Served with Saffron Walden Borough Police and died on November 9, 1849.


It was on Friday 9th November 1849 that a jury was empanelled before Mr. W.E. Freeland, Coroner for the Borough of Saffron Walden. Its task was to enquire into the death of the High or Chief Constable, William Campling. The late Mr. Campling had died from shock, induced by the receipt of about 40 to 60 gun pellets into his left leg and above 60 into his right leg. He had been shot on Wednesday 31st October, 1849 and died some 9 days later. His death certificate does not mention his police function but refers to him as the Borough Surveyor, which posts were sometimes, in those days, combined. The Borough, one of four in Essex to have a charter, became entitled under 1835 legislation to form its own police force. This was perforce small and, during its very short existence, never rose above a handful of regular and part time employees.

The Inquest

Mr. Freeland heard the following evidence; Mary Brewer, daughter of the pork butcher who lived in a house adjoining the Campling family, in Bridge Street, deposed that she was next door at about 10pm when stones were thrown at the door. Soon after she was upstairs with Miss Campling when they saw Mr. Campling coming home. They heard a shot fired from the opposite side of the road and went downstairs to find him laying by the front door.

William Brand, foreman to a Mr. Nockold, walked with Campling to his door, then began walking up Windmill Hill Road towards North End. He heard a bang, saw smoke coming from Mr. Francis Gibson's garden wall and heard the officer say "I'm shot." "I'm shot" Bloomfield John Savill, clerk to solicitor Collins, lived in Castle Street, three doors from the Waggon and Horses beer-house. At 4 p.m. on the 31st he heard shooting and then saw Thomas Porter the landlord drawing a bucket of water, in which Benjamin Pettit was washing a gun. He had on previous occasions seen Pettit climbing on a wall abutting George Archer's garden and giving access to Francis Gibson's property.

John Brewer, aged 15, brother to the first witness, also heard the shot and saw Campling laying by his door. He noticed a white dog "rough- headed with a short tail" with its nose under Mr. Davis's gate close by Mr. Francis Gibson's garden. He had seen Pettit and Porter rat-catching and the latter with the dog in Almshouse Lane where Pettit lived. He did not know who owned it.

William Glover, painter, of Castle Street told them that at 8pm Pettit passed two other persons, who he thought were two sawyers called Perry and Haslam. Borough Constable Wright was sent to bring them to the inquest.

Surgeon Thomas Brown and his assistant, Mr. Dickenson, attended within a few minutes of the attack and found Campling hysterical. They carried him upstairs. Next morning they extracted eight shots from the right leg and two from the left leg. Brown then found jaundice showing and the next day, gangrene. Dr. Paget of Cambridge also attended but the situation was hopeless and they later agreed that death was solely attributable to the effects of the shooting. Questioned by a Juror, the Surgeon said that amputation would have caused his immediate death from shock. George Brand, apprentice to Hannibal Dunn, upholsterer and cabinet maker, saw Pettit in the Waggon and Horses at half past nine. He was smoking but was not seen to drink.

Alfred Stackwood, wheelwright of Littlebury, told the inquest that he had quarrelled with Pettit on the 19th May, in Littlebury, after which they were friendly. Pettit told him that he could not control his temper; Campling had made him cross; he had " made him pay a time or two and if he happened of him he would do for him." Thomas Davis, under-gardener to Mr. W. G. Gibson, lived with his father next door to Mr. Francis Gibson. He heard the shot but had then seen a "sharp-nosed white dog which had run between his legs."

Constable James Wright was directed to search Pettit's house for a gun, but did not find one. He had taken Pettit's shoes and checked them against three impressions found in Francis Gibson's garden and had also seized a full shot pouch.

Superintendent John Timewell Clarke, of the County Constabulary, had examined the shot taken by Wright and weighed them. Three of the four types corresponded in size with those taken from Campling's leg.

