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An Olympian Ordeal

During my frequent browsing of the old newspapers which were once local to my home area, it is the occasional 'eureka' moment, like the excitement of finding an elusive 'bargain' at a church fĂȘte jumble sale or Sunday street market, that so seems to make this whole thing of research so worthwhile. Such was the case recently when I stumbled across the following little gem, almost hidden at the bottom of column 2, page 8 of the Grantham Journal, a fastidious and serious broadsheet which served to cover its neighbouring market town of Melton Mowbray in some detail.

My personal joy of the piece almost certainly relates to the fact that I was myself once a police officer and that I know that the astonishing accomplishment of village bobby, P.C Watson, of 100 years ago would certainly be recognised as an heroic feat by any serving officer of today's police service.  But there is also an irony, seemingly missed by the writer as he explains the amazing - or even amusing! - events which unfolded during that summer's day, in that the astonishing part of the story for the reader of today is reduced to but a short sentence.  Either the reporter was ignorant of the geography of the area or he thought little of it, but to assist my readers who also are not aware, I will explain at the outset that the distance the constable travelled in pursuit of his quarry was all of ten long miles of undulating road and with the help of my basic schoolboy maths I have produced some figures to explain.

Suffice to say on noting the date of this event, that at the very genesis of the world's worst ever human conflict, plucky young men such as our hero here described would sooner or later be whisked off their rural beats to fight in a dirty war in foreign fields against a foe that they never knew or even perhaps cared about.  

This is the story, as printed:

    'An audacious burglary was committed in the Market-place, Oakham, early on Wednesday morning, a plate glass window of the establishment of Miss Payne, jeweller, etc., being broken, and a quantity of watches, rings, brooches etc, being abstracted.  Thanks however, to the promptitude with which the police were warned by the discoverer of the occurrence, and the equally prompt action of the police the perpetrator was in a few hours run to ground with the whole of the property he had purloined in his possession.  About 4 o’clock on Wednesday morning, Mr. Thomas Barfield and Mr H.S. Dexter were going on duty at the Post-office, and in High-street they met a man who, while his appearance occasioned no suspicion, they made a “mental note” of, doubtless because of his being in the street at that time of the morning.  At Mr. Makin’s corner, Mr. Barfield turned into the Market-place with the object of proceeding to the Post-master’s residence, and on passing Miss Payne’s shop, situated at the corner of a block of buildings, which except for the front part nearer High-street is non residential (including the burgled premises) he noticed that the large plate glass window opposite the School House had been smashed, and articles of jewellery scattered over the pavement.  He at once proceeded to the police station and informed the Chief Constable, and Mr. Wilson, together with Inspector Golder and other police officers were quickly on the spot.  An iron bar about two feet long was lying not far from the window, which had evidently had three blows struck at it, before a hole sufficiently large had been made to get at the contents.  The Chief Constable having obtained a description of the man the postmen met in High-street, at once dispatched constables in various directions in pursuit.  P.c. Watson, stationed at Langham, cycled along the Melton-road and on reaching the Burton-road railway bridge at Melton Mowbray, he came up with a man answering the description given. He at once apprehended the man, and conveyed him to the prison in Norman-street, where he was searched under the supervision of Superintendent Hinman.  On him was found eight watches, thirty four gold rings, twenty six silver rings, and a quantity of other gold and silver jewellery, such as brooches, etc..  The man gave the name of William Bentley, a labourer of Leeds and twenty-six years of age.  He was brought to Oakham by P.c. Watson, and brought before D. N. Royce Esq., and remanded until yesterday (Friday).    The accused was again brought up yesterday, and was committed to take his trial at the Quarter Sessions.  P.c. Watson stated that when he arrested the accused at Melton, and told him who he was he said, “Oh yes: I know what you want: I have got the stuff with me.”  On the way to Oakham, the prisoner said, “I have thrown some trays away,” and he subsequently pointed out a small spinney on the roadside to witness where the jewel trays were found.'
(Transcribed from The Grantham Journal of 8th August 1914.)          

In modern times I have traversed this route many, many times and with no exception, I have always travelled by motor-car and the thought of pedalling up the the crest of each of the many extremely meaningful and tortuous hills along the way, does nothing less than fill me with awe and great pride for Constable Watson, who was no doubt in possession of a standard police issue velocipede and attired in his heavy Melton-cloth uniform - not to mention the awkward balancing of his issue helmet.  None of your Derailleur gear mechanisms in those long ago days and very rigid saddles to sit upon.

With my most basic maths and with a little help from Google I can assure you that the A606 Oakham to Melton Road today measures 10.2 English miles, (16.42 km. ). To walk this journey has been estimated to take 3hrs, 23 mins and to cycle - 57 minutes.  Olympian!


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