The Epsom riot

Date: 

Tuesday, 21 May, 2019

We are hosting a number of events to mark the anniversary of the night of the 17 June 1919, when Epsom police station was attacked by a mob of 400 Canadian soldiers.

Sunday June 9 at 4pm
Tuesday 11 June at 2pm
Wednesday 12 June at 7pm

A history walk tracing the events on the night of the 17 June 1919 starting at the  Rifleman Pub
Pre booked only
Cost by a donation to the Police Care UK
dbrooks@epsom-ewell.gov.uk

June 15, 5pm
The Rifleman Pub, East Street, KT17 1BB.
Unveiling of an information display panel by  Sergeant Green’s great grandson and a talk on the riot. Special Sgt Green beer available.

June 17, 11am

Ashley Road Cemetery
Graveside service

Methodist Church, Ashley Road, KT18 5AQ.
13.30pm onwards. Exhibition of items presented by Lord Rosebery to the police officers defending the station, other items presented to Inspector Pawley and his family, Thomas Green’s medals (on show for the first time), evidence photos of the riot and postcards of Thomas Green’s funeral.

13.30pm to 14.30. Talks for local schools (public welcome)

7.30pm. Public talks on the events of that day, with a chance to meet Thomas Green’s great-grandson.

 

Following WW1 tensions had been running high in Epsom as Canadian troops awaited repatriating to Canada.

Earlier in the evening of 17 June 1919 two of the soldiers had been arrested after a disturbance at the Riflemen pub, and this was the excuse for a brawl.

Despite attempts by army officers to stop them, the mob descended onto the police station. There they were met by Inspector Charlie Pawley and all the constables and sergeants he could muster. These included Station Sergeant Thomas Green, a veteran of the Royal Horse Artillery and the Metropolitan Police and a popular member of the Epsom Allotment Association. 

Missiles were thrown at the police standing in front of the station, forcing them into the building. The rioters smashed the windows and rammed the front door with a large fence post ripped up from a nearby garden. They then attempted to set fire to the police station while vandalising nearby buildings.

Inspector Pawley led several officers, including Sergeant Green, into the crowd and succeeded in clearing the garden temporarily of the mob. During this action Sergeant Green was felled by a blow from a metal bar. He died the following morning from his injuries.

The riot ended when the prisoners were released to the mob. The police station and surrounding buildings suffered considerable damage (including the Wesleyan church, now Epsom Methodist Church) and in addition to Sergeant Green, the Inspector, four sergeants and eight constables’ sustained injuries.

Remarkable scenes were witnessed at Thomas Green’s funeral. The funeral route was lined with rows of people and over a thousand people took part in the funeral procession. Rarely had so many people assembled in Epsom before.

The procession, in which over a thousand men took part, included eight hundred police officers and river police, sixty special constables, the local fire brigade, postmen, most of the local council, officers from the Canadian army, comrades of the Great War and patients from the Horton War Hospital. Every shop on the route was closed and most of the houses had their blinds drawn. The funeral service took place across the road from the police station in Ashley Road in the Wesleyan church (now Epsom Methodist Church) to which Thomas Green belonged. The church had also been damaged in the riot.

The number of flowers sent was huge. They filled the front room of Thomas Green’s home in Lower Court Road, where he had lain the night before his funeral, and spilled out across the front garden.  There was a tribute from Lord Rosebery marked ‘Honour and Regret’.  On the head of the coffin was a beautiful wreath of roses, lilies, carnations and stocks from his invalid widow - her writing could only just be deciphered as she was recovering from a stroke.

The coffin was followed by four sergeants of V Division and four members of the Epsom force. Three of the sergeants - Kersey, Greenfield and Blaydon - had been injured in the riot. They acted as bearers at the chapel and cemetery.  At the cemetery the coffin had a Guard of Honour of 12 Barnado boys from their home in East Street.

Thomas Green was a very popular local man with two girls, Lily and Nellie. He came from Billingshurst, West Sussex and was one of a family of nine. He was a keen gardener, a member of the Epsom Allotment Association, and had done much for allotment holders locally. He was greatly loved by local children who took up a collection of pennies to buy him flowers. Local girls carried handfuls of flowers that they had picked themselves.

As a result of investigations by Divisional Inspector Ferrier into Sergeant Green's death, eight of the rioters were charged with manslaughter. Following the committal proceedings at Bow Street, two were discharged and six remanded in custody. At their eventual trial at the Surrey Assizes on 22/23 July 1919 verdicts of "not guilty" were returned on two of them. The remainder were found "not guilty" of manslaughter but "guilty" of rioting and were sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. Within weeks they were pardoned by the Prince of Wales and returned to Canada.

A ceremony was held at Epsom Court House to make presentations to the police officers who had taken part in the defence of the police station. The 24 presentations were made by Lord Rosebery. Some of the officers were in mufti having retired from the force since the riot. Lord Rosebery gave each a gold watch or gold chain with medallions inscribed “As a token of public appreciation of the gallant fight by the Epsom Police 17th. June 1919.” Inspector Pawley was presented with a clock and his son Harry Pawley with a silver cigarette case given by Sir Roland Blade MP for the help he gave that night. A cheque for £310 was also given for Mrs Green who was unable to attend because she was in hospital.

Years later, both of Sergeant Green's daughters were to marry Canadians and resettle in that country.

In 1929, one of the soldiers confessed to the murder of Sergeant Green and was detained by the Canadian police, but he was released after Scotland Yard said he had been legally dealt with by the UK courts in relation to Green's death.