For a couple of my previous pieces ( Old Farm Lane and Sweetbriar Marsh ) I’d been studiously looking into the countryside landscape and the scattering of buildings that were here in what we now call Mile Cross, long before the later housing estate turned up. Whilst poring over the old maps and aerial photographs, searching the landscape for anything of interest, my eyes kept falling upon a little lane that was lost long ago. This little lane was called “Half Mile Lane” and it ran south from Upper Hellesdon Road (now Aylsham Road) down to Lower Hellesdon Road (now Drayton Road), seeming only exist to enable the local farmers to access the many fields that made up our landscape and to connect the two main roads together. Unlike the bloated and expanding city we live in today, Norwich had barely stretched out this far along Lower Hellesdon Road, the only buildings of any merit being the ancient Lower Hellesdon Farm and the pair of old Red Cottages about half a mile further out at the slough bottom. However, at the northern end of Half Mile Lane where it met Upper Hellesdon (Aylsham) Road, The city had been a little more adventurous, managing to branch its way out along the busy, Aylsham/Cromer Road as far as the boundary. Along this busier trunk road, which led out to Aylsham and the then the coast, the maps show that there were plenty of homes and businesses dotted along it all the way from the inner boundary at the old city walls, right the way up to the outer boundary of the city and county at the imaginatively named boundary at St Faith’s Cross, or the area known then as Mile Cross.
Why this particular little country lane with no buildings along it had intrigued me so much is anyone’s guess, but when I started searching for any references to it I wasn’t really expecting to find anything. To my delight I kept finding the road mentioned in newspaper articles from the early 1900’s, which only helped to feed my curiosities further. The lane was not completely forgotten by the passing of time either and two later-added roads, part of the “Mill Hill” extension to Mile Cross estate; Half Mile Road and Half Mile Close were named after it, even though they don’t mirror it. On top of this, although the old Half Mile Lane no longer exists in name, many of us have regularly and unwittingly travelled the northernmost half of it as we walk or drive along the later-added Mile Cross Road.
As Mile Cross Road heads south from Aylsham Road towards Half Mile Road and Margaret Paston Avenue, it directly follows the older Half Mile Lane, right up to where the later-added Half Mile Road and Half Mile close now sit at the top of the hill. This is the point where the old Half Mile Lane had a slight bend and headed off dead-south, now lost under what is the lower reaches of Shorncliffe Avenue, where it’s junction with Lower Hellesdon (Drayton) road is once again re-imagined. The lower half even survived for a short period after the original Mile Cross was built (as seen in the image above), disappearing a few years later when the Mill Hill estate turned up in the early 1930’s.
So, why was a narrow, country lane of little merit in the middle of a rather unpopulated part of Hellesdon being written about so much, by multiple Norfolk newspapers in the autumn of 1903? Well, read on…
On the 16th September, 1903 The Norwich Mercury had written an article titled “Norwich Constable Seriously Assaulted”. I wondered – briefly – if maybe the date was wrong and that I’d clicked on a story from the wrong era. After all, why would a police office be attacked in the ‘good old days’? This sounded more like a story from the Norwich Evening News in the 2020’s. Alright, maybe I was being a little facetious, but why had this Police Officer been assaulted in the middle of nowhere?
PC Arthur Allcock (aged 40), was the son of a respected Inspector Allcock of Gorleston and had been serving with the Norwich Police Force for less than two years. On Saturday the 12th of September, 1903 PC Allcock’s beat covered what was then Upper Hellesdon, the area we now know as the stretch of Aylsham Road between St Augustine’s and the Boundary, of which the area then referred to as ‘Mile Cross’ was a part of. Little did he know when he was getting ready for work that day that this particular evening was going to be a rather eventful and traumatic one, an evening that he wasn’t going to be forgetting about for some time.
The Norwich Mercury opened the story with: “Another member of the Norwich Police Force was seriously assaulted“. The fact that they have mentioned ‘another’ tells me that this wasn’t just a one-off incident to have occured in Norwich at the time. The newspaper article continued: “on this occasion the outrage appears to have been of the most brutal character, and deliberately planned“. Not uncommon it seems, but none the less, a particularly brutal and premeditated attack on a lone police officer that on this particular occasion was deemed worthy of grabbing some extraordinary headlines, and it wasn’t just the Norwich Mercury reporting the incident. This assault was making headlines, not just here in Norwich but also in multiple papers across most of Norfolk.