James Pettit (no relation) gave evidence relating to what Glover had said about Charles Perry and Edward Haslam. The jury were evidently much dissatisfied with his answers and conduct, though Edward Haslam then gave evidence that the jury thought fair. Perry described a game played in the beer-house involving a rifle barrel, through which darts were blown at a target and Pettit being one of the players. William Osborne, labourer, deposed that he had been with Perry and Haslam , it was not Pettit. He also said that Pettit was in the bar until 11pm. The jury seemed to be quite convinced that he was not telling the truth and told him so. Robert Wren, labourer, was in the bar from 8pm to 9.30pm but did not see Pettit. The Jury re-assembled on Monday 12th at 2.30pm to examine the evidence of Thomas Porter of the Waggon and Horses beer-house. Porter admitted to the ownership of two guns, which he had let Pettit use only when he was present. One was single-barreled, calibre about the size of a sixpenny piece. Mary and Sarah Porter, his wife and daughter were then examined. These women, like Porter, gave evidence in so unsatisfactory a manner that the coroner and jury gave up the attempt to elicit anything further from them.

The dying man's statement

Mayor Nathaniel Catlin deposed that Pettit had been taken to the sufferers bedroom on 8th, the day after his committal for trial. Campling, being aware that he was dying, stated that " On 31st at about 10 past 10pm I left the Eight Bells Inn, 40 yards from my house in Bridge Street." He " walked and talked" with Brand for a moment, said "Goodnight" then was shot in the legs. He was carried upstairs and told those present to find Pettit (the prisoner) because "he had threatened me before. The last time was in Abbey Lane Passage, three or four months ago, when I met him on a sudden. I think his expression was in a sort of wrath "you old ----- you, I'll do your business for you one of these days."

On 14th the Jury re-convened, when Mr. Paine, clerk to solicitor Thurgood, said that he and the Excise Officer Mr. Bedwell were in King's Street late on the evening in question when they saw Pettit walking towards Almshouse Lane, with his hands in his pockets, whistling and accompanied by a white dog. Thurgood joined them but no-one spoke until the Constable came. They all went to Mr. Taylor the Magistrate. Some days later Thurgood also went with the prisoner to Campling's bedside and, though he denied calling Campling the name, he did not deny the attack. The Town Beadle, James Dewberry, deposed that the prisoner was given into his custody. As ordered he went to the beer-house after midnight and said to Porter "Tom, I want you." The latter came without asking why, and did not reply, when in Castle Street Dewberry told him that that it was a bad job as someone had "shot the old gentleman."

The Verdict

The jury concluded a verdict of Wilful murder by some person or persons unknown which was strange in that Pettit had already been charged and committed for trial on 7th November for " Shooting with intent."

The Assize

Benjamin Pettit, aged 21, having been in custody since November, was put up before the Judge at the next Essex Lent Assize, held at Shire Hall in the second week of March 1850. The prosecution counsel Russell Gurney QC laid out the facts and identified three inferences that could properly made; one - that the shooting had not been an accident, for the stones thrown against the door were intended to get Campling to a place where he could be shot; two - that it was certain that the crime was not for plunder but was the result of ill-feeling towards the victim; three - that the assailant had concealed themselves near the bridge over a small stream (contemporary term - slade) to commit the crime.

Much of the evidence given at the Inquest was repeated; William Payne, clerk to Walden magistrates, spoke to the deposition Campling made before his death, with the prisoner present.

Borough Constable James Byatt of Walden told of a disturbance at a temporary theatre on the Common in July 1849. There was a scuffle between the prisoner and the High Constable and Pettit was injured. Superintendent Clarke and Inspector Lunn of the Detective Service (Metropolitan Police) gave evidence about the footmarks and the shot. Henry Shuttleworth, iron -monger, examined the shot taken by Constable Wright from the prisoner's home. He found them to be size 3, 4 and 5 (mixed), exactly matching the three types removed by Browne from the dying Campling. Evidence given by Mr. B. Thurgood, who had arrested Pettit and handed him over to Beadle Dewberry and Constable Wright, and later taken the early depositions, was objected to by the defence and was therefore not taken. That was the case for the prosecution.

Mr. T. Chambers lead for the defence and addressed the Jury. At about 9.30pm that day they returned a verdict of Not Guilty. No other person was charged with this crime, which remains unsolved. Saffron Walden police had difficulty in recruiting and in 1857, when policing all areas became compulsory, Harwich and Saffron Walden were absorbed into the Essex Constabulary. The Eight Bells public house still exists and some 40 yards away is Bridge End House the likely scene of the shooting. The licence of the Waggon and Horses was transferred to another building, whilst Pettit's home at Alms Houses (rebuilt a generation later) were in nearby Freshwell Lane.

Memorial plaque

William Campling - High, Chief or Head Constable.