top of page

1891: A serious charge of assault in Cuckfield

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 09 June 1891


Ernest Neale, a private in the 14th Hussars, and Alfred Rice, fishmongers’ assistant, were charged, on remand, with assaulting Walter Gilbert, carter, and doing him actual bodily harm, on May 19th, at Cuckfield.

—Mr. J. C. Buckwell appeared for Rice, and Mr A. V. Treacher for Neale.

—Mr. J. C. Buckwell said he had an objection to make. He understood that complainant had accepted compensation for the injuries sustained, which he was entitled to do, instead of seeking a civil remedy. Having taken this course he was, however, barred from taking civil remedy, and therefore could not proceed with the case. As it was misdemeanour and not a felony it might be squared. This did not affect the other charge. The magistrates retired for consultation, and on returning into Court said they could not allow the case to be compounded.

—The case was then proceeded with.— Walter Gilbert said he resided at Moonhill, Ridger’s farm, Cuckfield, and was a carter. On Tuesday night, May 19th, about half-past nine, he was going along the public footpath leading from Cuckfield to the farm. His wife was with him. Whilst witness was getting over a stile the soldier who was with him threw his wife down. He was in front, and heard his wife scream. He turned round and saw her lying on the ground. She said the soldier put his leg between her’s and threw her down. There were two men near her—a soldier and another man. He could not swear to either of the prisoners. He had been in a public house an hour and a half with his wife and two men, but he could not swear these were the men. Witness and his wife were not accompanied by the young men; they left them standing at the bar in the public-house, at 9.30 as near he could say.

About a quarter of an hour after starting he saw the young men whilst getting over the double stile. He could not say if they were the same, but there was a soldier and another man; that was not the stile where his wife called out, but was three or four fields off, nearer Cuckfield. He was not drunk, but had been drinking with his wife and the two men. He believed it was at the “White Hart,” but was not sure; he had not been in the neighbourhood long enough.

The White Hart circa 1920

He and his wife had a pint of beer and the soldier gave him and his wife a glass each. When he heard his wife call out he turned round to go to her assistance, and was knocked down. The soldier struck him on the forehead with his whip. He became insensible, and knew no more till the next morning.

He had to remain in bed in hie own cottage suffering great pain in his head and shoulder, and was laid up in bed for three days. He did no work for nearly a fortnight, only returning to work a week last Friday. The doctor saw him the Saturday following. He had continued work ever since. He had two bruises on his leg and one on each arm. He was bruised about the face very much, and still felt the pain in his head. The two men in the public - house were strangers to him. He heard them called no names; the soldier had a whip.

— Cross-examined by Mr. Buckwell, complainant said he was prepared to withdraw his prosecution. He had been compensated for the injuries sustained, and was satisfied. He was prepared to let matters drop. He was a carter in the employ of Mr. Lawrence. On the day of the assault he did not go to work in the afternoon, as he came to Haywards Heath station with his wife expecting to meet their daughter, but she did not come. They started between 1.30 and 1.45, and had pint of beer at 2.30, when they got to the “White Hart,” at Cuckfield. They went to meet the three o’clock train, but were little late. On their way back they went to the Wheatsheaf Inn, where they had some bread and cheese and a pint of beer between them. They left there at 5.30, and did not reach the White Hart till eight o’clock. It took nearly three hours to get there; the distance was about half a mile. They went nowhere else after leaving the Wheatsheaf before getting to the “White Hart.” They got there about eight o’clock. They were in this house for about an hour-and-a-half, but did not know exactly what time they left it. His wife and he had a pint of beer between them, besides a glass each given them the soldier. There was a woman or two behind the bar drawing beer, and two or three men in front of the bar. The soldier and another “chap” or two were present. The beer they received from the soldier was just before they left the “White Hart.” They had a little conversation together, and he asked the soldier if he knew his son, who was a soldier.

Prosecutor said he and his wife were in the house for an hour or an hour and a quarter before he spoke to the soldier. They had had the pint of beer they paid for themselves before the soldier treated them. Ho could not swear to either of the men; they were perfect strangers to him. His wife did not go outside and leave him in the “White Hart.” She did not go out till they left the house together. No one else besides Neale wanted to stand him beer. The soldier did not want to stand more beer, nor did witness swear at anyone and ask what business it was of his when the soldier offered to do so. The soldier gave him and his wife a cigar each, and his wife handed hers to him. He sat under the window in the “White Hart,” but did not go to sleep, or appear to do so.