At half past ten that evening, PC Allcock was called to the Windmill Public House to help deal with a disturbance within. When he arrived on the scene, the landlord was struggling to evict one of his patrons, a chap named John Frost, from the pub and PC Allcock rushed over to help to extricate the troublesome man from his pub. The now rather agitated and drunk Frost was none-to-pleased at his eviction and continued to create a disturbance outside the pub, prompting PC Allcock to arrest him for being drunk and disorderly, but in the ensuing struggle PC Allcock received (to quote one of the many newspaper articles) a “severe kick” to the chest causing PC Allcock to lose his grip on Frost, who broke free, made good his escape from the winded officer, disappearing into the darkness of the night. After regaining his composure PC Allcock simply carried on with his beat. The fact that he just brushed this incident off and continued along his beat also points to the fact that this sort of incident wasn’t all that uncommon back in 1903.
After regaining his composure and leaving the area of the Windmill Pub, Allcock wished a “Good night” to two other men he passed as he made his way north. Instead of reciprocating the the pleasantries, one of the men responded with some unwarranted abuse towards the Police Officer: “Go to hell, If I am in a f*cking row it’s nothing to do with you“. Shrugging off the obvious drinking-related abuse, PC Allcock left the scene. Yet more evidence that the Police were more than used to abuse of both the physical and verbal varieties. He then continued with his beat through Upper Hellesdon, heading up Aylsham Road in the direction of the Boundary before making a left at Half Mile Lane (Now Mile Cross Road) so that he could make his way down to Lower Hellesdon (Drayton) Road. Why he chose to make a left here and not carry on up past the Mile Cross Tavern isn’t mentioned, but I suspect he needed a bit of time to gather his thoughts after being both physically and verbally abused.
I’d already mentioned above that this road was little more than a lane back in 1903 and the Norwich Mercury confirms this when they referred to it as “an almost unfrequented thoroughfare“. There would have been no street lighting along here back in 1903 and seeing as it was well past 2230 on a chilly September evening it would have been pretty dark, the only light coming from a bright moon, the glow of the city centre on the other side of the valley and possibly a little light making silhouettes of the homes running along the increasingly distant Aylsham Road on the far side of the field away to his left.
As the lone PC Allcock approached the half-way point of the quiet, dark and desolate lane (roughly where Margaret Paston Avenue and Half Mile Road now meet Mile Cross Road today) he wasn’t the only person to be out there in the dark countryside of Upper Hellesdon and his already eventful night was about to get a lot worse. Shortly after he was set upon by two men who had used the cover of that very darkness to sneak up on and ambush him.
The Norwich Mercury adds more to the story: “Taken completely unawares, the unfortunate officer was unable to make much of a defence. He was quickly thrown down, and whilst on the ground was most savagely treated, his head and upper part of his body coming in for severe punishment, how long the affray went on is impossible to learn…“
It appears that as PC Allcock made it some way down the lane, he heard some rapidly-approaching footsteps running up behind him. As he turned to see who it was, he spotted two of the men he had encountered a few moments earlier; John Frost who had violently-evaded arrest at the Windmill Pub and Ellis Field who had verbally abused him shortly after. The two men had broken their cover and were sprinting towards him fast. Within seconds they were on him, Field grabbing Allcock by the collar of his Police Tunic and throwing him onto the bank by the side of the lane where the pair of men then set upon him. They began kicking and stamping PC Allcock’s head and then as he raised his arms in a vain attempt to protect his face from the unrelenting blows, his arms were also stamped upon and kicked. Ellis Field then grabbed PC Allcock by the legs and began to drag him down the lane whilst John Frost continued to kick him in the head, arms and torso.
PC Allcock most likely lost consciousness during the attack, but before that his screams rang out across the fields, piercing the darkness, thankfully not going unheard. Not long after the brutal and cowardly attack had taken place two other men, the aptly-named John Woodcock and William Money rushed to the spot where they had heard the screams and found the bloodied PC Allcock in an injured and dazed condition. By this time his attackers, Frost and Fields had made off across the field, back into the darkness towards Aylsham Road. PC Allcock managed to clamber to his feet, bloodied and dazed before retrieving his Police Helmet which was laying on the ground about 10 yards away, where the ferocious attack had started. Although he was now on his feet he could barely walk and was bleeding heavily from a large gash on the side of his head, so his rescuers decided to carry the stricken officer to John Woodcock’s house (most likely on Aylsham Road) where they treated his injuries as best was possible. The two men then secured a horse and trap so that they could drive him to the Police Surgeon, a Doctor Mills for some much needed, professional treatment and to alert other officers to the unprovoked attack on one of their colleagues.
