West Bay Discovery Centre, West Bay, Bridport, DT6 4EN.

Robbery at West Bay and a clever capture

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On Friday 20th July 1894 the railway station at West Bay was broken into and ransacked. Fortunately, Mr Price, the station-master, had not left any money about and the thieves had to content themselves by pillaging a collection box for the Widows’ and Orphans’ Railway Benevolent Society. A box containing two ladies’ golf cloaks had also been broken open and the cloaks were missing. An old timepiece and a towel were also stolen, and the value of everything is roughly put down 25 shillings (equivalent to £103 in today’s money.)

Information was at once given to the police and Supt. Brooks personally investigated everything. He was aware that two men were wanted for breaking into a railway station in Devon and he managed to trace them coming into Dorset from Devon. He also found that the men, instead of passing through Bridport, went along the fields from the Chideock road to West Bay, where they were seen six o’clock on Friday evening. The astuteness with which Supt. Brooks carried out his enquiries beyond all praise, for he appears to have calculated everything and forgotten nothing. In a very short space of time, every police section in the County was set on the alert and the way in which he made out his plans such that they would have been very clever dodgers to have escaped him.

The thieves, however, had a good start, but he followed them through Toller, Ramplsham, Evershot, Hollywell, Melbury, Yetminster, Bradford Abbas, and down to Marston, where a similar robbery was committed at that station on Sunday night. The mode of operations was the same, and there was every reason to suppose that the thieves who had broken into the West Bay station were also the perpetrators of this burglary. All Monday and Tuesday Supt. Brooks was on the trail, and his men and other constables were work in different quarters, with the result that one of the thieves was captured at Gillingham and the other Hendon (Wilts).

Victorian Picture “Taken in Charge” in 1890’s

Their names were James Palmer and Henry Emmett, and they lived in Devon. They were formally charged with breaking into various railway stations including West Bay and were committed for trial at the Dorset Quarter sessions. They had sold the cloaks to a lady in Rampisham and the clock to a customer of a public house at Evershot.

We wanted to find what happened next so we contacted Shire Hall in Dorchester (the former Crown Court) to find out what sentence they received. Henry didn’t seem to have offended (or been caught!) before or after these crimes, but James was definitely a habitual criminal! They were both sentenced to hard labour with concurrent sentences, so they would have had a pretty tough time. James Palmer received 13 months hard labour and Henry Emmett 11 months hard labour.

The story doesn’t end there as three years later in September 1897 James Palmer was captured followed a robbery in Axminster. When the police caught him the man admitted his identity, and said it was a good job he had been arrested, as he had intended breaking into the first house he came to.

Shire Hall, Dorchester

Have you visited Shire Hall, it opened in 2018 and has won many awards. It is also where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced? You can stand in the cells and go into the Court House. It’s a great day out for all ages and their cafe is excellent too!


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