They went down Symons’ lane, by the church, but they did not see anyone down the lane. The two young men did not catch them up till they got to the double stile. He never saw anything of a man named Robinson in the lane. He did not pull off any of his clothes there, or anywhere during the evening, nor did he make use of bad language. Prosecutor denied hitting the soldier, the man who was accompanying him, or his wife. Neither did his wife hit him. When the men caught them up they were quiet till they got to the place where the assault took place. He got over the stile first, but did not fall over. He had one foot on either side when his wife called for assistance. He had no trouble in getting his wife along, nor did she say she would not go home with him.

—Mr. Treacher also cross-examined the prosecutor, and received replies to the same effect, and in answer to further questions prosecutor said he was wearing a belt on the night of the assault. His wife was not drunk, nor had he ever seen her drunk. He should like to see her so, just to know how she looked. She told him she had been sick after seeing him knocked about. He did not see the soldier put his leg between his wife’s to throw her. He only knew what she told him.

—By the Bench: He was about three yards from his wife, and was knocked down when he went to assist her. The two men were between him and his wife. The prisoner Neale’s grandfather gave him the money, which was very glad of. It amounted to £2. Mr. Neale came to him.

—Harriet Gilbert, wife of the prosecutor, corroborated the evidence of her husband in the main, and identified the two prisoners as those who committed the assault on prosecutor. In the course of her cross-examination she said Neale was not sober when he left the “White Hart,” but Rice was. They went to the Exhibition after leaving the “ Wheatsheaf,” but could not get in. She did not ask the men to go home with her and help with her husband. She had an umbrella, but was positive she did not use it.

They walked in single file through the fields before getting to the stile where the assault took place: her husband first, then Neale, herself next, and Rice last. She stood on one side to allow Neale to get over the stile, but instead of doing so he put his leg between hers and threw her backwards. She fell to the ground, and then knelt in front of her. As soon as he did so she called her husband, and told him the soldier was going to take advantage of her. Her husband had one foot on either side of the stile, and turned round and came to her assistance. As soon as she called her husband the soldier struck her in the eye with his whip, and she had a severe black eye. When her husband came the soldier struck him on the temple of his head and knocked him down again. They both hit him in the eye with their fists. The soldier also beat her husband with the whip till he was senseless. The other one then took the whip and also beat him till he was senseless. The two men then went away laughing. The scrimmage lasted nearly a quarter-of-an-hour. Her husband took his coat partly off, and then she took it off after the men assaulted him the first time Prosecutor was gearing belt but did not use it: he had that on when she undressed him. She had to leave the prosecutor under the hedge till came too a little. It was half-past two before she could get him home. The distance from where he was to their cottage ordinarily took about a quarter of an hour to cover, but they were an hour getting to it on that occasion, as prosecutor has down several times on the way. She had to assist her husband upstairs, and help him to undress. He was in bed for several days, but they did not send for doctor. She saw Rice in his employers’ fish shop on Saturday week, and spoke to him about the case. She, however, denied telling Rice on that occasion that she would “make it hot for the soldier.” Witness did tell Rice she had nothing against him, only for striking her husband. Rice took Neale’s whip and struck her husband three or four times on the arm, because should not hit Neale,

-John Lawrence farmer, said he lived at Moon-hill Cuckfield, and the witness was in his employ as a carter. He had worked for him since November. Witness saw him on the Thursday forenoon after the assault; he was then in bed. His face was a good deal swollen, and he was bruised about the eyes. He remained away from work about eight working days. He was able to work now. Witness gave information of the assault to the police on Thursday afternoon. He saw Gilbert several times before he resumed work

—Richard Fitzmaurice, L.R.C.P., L.R.C.S Edin practising at Lindfield, said that on the 25th of May he was sent for by the police and examined Gilbert in the charge-room at the police station, Haywards Heath. He had two black eyes, a lacerated wound on the top of the head, and a contused wound about the left temple. He was weak and trembling and had evidently lost some blood. He was not in a fit state to work, and he ordered him to go home and keep quiet. On the 27th he saw Gilbert again at his own house. He was then doing well, but witness still recommended him to keep quiet; he was not fit to work. Witness saw him again on Saturday the 30th. He was then at work, contrary to witness’s advice. Witness would not see him again on account of this, but he did not apprehend any danger. The injuries in themselves were not severe, but the consequences might have been.

—Thomas Willett, Sergeant of Police, said that on the 22nd of May, from information received, he went to prosecutor’s house at 9.30 in the forenoon. He found him in bed, and he appeared to have been considerably knocked about. Both eyes were black. He had a cut on the top of the head, and a very severe blow in front of his left ear. His face and head were very much swollen, and he had several bruises about the arms and legs, and seemed in great pain when he moved. From what he and his wife told him, witness went to the footpath leading towards Cuckfield from the house of the prosecutor. About half a mile off, where there was a cross stile, there were signs of a severe struggle having taken place. The hedge was broken down and the grass trampled. There were places in the grass which might have been made with toes or heels in a struggle. There was a quantity of blood on the boughs of the hedge and the grass.

