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Coxhoe Crime

In the early 1800’s there was no professional Police Force, but it was introduced in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel. The Metropolitan Police Act was passed and provided paid Constables, commonly known as ‘Peelers’ or ‘Bobbies’. The Coxhoe Policemen of 1871 were Sgt. John Mielin and PC Peter Bulson; in 1881 there was Sgt. Matthew Taylor.  In 1801 to 1901 Sgt. Joseph Wressell was in Charge of Coxhoe Police Station.  In the 1930’s there was PC Shiell and PC Stafford.

The Newspapers are a good source when looking at crimes of the time. The Newcastle Courant of 12th October 1838 reported a murder near Garmondsway. Apparently two men named Dalahide and Hasson, employed at the local railway, had quarreled in a Public house in Coxhoe Pottery over a woman that lived with them. Hasson headed for home thinking the two had made up, but was followed by Dalahide who ‘stabbed him with a knife till his bowels protruded’. The injured man dragged himself to a nearby house, where he identified his assassin before he died. Dalahide was committed to Durham gaol for wilful murder.

The following four reports show how people had to pay for their misdeeds.

The Newcastle Courant Nov 22 1839.
Durham Police- Henry Redhead of Coxhoe, pitman, was fined 2s 6d with 9s 6d costs, for an assault on John Smith, of the same place, pitman.

The Newcastle Courant Mar 13 1840.
Mary Ritson of Coxhoe fined 2s 6d with 8s 6d costs for an assault on Elizabeth Watts of the same place.

The Newcastle Courant July 1 1842.
Isabella Taylor (15) charged with having stolen half sovereign and two half crowns, the property of George Felton of Coxhoe – 3 months hard labour in the house of correction.

The Newcastle Courant Nov 29 1878.
Selling without a licence- George Knaggs innkeeper, Cornforth Lane for selling spirits without a licence was fined £10 including costs.

The following sad tale was reported in The Newcastle Courant May 15 1857.

A woman named Mary Cooke, wife of a quarryman in Coxhoe, murdered her 4 year old son by cutting his throat with a razor.  The boy had been sleeping with his 11 year old brother who was awakened by his struggling brother. After noticing the bleeding throat he raced to an adjoining house belonging to his aunt, Elizabeth Barribridge. Elizabeth found her sister near the body of her son, she was bleeding from a neck wound. “Mr. Caines the surgeon was called when it was discovered that the boys throat had been severed from ear to ear, the windpipe and the cartotid artery having been completely cut through” The surgeon was able to stitch up Mrs. Cookes wound as the windpipe had not been cut… Shortly afterwards she began to articulate, and stated that she had killed the child and that sorrow and trouble had made her do it. One razor blade was found in the fire and another was found in a table drawer. An inquest was held but no motive was found. Mary was deaf and it was said that when she saw people talking together she thought they were saying something about her. The jury returned a verdict of “Wilful Murder” against Mary Cooke and a warrant of committal was made out.

Child Murder & Suicide at Coxhoe - Northern Echo March 1 1876.

Yesterday morning, in consequence of domestic quarrels between William Heathwaite, tailor of Coxhoe, and his wife Sarah, the latter left her home at eight o’clock with her son Thomas of 4 ½ months, and set out to her mother’s at Quarrington Hill. She climbed the rails of Crow Trees reservoir and threw herself and the child into the reservoir. A man named Roe heard her shouting ‘Oh dear’ and on going to the brink saw her floating on the surface, endeavoring to rescue herself.  He pulled her out alive but 1 ½ hours elapsed before the child was recovered, when he was found quite dead. Dr. Blandford was called in and restored the mother’s consciousness. She was removed to her mother’s house. Superintendent Dunn was communicated with and the woman now lives at her mother’s house under surveillance of the police”.

The Coxhoe Store murder of 1940 may still be remembered by older residents of Coxhoe and was reported in the papers at the time. The following article was published in ‘The Coxhoe Chronicle’ Spring 2005 and has the benefit of knowledge gained from John Hepplewhite’s interview with the family.

In the early years of the Second World War (1939-45) there was a spate of burglaries throughout County Durham which were made easier by the mandatory ‘blackout’. Obviously the successful Co-operative Stores represented rich pickings for burglars and Police Officers gave them special attention.

