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A prisoner's mysterious escape from jail in Cuckfield

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 15 October 1895

As the characters in the following episode had long since been gathered to their fathers, and are now resting in peace beneath the shade of the sheltering yews, I do not feel any misgivings in committing to paper the facts as they were recorded to me by an old inhabitant of Cuckfield, who can fully vouch for the truth of his statements.

In the year 1858 there lived in the parish of Cuckfield a Family of the name of Jones and among them was one Ned, who bore a very bad character, so bad that the police had more trouble with him than all the rest of the Cuckfield folk put together. Always poaching, he was a terror to the keepers, and warnings, fines, and imprisonments seemed of no avail.

The superintendent of police at that time was a man of the name of Akehurst, and he bore the reputation of being a lenient man, one who tempered kindness with justice, and one in whom the authorities had implicit trust, and consequently his word was always believed. Ned Jones at the time of which I am writing had been engaged in a serious poaching affair, and was arrived and lodged in the police cells at Cuckfield.

Taylor, the constable, was told by his superior not to trouble about the locking of the cells, as the Supt would see to that, and consequently the policeman retired to his home. In the early hours of the next morning, rumour was afloat, and said that Ned Jones had escaped from the cells. Cuckfield was soon in an uproar, and a special sitting of one or two magistrates was held to investigate the matter. The constable was called, and his evidence was that the man has been arrested in the afternoon, and that in the evening, as he was about to make all safe, the superintendent had told him he might go home as he (Akehurst) would see all was right. Superintendent Akehurst was next examined, and his story was that after securing the cells, he retired to rest early, as he was quite done up, and that no sound had been heard during the night.

Such was all the light that could be thrown on the subject, and the affair, after it had caused a good sensation in the old town, was allowed to be numbered as a mystery which defied all attempts of solution.

Such was the mystery, and here is the solution by one qualified to give it.

On the evening of the above arrest there was to be a club meeting at the White Hart Inn.

'Peelers' - the old Cuckfield Police Station

Superintendent Akehurst was a prominent member, and was present. The time passed merrily with “jokes and careless chat”, and by 2 o'clock the next morning all were thoroughly tired out, and longed for rest. The company broke up and each “wearily plod his homeward way”, among the number being superintendent Akehurst. When he reached home he found the street door open, the cell door unlocked and the prisoner gone. He was much astonished and only recovered himself at the remembrance of his telling Ned Jones is that if he would make himself scarce he would give him another chance. And Ned Jones had availed himself of that chance, and was now missing. The worthy Super, decided what tale he should concoct for the morrow, and he came out in flying colours: he being a very respectable man his word was believed.

Superintendent Akehurst, after long and faithful service, was pensioned off, and lived to enjoy his pension for many many years. Such is the solution to the Cuckfield mystery and the writer hopes it will set at rest the minds of any persons who were puzzled at the escape of Ned Jones from the cells of Cuckfield police station.

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 29 October 1895

Cuckfield Mystery.

—In our issue of October 15th, under the heading of “A Cuckfield Mystery,” described through a correspondent the facts, as narrated by an old inhabitant, which led to the absconding from the police cells in Cuckfield of “Ned Jones,” who was a notorious poacher in the days when the late Mr. Akehurst was Superintendent of Police. Briefly our correspondent’s rendering of the circumstances leading to the escape from gaol was as under:—

Taylor, constable, was told by his superior not to trouble about the locking of the cells, as the Superintendent would see to that. The following morning, when the Superintendent returned home at 2 a.m. from a convivial evening at the White Hart Inn, he found the street door open, the cell door unlocked, and the prisoner gone.

He was much astonished, and only recovered himself when he had remembered having told “Ned Jones” that if he would make himself scarce he would give him another chance. A few days ago a relative of an old inhabitant of Cuckfield, who had also handed down a rendering of the cause of the escape, called upon us to give our readers the benefit of his version—the true version—which we have pleasure in publishing.

According to this story, when a constable left ”Jones” his water for washing in the morning he omitted to lock the door. To avoid this being noticed, when his meats were brought and put through the small aperture for that purpose, he (“ Jones”) held the door tightly closed; and thus the day passed without the incident being detected. When night came “Jones” emerged from the cold bare walls with shoes in his hands and left by the front door, which was easily unfastened by him from the inside. By this simple means he was at once at large. Our informant added that the prisoner was seen a few days after the occurrence and repeated this mode of escape to the person who spoke him, and also said that “Jones” visited his (our informant's) grandfather a few years ago, and it was only reasonable to suppose he was still living.



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