Witness then went, in company with Supt. Denman, in search of prisoners, and on Monday 26th May, proceeded, with a warrant, to Woolwich Dockyard for the apprehension of Neale. He said “You know what l am come for, Ernest?” He said “Yes, I think so.” Witness said he should take him into custody for assaulting a man named Gilbert the Tuesday previous. He read the warrant to Neale, who made no reply. He brought him to the police station at Haywards Heath.

—Superintendent Samuel Denman said that on the 21st May he received information of the assault complained of. On the 26th he arrested the prisoner Rice with a warrant obtained on the 25th. Witness read the warrant to him, and told him he believed he was the person named on the warrant as a man “name unknown.” He replied “Yea. He brought it on himself; he struck me first, and I hit him and knocked him down.” On the 27th, after he had been remanded, witness went to Rice in the police cells and told him he would get any witness he wished, and that he could communicate with a solicitor. He said: “Will you ask Robinson to attend as a witness for me. He came to us at the Church gates when the man had got his coat off and wanted to fight. We got him to put his coat on again and go towards home. I should not have gone with them only Neale asked me to. He said he (Neale) had been asked by the woman to prevent her husband knocking her about.”

Haywards Heath Police Station in Paddockhall Road

Rice further said that when he was cleaning his cart Neale wanted him to go into the “White Hart” and have some beer with him. He said he went then, and afterwards went out and finished his work and went back to Neale again. Then they went down to the cricket field together, where he (Rice) had a game of cricket and Neale looked on. Then they went back to the “White Hart” again, and the man and woman were in there. He (Rice) had some lemonade, and then went out to see about his horse. When he went back again Neale was talking to the woman. After a little while Neale and the woman went out of doors. They were gone four or five minutes, and then came back. Neale said he would stand another pint, and he (Rice) asked him to let him do so. The man then got up and asked what he bad to do with it. Rice said he told him “nothing,” begged his pardon, and went back to where he was standing.

Continuing his story, Rice said Neale then treated them with four cigars. After a little while the three (Neale, the man and the woman) went out together, and Neale beckoned him to follow them. He went out, and found them a little way down the lane. The man was arguing with Neale and he (Rice) tried to persuade them to go home. They went very well for a little way, and then the man (Gilbert) wanted to fight again. Rice said Gilbert struck him, and he then hit him and knocked him down. Neale asked him not to strike Gilbert again, and he did not. The man and woman kept quarrelling, and when they got to the stile the woman hit the man on the bead with her umbrella. The man knocked her down, and made her sick. Neale said “You shan't hit her any more, and caught hold of her and threw the man into the hedge. Then they went at it The man took off his belt and laid it about Neale, and he (Rice) caught up Neale’s whip and hit the man across the arm with it to prevent him hitting Neale.

-Walden Robinson, rope-maker, Cuckfield, said he remembered the evening of May 19th. Between half past nine and ten he went with a friend through the churchyard into Symons'-lane. There he met the two prisoners and Gilbert and his wife. He passed close to them. He heard Gilbert talking rather loudly, and also saw him trying to get his coat off. After passing witness returned, and went up to see what Gilbert was going to do. He saw Ernest Neale with his arm round the man as if to prevent him from fighting. Witness heard the woman say “He has done it lots of times before,” which gave him the impression that Gilbert was going to knock her about. She said “He is not my husband; he is only a man I live with.” She also said “He has blacked my eyes before lots of times.” He should say the man was partly intoxicated, judging by his attitude and the way he was shouting. He asked Rice, in Gilbert’s presence, what was the matter. He said “Are they going to fight?” Rice said “ It's all right, Bobby.” On this assurance witness went away and left them.

—By the Bench- He should not like to say the woman was perfectly sober. She said several times “Don’t let him loose; he’ll knock me about like he has done lots of times before.”

— Mr. Buckwell, on behalf of Rice, asked the Bench not to commit him for trial on the charge of occasioning bodily harm. At most it only amounted to a common assault. The evidence against him woe not of the same character as that against Neale. They had a perfectly independent witness in the man Robinson, who had given the very same account as that given by Rice to the Superintendent.

—The Bench retired for consultation, and on returning into Court told Rice they had decided, after due consideration, to dismiss him.

— Neale was cautioned that any statement he might make might be used against him at his trial He, however, reserved his defence.

-Alfred Rice then entered the witness-box, and said he was a fishmongers’ assistant working for Messrs. Ellmer and Hever, and lived at Cuckfield. He had heard the evidence of Superintendent Denman, and it was true.

—Neale was committed for trial at the Quarter Sessions, to be held on June 30th, bail being allowed, himself in £50, and two sureties of £25 each,



bottom of page