Huntingdonshire author pens book about first Pc in Norfolk
HE was feared by criminals, loved by women and was renowned for innovative methods of tackling crimes.
Thomas Bocking was both commended and condemned during his time as one of Norfolk’s first county police constables.
Now his great-grandson, Ted Bocking, a former clerk of Huntingdon Town Council, has written two novels on his relative’s colourful career which even saw him befriend the writers Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray.
It was in 1840 that Mr Bocking took his position with Norfolk’s recently-established police force.
He was born in Brancaster and had worked there as a trainee boat builder. He applied for a job as a police officer after seeing an advertisement in a newspaper.
Aged 19, after just three days of training, Mr Bocking started his career in law-enforcement.
Mr Bocking, 73, never met his great-grandfather and has written the novels, The Hickory Stick and The Ashen Rung, from his numerous memoirs, old newspaper stories and conversations with relatives.
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It took Mr Bocking, who lives in Houghton, 30 years, on and off, to research and write the novels, which have just been published online.
He said: “Back in the 1800s if you were deemed big enough and fit enough to work for the police you were given the job. It was a bonus if you could read and write.
“Thomas had to work things out as he went along. Police officers today talk about him to new recruits as a way of showing them just how difficult policing was back then.
“Most of the time he had no form of transport. It was a big hassle to handcuff someone and drag them to a police station so he would just give the criminals a good beating. The Hickory Stick is named after the weapon he used. Officers wouldn’t get in trouble unless they killed someone
“Police officers were very unpopular back then. Before the police force was established people just nominated someone each year to be the constable of the town or village. They often didn’t want to do it, so bribed others to do the work for them.
“This all stopped when the police force was established and, because of this, many people were out to get my great-grandfather but he was a big guy and could handle himself.”
Mr Bocking said his novels are 60 per cent fact and 40 per cent fiction and his great-grandfather’s character is given the name Barnaby Madden in them.
He spent approximately 10 years with Norfolk police, working in Hilgay, Southery, Welney, Downham Market, East Winch, Swaffham, Castle Acre, Middleton, and many parts of north Norfolk.
On his first night working in Downham Market, Mr Bocking had found accommodation at a pub. He had been there less than an hour when he was called to attend a theft at another pub nearby, The Rampant Horse, where the thief was hiding up the chimney.
Mr Bocking said: “The landlord wanted to fire a gunshot up there but Thomas wouldn’t let him. Instead he poked a red hot iron up the chimney – that was enough to make the thief come down.”
At West Bilney a farmer complained that wood was being stolen from his stacks.
Mr Bocking suggested drilling holes in the timber, filling them with gunpowder, plugging the holes, and replacing them on the pile.
Two days later the fireplace of a woman living nearby exploded and the thief was found.
The police constable was also a notorious womaniser.
Mr Bocking said: “Once he had to escort a female prisoner from King’s Lynn to Walsingham on a horse and cart.
“It became so foggy they stopped for the night, turning the cart upside down to provide shelter. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise what went on that night.”
Mr Bocking was once reprimanded for his behaviour at Cockley Cley. He joined the locals in celebrating the harvest festivities. He neglected his police duties and spent three days getting drunk.
There was little supervision of the police in those days, but word of Mr Bocking’s prolonged celebrations got back to the chief constable and Mr Bocking was formally reprimanded.
Mr Bocking went from Norfolk to work at a lunatic asylum in Preston. He then joined the Metropolitan Police, where he went on to become a chief inspector.
During his time in London he befriended Dickens and Thackeray, who lived on his beat in Kensington.
Mr Bocking said: “He even went to see Thackeray on his death bed and, for some reason, brought him a jar of blackcurrant jam. Who knows, that may have been what killed him!”
Mr Bocking moved back to Brancaster to retire. He died after a short illness on October 23, 1898 at his home. He is buried in Brancaster churchyard.
Mr Bocking, a retired former Huntingdon town clerk, said: “When I first got hold of these memoirs I knew there was a great novel or two in there. It’s taken a long time for me to get them researched and written. My children pushed me to finish them.
“I think my great-grandfather’s story is very relevant today, particularly with the elections for police and crime commissioners last week.
“The fundamental role of the police officer is the same now as it was in the 1800s: to protect the public and bring criminals to justice.
“But, unfortunately, there is so much politics and bureaucracy involved in policing today. Those fundamental facts seem to have been forgotten.”
INFORMATION: The novels are available at www.amazon.co.uk/Kindle-eBooks