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Undercover cops. Dontcha just love them? Not really. Especially when they're out to trap poor farmers.

In the case below the police seem to have gone to an awful lot of trouble for a pretty petty offence. As the accused himself said to the police: "It's a pity you have nothing better to do."


At Southminster Petty Session Saturday, Charles W. Wilding, farm bailiff Deal Hall Farm, Southminster. was summoned for selling beer by retail without a licence his larm labourers.

Defendant, who wore three medal ribbons, including the 1914-15 star, told the Bench tad been "over the top" 56 times.

P.c. Burrell, of Writtle, said that with P.c. Clark, of Maldon he went to Deal Hall Farm on Southminster Marshes, September 10. Both were wearing shabby, plain clothes. They saw the accused and witness asked if he could give them job. Wilding replied that he had finished the harvest and did not want anyone and suggested they apply the next farm. They both went as far as the sea wall, had some food, and returned to the farm about one o'clock. Outside the farm they spoke to a woman. Wilding came along on his bicycle and also spoke to the woman. He then called witness and P.c. Clark away and said: "Have you got anything on you to show who you are, and where you have come from?" Witness replied, "No." Accused then looked at their hands and said, "I can see you have done bit of work." Witness and his companion had hard skin their hands. Wilding then said he would find them a job and told them to go to the kitchen and wait until he returned. They waited outside the farmhouse until he came along and took them into the kitchen. He showed them where to sit, and said he had seven other men living the kitchen and they liked to keep the same places. He also told them his wife would make them up a bed, that they would have to sleep-in, and could get all foodstuffs from his wife.

When witness told defendant they had had dinner, he said, "You can have a drink, tea or minerals," Witness said, "I think I will have a glass of water." Accused said, "I think can trust you; you can have a glass of beer; I keep the beer outdoors." Both said they would like some beer, and accused took them to a cellar, which was underneath an outhouse. Accused, P.c. Clark, and witness entered the cellar. Witness noticed several beer barrels — two were tapped — also number of pint glass mugs and some seats. Defendant asked witness what he would have; the mild ale was 3d. a pint and the bitter ale 7d. a pint. Witness said he would have a pint of bitter, and P.c. Clark a pint of mild. Defendant drew the two pints, and said their wages would be 5/7 a day and an hour overtime, and they could pay for the beer at the end of the week when they drew their wages.

Witness sat on the cellar steps and while there two men came to the top of the steps and one asked for a pint of mild beer in a bottle. The man handed a bottle to accused, and this he filled with beer and the man gave him threepence. P.c. Clark then left the cellar, and shortly afterwards a motor car drew up and three men entered the cellar. One of them called for three pints of ale and put two sixpences on the table, saying to defendant. "Will you have one?" to which Wilding replied "Yes." P.c. Clark returned to the cellar, and as he entered it defendant said to the men, "It's only Bob." The men drank their beer and left. Witness and P.c. Clark left the cellar and went to work on the farm returning to the farmhouse at 7.30 p.m. Taking their jackets off to have a wash they saw eight men enter the cellar. Some had arrived on bicycles. After a meal they went into the cellar again about 9.20 p.m., with another man who paid for drinks for witness, P.c. Clark and accused. At this time accused's daughter. aged about 10, a lad of 17, and a boy of 14 were in the cellar. The boy of was drawing beer for the men. Money was lying on a table and Wilding put this and other money paid by the nien into his jacket before leaving the cellar at 10 o'clock.

Witness and P.c. Clark began work at six o'clock next morning. Returning to the farm mid-day both had a pint of beer drawn by Wilding, who said. "You pay my wife for what foodstuffs you buy at the end of the week and then you pay me for what beer you have had." In the course of conversation, defendant said they were not to leave the farm. He also told witness he had to be careful whom employed, as the farm had been raided by the police on a previous occasion for selling beer without a licence, and the bailiff had to pay £20. He didn't know whether they were policemen or not. If they were he would have to take the consequences. Later in the day witness communicated with Supt. Day, who arrived at the farm with a number police officers about 8.30 p.m.

In reply to Supt. Day, witness said the language of the men drinking the cellar was not fit for young people to hear.

P.c. Clark corroborated.

Det.-Sgt. Baker (Chelmsford) deposed to visiting Deal Hall Farm with Supt. Day and other police officers about 8.15 p.m. on Sept. 11. He told Wilding he had warrant to search his premises. Wilding replied: "It's a pity you have nothing better to do." In the cellar were two half-used nine gallon casks of beer, three more full casks of the same capacity were on a ledge. The police took possession of these. Later defendant said, "I hope you will be kind to me; I know you are only doing your duty."

Supt. Day gave evidence, stating that defendant paid 12/6 for the barrels and retailed the beer at 3d. per pint, thus making a profit of 5/6 on every barrel. In addition to the offences for which he was summoned, breaches of the Excise regulations had been committed, but the authorities did not wish to take action in the matter.

Mr. H. J. Freeman, for defendant, said it was a case in which he could offer no real defence, and he had no wish to attempt to put one up. The offences could not be regarded as any way similar to those sometimes read of at London clubs or road-houses, where a breach of the licensing regulations was committed. Deal Hall was situated at a remote spot on the marshes some 4.5 miles from the village of Southminster. Defendant had acted ill-advisedly in not forming a properly constituted club, but he had not sold the beer to make gain therefrom — only to satisfy the needs of his workmen.

Defendant was fined £20 and £2/15/11 costs, and the Chairman (Mr. E. Pipe), complimented the police.—It was stated that he is to continue in the employ of Messrs. Strutt and Parker."
Essex Newsman - Saturday 26 October 1935, page 4.
It's clear that the police knew what the bailiff was up to. He had been done once before. But think of the manpower involved in this case, which only resulted in a twenty quid fine. First there were the two plain clothes policemen. They spent two full days at the farm. Then there are the "number of police officers" who raided the farm. It must have added up to quite a few man days of time.

The defence - or rather total lack of it - is a bit weird. It all seems to be saying "you got me bang to right, guv." As is the fact the the Excise authorities couldn't be arsed to prosecute. All in all, despite the number of police employed on the case, it doesn't seem the offence was taken that seriously.

No on to the price of the beer. 12 shillings and sixpence a firkin sounds very cheap. Too cheap, in fact. I've a Whitbread wholesale price list from 1934* and the cheapest beer in that, Light Ale, was 19 shillings a firkin. And that was a piss-weak Mild, with a gravity of just 1029º**. How on earth could any beer be cheaper than that?

There's a huge difference in price between the Bitter and Mild. 7d is about right for a pint of Bitter. That's what Whitbread's Bitter cost. It had a gravity of 1049º**. But 3d for a pint of Mild? As you can see in the list below, even Whitbread's feeble Light Ale sold for 4d a pint. A more normal price for Mild was 5d (for something around 1036º, like Whitbread's X Ale**) or 6d for Best Mild (about 1043º).

No. That Mild price makes absolutely no sense.

Deal Hall Farm is indeed in the middle of nowhere, out in what look like reclaimed marshland. See:

Quite a trek to the nearest pub.

* Pasted into Whitbread brewing record LMA/4453/D/09/124 held at the London Metropolitan Archives.

** Whitbread brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/01/098