thefts of property and livestock.  Any malefactors would be dealt with at the local Wincanton assizes, initially at the Town Hall but later in a courthouse built in North Street just along the road from the main district police station, staffed by a Superintendent, one Sergeant and a Constable.

Serious crime such as Assaults, Burglary and Murder were sent to Taunton or Wells Crown Court. Any prison sentences prior to 1843 would be served at Ilchester Gaol then, after its closure, at Shepton Mallet prison.

Assize records show crimes committed against local shop owners.  In 1877 George Sweetman was given a forged Guinea, the perpetrator being imprisoned for 3 months.

Victorian Police Officer with itinerant circa 1900 – recreation by, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In 1883 Mr Thomas Clementina, who was noted as a Marine Store Dealer, was also duped when a Henry Maundrell tried to sell him some three and a half hundredweight of solder and lead that he had stolen from John Oborne from South Brewham.  Swift work by the South Brewham local Constable, Henry Sharp, saw Maundrell arrested, brought before Justice Charles Barton and sentenced to 5 years penal servitude.

One of the more unusual crimes reported was that of a farm labourer of Bayford Street in Stoke Trister, who, in June 1884 was arrested by Sergeant David Smith and the local Constable PC James Watts for “Attempting to carnally know a certain mare at the Parish of Stoke Trister”.  It was noted that the magistrate Mr John Bradney later acquitted him.  A lucky labourer!

Occasionally more serious crimes took place.  The Horsington Village Constable, Henry Guppy, in concert with Inspector Stoker of Wincanton Police, arrested Joseph Webber who had attempted to blow up the Bakehouse in Templecombe with blasting powder: several witnesses from Wincanton gave evidence, The newspaper report stated:


Tuesday afternoon Superintendent Stoker, of the Wincanton police, arrested at Templecombe Joseph Webber on suspicion of having placed three pounds of rock blasting powder in the chimney of a Templecombe Bakehouse own’d by William Burse Case. The powder had been discovered the same morning by Case’s assistant.  Prisoner, who is in the employ of a rival baker, is a native of Exeter.

 He was yesterday charged before the Wincanton Magistrates with placing the powder in the chimney with intent to destroy the bakery. Evidence was given by Cases assistant as to finding of the powder. He thought the parcel a very mysterious one and pushed a knife through it, and the powder issued forth, but he did not know what it  was – Arthur Belcher, as ironmongers assistant at Wincanton stated that  prisoner the prisoner was supplied with three pounds of powder by him the night of the 6th instant the powder produced was the same that with which he supplied prisoner, and the paper and string used in the parcel was like that now produced. After the evidence of the police, the prisoner, who said nothing in answer to the charge, was committed for trial.

8 days later on the 15th October at Wells Criminal Court he was sentenced to 4 months imprisonment.

Murder was mercifully rare in Somerset.  However, a local butcher, Uriah Baunton who lived in Bayford, was known for his ill temper and readiness to resort to assault to get his point across.  In 1867 a report from the Western Gazette gives the following information:

Western Gazette
29th November 1867

Thomas Baunton, Uriah Baunton, and Edwin Martin, were summoned for assaulting George Vaux, at Bayford, on Oct. 29. Mr. Cooper defended the Bauntons. Prosecutor, who keeps the Crown beerhouse, at Bayford, said he heard row in the street, on the evening in question. He went out and saw Thomas Baunton and Uriah Baunton beating another man. He interposed, when the first named defendant caught hold of his hair, and struck him several times, and kicked him severely. The others assisted, and they tried to throw him into the well. His right hand was cut by a knife which Thomas Baunton had in his hand. Matilda Vaux, complainant’s wife, was called to support this. Thomas Beavis, stone-cutter, was called to prove that a man named William Kiddle had assaulted a lad named Tufton, without provocation; and that complainant told the former to ” pitch into ” the latter. Vaux then interfered and struck some blows. A general fight ensued. Case dismissed.