Mills, The Police Surgeon stated that just after midnight on the morning of the 13th, PC Allcock had been brought to his house by the two men who had helped him and that he was suffering with shock and was feeling faint due to the several obvious injuries to his head, face, torso and arms. PC Allcock stayed under the doctor’s charge for some time as he was complaining about a great deal of pain in his head and Doctor Mills noted that the poor man in his care had multiple injuries; on the top right of his head above his forehead he had four separate injuries, which were described as lineal abrasions, such as might be produced by the nails and sole of a hobnail boot, which I can only imagine was like being stamped on by a grown man wearing a pair of heavy, leather golfing shoes. There was a two inch cut above his right ear, his right eye was blackened and completely closed due to swelling, his upper right arm had a six and a half by five and a half inch bruise on the outside, there were two more injuries to his elbow, another six inch bruise on his right forearm, there was further bruising to his left arm and hand and he was bleeding from the mouth and the nose, which were both badly swollen. By the sounds of it, poor old PC Allcock had taken a proper beating and was lucky to have survived without more serious injuries. He needed stitches for the deepest gash and required multiple dressings for his many other injuries
When the news of the attack reached the Police headquarters in Norwich, officers were sent to the area where Allcock had been so severely beaten to survey the scene for clues and to see if they could apprehended any suspects, but it wasn’t until the early hours of Monday – at about 3.a.m – that PC Piercy, now on duty in Mile Cross close to the Aylsham Tollgate (roughly where the Boundary Pub now stands), made the first arrest. He had heard two men approaching the city from the direction of St Faiths and suspecting that it might be the wanted men, he hid out of sight so that he could try and identify them without alerting them to his presence. As the men approached, he instantly recognised Ellis Field and jumped out to arrest him, telling him that he suspected him of being one of the two men who were wanted for assaulting PC Allcock. Field tried to claim his innocence, protesting that PC Piercy had made a mistake, however PC Piercy was having none of it and took him into custody. It seems as though Ellis Field of Aylsham Road was already known to PC Piercy for being a bit of a wrong-un, as will become apparent shortly.
Later that day at about 1pm, the second suspect, a John Frost from Upper Hellesdon was found hiding deep within a flue of an abandoned brick kiln off Sandy Lane (Boundary Road) by PC’s Piercy and Airey who were still searching the area for their second man. The persistent PC Piercy managed to apprehend the second wanted man after climbing deep into the flue, about 30 feet down. Again Frost tried to protest his innocence, but with little luck and was subsequently taken to the Guildhall to be charged with his partner in crime, Ellis Field.
Investigations of the area of the assault at Half Mile Lane in daylight revealed obvious evidence of a scuffle. There was freshly exposed soil on the bank, the grass had been flattened as if somebody had been laying on the ground and a nearby fence had been disturbed, as though somebody had clumsily climbed over it in a hurry. On the other side of the freshly-disturbed fence were two distinct sets of tracks going across the field towards Aylsham Road. The Police took impressions of these footprints using plaster of Paris and in court they were found to match up with the boots being worn by Ellis Field on the night of his arrest. The footprints were spaced as if the person who had left them was running and they led directly towards Ellis Field’s Aylsham Road house. Oops.
When cross-examined, PC Allcock who had attended court with a heavily bandaged head, his arm in a sling and a blackened eye clearly recognised both Frost and Field before they attacked him as the night was clear and the moon was bright, on top of this the attack by Fields and Frost was a sustained one, going on for some time. PC Allcock stated that he didn’t know the two men by name, but they were both local men who he’d seen on regular occasions whilst walking his beat around Upper Hellesdon and Mile Cross.
Thankfully to help the case there were plenty of witnesses to the events that led up to the assault on the Police Officer and their testimonies helped to build up a clearer picture of how the events had unfolded on the night of the beating.
Frederick Remblentz, a hurdle maker from Junction Road had seen the the two men charged with attacking Allcock on two occasions along Aylsham Road as he was walking his dog, noting that one of the men had a bloodied handkerchief wrapped around a head wound, both acting suspiciously near the Windmill Pub and looking up towards Mile Cross (up Aylsham Road), presumably towards where PC Allcock had just headed on his way towards Half Mile Lane.
Another witness, James William Hardy, a market gardener living at Aylsham Road said that at 1130 pm on the night of the 12th, he had spotted PC Allcock turn into Half Mile Lane and head off into the darkness, shortly followed by both Frost and Field before he ventured back indoors. Not long after that he heard the sounds of a cart and voices outside his house, when he went outside to take a look the cart had gone, but he did see spot Ellis Field again, this time heading towards the city, which was about half an hour after he had seen him follow PC Allcock down Half Mile Lane.
Ellis Field was spotted by yet another witness, named John Maves (Mayes?), a labourer living at Mile Cross Cottages, Aylsham Road at about 1230am on the 13th. Field was with another man named Beckett, who Maves heard had say to Field: “Your wife is wondering where you are”, Field replying: “I don’t think that”.
Another witness, Herbert Fox had also spotted Field and Frost following PC Allcock towards Half Mile Lane at about 1115pm. Shortly after he heard a cry for help, he dashed across the field to Half Mile Lane where he spotted PC Allcock staggering about and being helped by two other men. He noted that PC Allcock had been beaten up and was in a bad way, stating that he had obviously been “knocked about” and was sporting a large cut to his head.
