The Battle of Wakering Common

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Battle of Wakering Common' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Battle of Wakering Common' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Battle of Wakering Common' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Battle of Wakering Common' page

By Sue Horncastle

In the early years of the 20th century there were many hard-drinking, fighting men working on the brickfields around Wakering. At that time there was just one village policeman who depended to a great extent on the good will of most of the villagers and his strong wooden stick to keep order. There was no telephone, no police car, just him, his bicycle and the respect of the majority of the inhabitants.

In 1912 the law was represented by P.C. Totterdell, the father of George Totterdell who became head of Essex Police C.I.D. in the 1930s. P.C. Totterdell had a lot of trouble with one gang of brickfield workers led by Bully Morgan who delighted in flouting his authority and causing mayhem for the peaceful majority. This had gone too far when one outbreak of violence left a building half demolished and the surrounding area wrecked. The gang were too much for a lone policeman to deal with so he made the rounds of friends he had made who respected his authority and agreed to stand by him in the event of further violence. As George Totterdell records in his memoirs,

“When the rain set in the work on the brickfields ceased. Covers were placed over the half-dried bricks, and it was impossible to continue with work in the sheds, since there was nowhere but the open brickfield to put the finished bricks. The workmen of their own accord stopped work and resorted to the local public houses which were open till eleven o'clock at night.

“Moreover, not content with a day-long session, when eleven o'clock struck many of the more enterprising clubbed together and bought a barrel of beer … encouraged by Bully Morgan and his followers [they] moved in a series of solid phalanxes down the main road, singing lustily and inharmoniously, till they reached the church and the cemetery. There, having settled themselves on the gravestones, they broached their barrels and started to sing.” (Totterdell, 1956)

On just such a night P.C. Totterdell and his forces struck.  Both sides fought it out on the common. The singing had stopped and the sounds of conflict could be heard by the policeman's wife and young family in their cottage. When he came home in the early hours he told his wife, “We've given them one hell of a hiding. There'll be no more trouble.” (ibid)

In the morning, P.C. Totterdell's stick was in two pieces but a new one was ready to take its place. However, there was no more trouble and a few years later members of the gang even joined other residents in signing a petition to keep their policeman in Wakering when he was due to be posted to a neighbouring village!

Bibliography:  “Country Copper.  The autobiography of Supt. G. H. Totterdell, C.I.D.”, 1956. (Kindly lent by Mr G. Wiseman)

This page was added by Sue Horncastle on 19/07/2012.
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