Two men, Vincent Ostler, aged 24 years and William Appleby, 27 years, both of Hawksworth, Yorkshire, had planned a string of burglaries at Co-op stores in the north of England. On 29th Feb 1940, they had arrived in Durham and had gone to the Cinema.  They had originally planned to break into Ferryhill Co-op but on arrival found lights on in the building, so drove on to Coxhoe instead.

At 2 am Ostler and Appleby climbed onto the store roof and broke in through a skylight window and searched for cash and cigarettes. A young miner, Jesse Smith, was travelling from Bowburn past Coronation Terrace in Coxhoe. Noticing a torchlight flashing in the Coxhoe Co-op and a face appearing at a window,  he ran quickly to the Police Station at the bottom of Front Street (now one of the village dentists and a Chiropodists) some 200 yards from the store. He quickly returned with Police Constable William Shiell, War Reserve Constable Stafford and another miner, William Wilson.

Coop Broken Window

PC Shiell waited outside the front store with Jesse on the corner and Constable Stafford and William investigated the rear of the building.  When Stafford rattled the rear door knob one thief shattered a glass window at the front of the building, dived onto the street and was closely followed by PC Shiell. He blew his whistle, shouted and kept his torch beam on the burglars as they fled around the corner into Patterson’s opening (Patterson’s was a local butchers shop and slaughterhouse – now Village Care- situated at Wesley Place on what is now the Village Green). It was black dark.

The two burglars fled south of Pattersons on the same side of the road as Long Row (demolished in 1971). The Constable was about to approach them at an area of wasteland adjacent to the Long Row when one uttered the fatal words, “All right, let him have it!” The other drew a revolver and shot PC Shiell in the stomach. The burglars ran off in the dark.

Shortly afterwards Constable Stafford found his wounded colleague. With the help of the two miners Stafford carried PC Shiell to the house of former worker Robert Sinderson at 53 The Long Row. PC Shiell asked the other to order an ambulance and inform the sergeant. Before being taken to hospital PC Shiell informed his Sergeant that he had disturbed two men and that one of them had told the other “let him have it. He is alone!”. He died the next day in Durham County Hospital.

Extensive enquiries were made by Durham County Police officers, under Detective Superintendent Holmes and Superintendent Johnson, with the co-operation of West Riding Constabulary.  A Vauxhall car, stolen at Chester-le-Street a few days earlier was found burnt out at Huddersfield Moors. Following enquiries in Leeds regarding the disposal of stolen property and only three days after the murder, two men were arrested at Otley. Ostler apparently put up a struggle, but Appleby readily admitted to being present when Ostler shot PC Shiell although denied he had ever said “let him have it”.

PC Shiell's Funeral Service

On the Tuesday after the murder, 5th March, PC Shiell’s funeral service took place at St Andrew’s Church, Spennymoor, the same church he was married in only a few years earlier. His last resting place is York Hill Cemetery, Spennymoor. The route from the family home at 6, The Avenue, Coxhoe to St Andrew’s Church was packed with mourners. Over 200 police officers were in attendance. PC Shiell was a mere 28 years old and he left a wife Freda and daughter Barbara aged three years.

The Durham County Police Federation Joint Branch Board kindly donated £300 to Coxhoe Community Partnership to be used to purchase a seat in memory of PC Shiell for the Community/Sensory Garden. 

PC William Ralph Shiells

The inscription reads:

Sponsored by Durham J.B.B. in memory of Constable 167 William Ralph Shiell
“Murdered in the Execution of his duty 1st March 1940”


Freda, his wife died in 1987 at Norton, Cleveland and daughter Barbara died 2002, their ashes also interred at York Hill Cemetery in Spennymoor.

Acknowledgements to Jim Robinson, Durham Police Federation Joint Board, Sally Sinderson for information about the incident and Geoff Revell for family photographs, documents and newspaper cuttings.

Footnote: Geoff Revell was the husband of PC Shiell’s daughter Barbara and assisted greatly in supplying photographic and other documentation concerning the murder.  Sadly, he died shortly before the Sensory Garden was opened on 10th June 2006, having agreed to be present at the ceremony. Their daughter Louise, a lecturer in archaeology at Southampton University, travelled from her home in Hampshire for the occasion.

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