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Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
Hero policeman killed by mob
Memorial plaque in Haslemere
A memorial plaque was placed on the town hall building in 1994

If there was an instance when the scourge of binge-drinking plumbed new depths, it was during this horrific night of violence.

Crazed after drinking the night away in a pub, a group of men armed themselves with iron bars and attacked police officers who dared to halt their revelry.

Unleashing a merciless assault on Inspector William Donaldson, the officer was left fatally injured.

Yet, this shocking incident of drink-fuelled savagery did not happen on the mean streets of modern day Britain - but in a quiet rural village 150 years ago.

Nonetheless, the residents of Haslemere in Surrey still hold an annual service in memory of the brave but tragic death of Mr Donaldson.

And he is remembered thanks largely to the efforts of a local historian who uncovered the shocking tale.

In 1984, Jeff Harwood, 64, came across the records of Mr Donaldson's death as he researched the building of a railway line down to Portsmouth in the 1850s.

"A lot of navvies came to work there [in Haslemere], they were a pretty rough lot," said Mr Harwood.

"They worked hard, they were well paid and they tended to do what they liked."

However, their tempers were raised when police stopped their drinking and one of the navvies ended up being escorted to a lock-up within the town hall.

Mr Harwood said: "They had been drinking heavily and got a bit excited about it.

Men laying a memorial wreath
It was quite a big story in the local press
Jeff Harwood (far right)
"They went home and got various clubs and bats to break him out of jail."

But they were met at the town hall by three police officers.

Standing with Mr Donaldson were Pc James Freestone and a special officer called Doctor Bishopp.

"The navvies attacked and Donaldson was killed," said Mr Harwood.

A navvy called Samuel Woods hit him over the head with an iron bar, fracturing his skull.

Five men were prosecuted, with Woods convicted of manslaughter and deported to Australia to serve a 20-year sentence.

Mr Harwood said he was "surprised and amazed" in 1984 to have uncovered such a big story, but one which was nevertheless "not widely known".

He immediately began an annual commemorative ceremony by printing a booklet called "The Hero of Haslemere" and presenting it to a local police sergeant.

Every year since then an informal gathering of people has marched round the town hall three times, in recognition of the number of officers who faced the navvy mob.

Front cover of Hero of Haslemere booklet
Jeff Harwood said he discovered a 'rather big story' in 1984
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Mr Donaldson's death and a church service was held in Haslemere on Friday.

A wreath was laid at the spot where he fell outside the town hall.

Chief Constable Bob Quick, of Surrey Police, attended the memorial service at St Bartholomew's Church, where Mr Donaldson is buried in an unmarked grave.

The Scottish-born officer had only been posted to Haslemere in 1854, and died at the age of 47 leaving a wife and five children.

His family moved to Dorking after the killing, and Mr Harwood said there were still some of his descendants living in Surrey today.

The "Hero of Haslemere" was the first Surrey police officer to be killed while on duty.

The only other one was Pc John Schofield, shot dead by a man he challenged in Caterham on 6 July 1974.

Mr Harwood said the mob killing of a police inspector in 1855 was covered with a paragraph in the Illustrated London News.

A police spokeswoman said: "We perceive violence and crime differently now but it was still going on back then.

"People have been murdering people for time immemorial."


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