Baunton was lucky on this occasion. However some six years later this temper got him into real trouble

9th April 1873

WIFE MURDER AT WINCANTON. inquest was held at Bayford, near this town, on Saturday, before Dr. Wybrants, Mr. T. Richards being foreman of the jury, on the body of Eliza Baunton, a young woman not quite 20 years of age, who met her death on the preceding night under the following circumstances. It appeared from the evidence that deceased had been married to Uriah Baunton about twelve months, during which time they had led very quarrelsome life, the husband often beating her, but during the past few weeks they had been much more peaceful. On Friday night, the deceased and her husband had been at the Unicorn inn, Bayford, and left shortly before eleven o’clock. A young man named Stephen Wright, who lodged at their house, soon after followed and found them supper. As he entered deceased threw an iron candlestick at her husband, which struck him in the back, and just afterwards she threw a saucer at him. She then got up and left the house. Wright stated that prisoner closed, but did not lock the door, and they both went to bed.  Deceased began throwing stones and breaking the windows, both up and downstairs. He heard prisoner put on his boots and go downstairs and out of doors; and he then heard a woman’s voice crying out, but he was so accustomed to hearing them quarrel that he went to sleep and was only aroused when a constable came to apprehend Baunton. The landlord of the Unicorn inn stated that, as he was closing up on Friday night, Mr. Baunton came back to his house and went upstairs to his wife’s bed-room bleeding fearfully. As she walked she appeared in great pain, and said her husband had kicked her, and she asked witness to send for her mother. He sent immediately for her mother and also for doctor, but the poor woman expired before either could arrive. Dr. Colthurst stated that he was called in, but life was extinct. He found wounds in the abdomen such as would be caused by kicks from a man’s boots, deceased being at the time far advanced in pregnancy. The jury returned verdict of Wilful murder against Uriah Baunton, who has been removed to Shepton Mallet gaol.


Later that year after being charged with the murder, his defence barrister successfully his charge reduced to manslaughter.

Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 13th August 1873

The first case was that of a man named Uriah Baunton, who was charged with murdering his wife by kicking her when she was in a very advanced state of pregnancy. With regard to this, and also with regard to another case—that of Ann Hawkins —he would remark that there was popular notion to the effect that premeditation was essential to the crime of murder. That was not so by any means. If a man killed another by any means that in an ordinary course would cause death if he killed him out of mere wantonness or brutality even without premeditation, was murder, unless there was a degree of provocation which certainly did not appear to exist in these cases. In the case of Uriah Baunton, although the evidence may not be altogether so clear as it sometimes was, they would find that he kicked his wife, and if they were opinion that what he did was likely to cause the woman’s death in the ordinary way, they would return a true bill against him.


Baunton did his time both at Shepton Mallet and Portland Prison.

Another murder occurred in August 1890

Thomas Parsons lived near to the Railway Station in The Tything with his wife, two sons and a lodger, Mr Holmes.  The marriage was apparently not a happy one probably exacerbated by the heavy drinking of Thomas; he had already served a prison sentence for previously assaulting his wife.


On Sunday afternoon shocking tragedy took place in Wincanton. A man named Thomas Parsons attacked his wife with a hammer and inflicted serious, and what may yet prove fatal injuries on her. The wretched man afterwards put an end to his existence by hanging himself to a beam in his own house.

The occurrence took place in what is Known “The Tything,” and the house is almost immediately opposite the Railway inn. Parsons and his wife have lived very unhappily for years, and he has once undergone term imprisonment for an assault upon her. He has not been in regular work for some time, and for the past five or six weeks has been giving way to drink, a propensity which has been his great failing through life. It appears that on Sunday he and his two sons (who are young men of 20 years or more) and Mrs. Parsons had dinner together as usual, and the young men went out for walk.

There was also old man named Holmes present, who lodges at the house, and he had just gone out to fill the kettle when Parsons suddenly attacked his wife with a hammer. He struck her three or more blows on the head, and she rushed into the street bleeding from wounds. The people in the next house, Jordan by name, came to her assistance, and took her into their house and sent for medical aid.

Dr’s. Roe and Wood were soon present and rendered efficient assistance. Meanwhile, Parsons had rushed off in a state of great excitement, and presently the old man Holmes saw him again enter the house and through to the back kitchen. He did not come out or take any notice, and in about quarter of an hour the doctors came and inquired for him, going into the back kitchen found him hanging to a beam. They at once cut him down, and used efforts to restore him to consciousness, but without avail.

The clothes of the wretched man were drenched with water, and it believed that had first attempted to put an end his life by drowning himself in the river which was only short distance away. He was evidently under the impression that be had killed his wife and committed the rash deed to escape the hands of the law.

Parsons, who was 58 years of age, had lived in the town all his life, and was well-known as good-natured fellow, his great failing being his fondness for intoxicating drink. Considerable excitement was manifested when the affair became known, and many visited the neighbourhood and discussed the sad event. It does not appear that the deceased was in liquor when he committed the deed, but it is imagined that his mind was unhinged by his irregular habits.