Brawl at the Half Moon in Balcombe 1839: Railway workers tried and sentenced

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Brighton Gazette - Thursday 17 October 1839


TRIALS OF PRISONERS. WILLIAM COOK, labourer, aged 40, was charged with having, on the 4th August, at Balcombe,

maliciously wounded Thomas Morris, a Special Constable appointed under the London and Brighton Railway Act, with intent to prevent the lawful detainer of William Abbott, an accomplice of the said William Cook, in an offence for which the said William Abbott was liable to be detained; and JOHN DODGE, labourer, aged 19, CHARLES PHILLIPS, labourer, 23, WILLIAM ABBOTT, labourer, 23, and WILLIAM HUNT, labourer, 30, were charged with aiding and abetting the said William Cook in the commission of the offence. Mr Cobbett conducted the prosecution, and Mr Tynedale the defence.


The prisoners and other labourers employed on the Railway, to the number of 30, had been drinking at the Half Moon, Balcombe, the evening of Saturday, the 31 August, till midnight, when the prisoner Abbott and another began to fight. A great disturbance was created; and at the request of the landlord, Hatfield, a railway policeman, went in for the purpose of putting an end to the fight and clearing the room.


He had no sooner made his appearance than was assailed by Abbott, whom, however, he with assistance of another policeman, succeeded in capturing; and they were in the act of conveying him to the lock up, when he threw Hatfield down. Morris, the prosecutor, came to his assistance, and they again proceeded with Abbott towards the lock-up.



The prisoners and a number of the other labourers followed, rescued Abbott, and attacked the policemen with large clubs and pieces of timber. Morris was severely wounded in the head, by a blow from Cook, that his life was in danger for a week ; and he did not recover for about a month.


The Jury found all the prisoners guilty; and the Court on Wednesday morning, sentenced Cook to “Fifteen years transportation” Abbott to “Eighteen months’ imprisonment;” Dodge and Hunt “Twelve months imprisonment,” and Phillips “Eight months imprisonment,” the first and last fortnights of the respective terms in solitary confinement, the remainder to hard labour.