In court and despite the mounting evidence the two men pleaded “Not guilty”, Frost insisting that the only reason he had been hiding in a kiln off Sandy Lane was because he had been “severely threatened” by PC Piercy, who he claimed had told him that “If I had found you in the plantation, I would have taken the keeper’s gun and shot you” and this was the reason he had hidden up deep within an abandoned kiln. Considering that events show that the first time they had encountered each other was after Frost had already been in hiding, this claim made little sense. Unsurprisingly, the two men were found guilty and bail was refused.
The trial took place in the Guildhall, then the Norwich Police Court, in front of Mayor Colonel Harvey and other magistrates. John Frost of Aylsham Road and Ellis Field of Upper Hellesdon, both Labourers were both charged with unlawfully wounding PC Allcock at Half Mile Lane, Hellesdon. Frost was also charged with being drunk and disorderly, earlier on in the evening, it was he that caused PC Allcock to be called to the Windmill in the first place and where he had violently resisted arrest. Ellis Field was also charged with another offence that took place in the Windmill a few nights earlier, on the 9th September where he was seen (again with his partner in crime, Frost) in the Skittle Alley at The Windmill, worse for drink and swearing as reported by the landlord, Mr Richard Wilson (Landlord from 1889-1913). After being refused further drink, Field threw his empty glass at Wilson, who ducked. It struck a picture on the wall and smashed both the glass and the picture. This was also witnessed by a butcher from Aylsham Road named Christmas Palling.
For his crimes Field was fined 10s and costs 13s 6d and sent to Prison for 10 days hard labour, and 21 months hard labour, both sentences running concurrently. For his part in the malicious wounding of PC Allcock, John Frost was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment with hard labour.
My remarks earlier about being surprised that this story was from 1903 and not the 2020’s were made to look a little silly after I did a bit more reading into the police force here in Norwich in the early 1900’s. It seems that this era was a particularly tricky time for police officers to be working in Norwich (and across the rest of the country) with regular rioting, antisocial behaviour and plenty of burglaries. Drink-related violence was commonplace and it seems obvious that members of the police force were far from popular with a certain section of society. Police Officers were regularly abused, both physically and verbally, had arrests interfered with or obstructed, and were generally treated with indignation. There’s even a story from a few years earlier about members of the public interfering with the police whilst they were trying to quell a massive fire in the city centre, people were tugging at the hoses, kinking them on purpose and even assaulting the officers trying their hardest to save a large section of the city centre from spreading through the now celebrated City Lanes.
Apparently the turn of the century brought with it a great change of attitudes towards the police force and veteran officers revealed that in the first few years into the 20th Century the environment they now worked in was was vastly improved from how it was ten to twenty years earlier. Arthur Allcock’s adventures on that particularly nasty September evening just go to prove that it was still far from perfect, and it makes you wonder that if this is how he was treated in an era when policing was a far safer than it had been just a few years before, what must it have been like for his fellow officers in the mid to late 1800’s? The way he brushed himself down after being violently assaulted whilst trying initially to arrest John Frost outside the Windmill and then tried to be bid two other men a good evening, only to be on the receiving end of yet more verbal abuse, before making his way in to the darkness unaware that he was about to take a hell of a beating for his efforts just goes to prove that it was still far from rosy being a Police Officer in Norwich, no matter how much improved it had all supposedly become. We often moan about how bad things are in the here and now whilst forgetting that it was just as bad back then, usually worse, it’s obvious when we stop for a second and remove those rose-tinted specs. In comparison, it now feels a bit naïve to complain about it as much as we do, not that I’m making light of the crime endured by ourselves here in Norwich a 120 years in the future, but we are just echoing the past. This story highlights that times really haven’t changed all that much over the years and that there’s rarely any truth behind that now very tired, old cliché: “The good old days”. It doesn’t matter where you live (or when), what your street or estate is called, how well-perceived or maligned your postcode maybe, people are always going to get themselves into trouble. The fact that a Policeman could be kicked near-half to death in a field in 1903 just goes to prove that.
After the flurry of newspaper articles related to these men in and around 1903 I didn’t find any more references to PC Allcock, John Frost or Ellis Field and I wonder what became of them. Did Arthur Allcock continue to pound the beat here in Mile Cross or was he moved somewhere else? Did Frost and Fields change their ways after spending a lengthy stretch in Norwich Prison? Were they to be repeat offenders? Were they young enough to be involved in the Great war not long after? I guess I’ll never know, but reading their story has helped to make me understand the future in which I habit and the history it will soon become a little better. Whether It’ll help me to ever make sense of human behaviours throughout the years is another thing all together.
Thanks once again for reading this stuff,