Derek Medhurst

Desperate affray at Ide Hill

Kentish Times of 22 August 1985

This was the report that led to my cousin Michael Leigh researching the story more deeply, as it mentioned our ancestor Joseph Leigh. It was in a piece about riots involving hop pickers in 19th C Kent:

"One of the worst incidents was at Ide Hill in 1866, which had already proved a bad year with strikes by the pickers and a lot of bad feeling between them and local people.

A group from Surrey had been lodging with an Alehouse keeper. Joseph Leigh, and been having a few drinks and a bit of fun at his house They left and had a few more drinks at the Cock Inn, and were ordered out. A fight broke out between the locals, who apparently started it, and a picker called Dobson was killed."

Reported in The Times of Tuesday 2 October 1866

The following articles about the incident do not mention Joseph Leigh, but give more detail.

"DESPERATE AFFRAY - Ide Hill, an isolated hamlet about four miles from Seven oaks, was the scene of a desperate affray on Saturday night between some of the inhabitants of that neighbourhood and a number of strangers who were employed on a farm in an adjoining parish as hop pickers, and which resulted in the death of one of the strangers, a young man about seventeen years of age, who is supposed to have left London for the hop picking season, and injuries to several others.

The strangers had been spending the evening at a beerhouse kept by one of the men employed in the hop garden and they remained there until the usual closing time, which was 10 o'clock. After they left they called at a public house, within four or five minutes walk, and some angry words passed between them and some of the neighbouring labourers who were drinking there. As soon as they got out of the house, the landlord having desired them all to go home, a general fight ensued, in which sticks and knives were freely used.

The young man already referred to was taken up in an insensible condition, his right eye being cut open, the upper part of his skull broken in, and a frightful wound extending from the top of his forehead to his nose, besides lesser injuries, and he died as he was being moved to the Union. A second man of the same party, named Grimes, a native of Berkshire, was also taken to the Union on Sunday, his skull being fractured, and it was reported that he died at night; while of the home people, one had a fractured skull, caused by one of his own party, and another severely cut on his left arm, and others were more or less injured, but the extend of them we have not yet been able to learn.

Information was sent to Mr Colman, the superintendent of the Kent constabulary at Sevenoaks, and he arrived there about 2 o'clock on Sunday morning. His investigations led to the apprehension of three men named James Wood, Martin Quittenden, and James Bartholomew, who were recognised as being the ring leaders. At Quittenden's house was found a bludgeon about a yard long, with a large red knob covered with blood, and which he said he had taken from one of the strangers, and with which it appears he had knocked down one of his own companions in the midst of the fight, and also a clasp knife, which was still stained with blood. The prisoner Bartholomew was the one who had been stabbed in the arm, and he had previously been in custody for an aggravated assault upon the police.

The coroner of the district has directed that a post mortem examination be made, and the whole matter, which has caused considerable excitement in the district, will be fully investigated. The prisoners were remanded yesterday by the magistrates at Sevenoaks."

Reported in The Times of Saturday 6 October 1866

THE FATAL AFFRAY AT IDE HILL - Yesterday at Sevenoaks police court, before the Hon and Rev. F Baring, the three men James Wood, James Bartholomew, and Martin Quittenden, were brought up on the charge of causing the death of Abraham Dobson, on the night of the 29th September. The prisoners were defended by Mr Cripps.

It appeared from the evidence that a party of pickers visited a beerhouse, intending to take farewell of its proprietor with a song, and, after leaving his house called at another, the Cock, where an opposition party of resident labourers was drinking. Deceased was a merry rollocking fellow, who sang and danced to the company, beating time with a formidable bludgeon as an accompaniment.

After amusing the people at the Cock in this way for some time, he went out, and in doing so passed the prisoner Martin Quittenden, who cautioned him to keep the stick quite, or he might have it taken from him. This led to some altercation, and a struggle for the possession of the stick ensued. Quittenden succeeded in possessing himself of the weapon, and immediately made use of it by knocking his opponent down. Thus the row became general; knives and sticks were freely used. Deceased was frightfully beaten about the head, and the evidence showed the most savage brutality on the part of the assailants.

The evidence of the medical man who was called will convey an idea of the injuries they inflicted. Mr R.M. Rathull, surgeon, deposed, I saw the deceased about 3 o'clock on the morning of the 30th he was dead, and had been so about three hours. He had five wounds on the forehead, the right eye was closed, evidently the effect of a heavy blow. There were three scalp wounds, and a very severe wound under the right ear. The hair was matted with blood, mixed with gravel and small stones. The wounds were such as might be inflicted by the stick and the clasp knife produced. Deceased died from congestion of the brain, the result of kicks and blows.

Mr Cripp applied for the discharge of James Bartholomew on the ground that no evidence had been given to implicate him to the murder; but the magistrate left that for the consideration of the jury, and committed them to the assizes on the charge of wilful murder.

Reported in The Times Monday 24 December 1866

Winter Assizes

Home Circuit, Maidstone, Dec 22 (Before Mr Baron Channell)

Martin Quittenden, James Bartholomew, and James Wood were indicted for the wilful murder of Abraham Dobson at Sundridge, near Sevenoaks, on 24th September last. Mr Poland and the Hon E Stanhope prosecuted; and Mr Barrow and Mr John Sharp defended.

The deceased was killed in a fight near the Cock public house at Sundridge late on Saturday evening. He had picked a heavy stick in a plantation and went with it to the Cock, where he and two companions got into a quarrel with the prisoners, who were older and stronger than they were. Ultimately the stick was taken from the deceased, and he ran away. The prisoners pursued him. He fell from a high bank into the road, and as he lay or strove to rise Quittenden struck him on the head with his own stick, and Bartholomew and Wood kicked him. He died of these injuries almost immediately. The stick which was produced, deserved to be called a club.

The deceased was only eighteen years old, and one of his companions - Fry, who was a witness - looked quite a youth. The prisoners on the other hand, were full grown men. Their violence was accompanied by brutal language. It appeared, however, that one of them had been stabbed with a knife, and, as he supposed, by Grimes, one of the companions of the deceased, and there was reason to think the deceased had sought a quarrel.

As there were three successive skirmishes, amid the usual confusion, it would be difficult to ascertain exactly what took place. But a respectable witness, who was roused from his bed by the noise, gave evidence as follows as to the treatment of Grimes: He heard a heavy blow struck. The man that struck the blow said he had got a knife from the man that was struck down. Another man came up and said to the man on the ground, "You - , you have stabbed me and I will make your heart cold for you before morning." It was immediately before or after this the deceased ran away, and [was] pursued and killed.

The police officer who took Bartholomew into custody said that his arm had been cut , and that he ( the officer ) sent for a surgeon to dress the wound. It was also proved that before the last and fatal conflict a woman came into the Cock and said "They were killing Quittenden with a stick." The police, however, did not find that Quittenden was the worse for what was done to him. The only stick seen in the affray was brought by the deceased, whose conduct, perhaps, was not inappropriately, although coarsely, described in the words said to have been used by Wood when he kicked him, "the young ....... was too fast; he wanted settling." Grimes, who was severely injured, was not called as a witness. He was several years older than the deceased or Fry.

It was admitted by the prosecuting counsel that the case was one of manslaughter only, and after a long trial the prisoners were found guilty and severally sentenced to five years penal servitude."