Enos Molden: the life and death of a country policeman

Newbury Branch meeting 6th March 2019

Speaker: Judy Rous

Enos Molden was born in 1843 in the Wiltshire village of Lydiard Millicent, and joined the Wiltshire Constabulary in 1861. He was just over the minimum age of 21 for joining, met the literacy standard and, as a five-foot-ten-inch labourer, more than met the height requirement.       

Constables of the time were issued with a thick serge uniform, greatcoat, boots, cap (later replaced by more protective helmets), whistle, lamp, truncheon, notebook and pencil. The greatcoats were notorious for absorbing rain, for which there was plenty of opportunity, as most policework was conducted on foot, in all weathers. Duties included meeting the first and last trains at the local station to keep an eye on criminal comings and goings, and to watch out for signs of epidemics in farm animals, as well as the usual tasks of preserving the peace.

         In 1847 Molden married Jane Tanner (for which he had to obtain his superior’s permission) from his home village, and with whom he subsequently had three children. He progressed through the ranks, once earning a 20-shilling bounty for arresting a deserter. By 1891 he was a sergeant at Warminster, approaching the retirement age of 50.

         But he was not to reach it. Another Wiltshireman, John Gurd, a soldier who also used the name of Lewis Hamilton, had had a chequered career of enlistment and desertion, after which he rejoined the Marines, only to be invalided out. Later working at the county lunatic asylum, he met and became engaged to one Florence Adams. However, Florence’s brother Henry warned her that her intended was in debt, and she broke off the engagement.

         Gurd swore revenge on the whole family, and turned up at the family home, armed. He succeeded however in shooting only Henry, before fleeing towards Longleat, where he was denied access to a pub, and subsequently shot a horse. News of his rampage reached the police at Warminster, and a detachment of three officers including Molden was sent out in the early hours of the morning. The moonlight arrest was made by the turnpike cottage, but in the struggle Gurd fired and shot Molden. He was charged with wilful murder.

         At the trial Gurd pleaded not guilty on account of lunacy, but he was convicted of the first murder, the killing of Henry, which sufficed for him to be hanged at Devizes jail. The charge of Enos Molden’s murder was never made.

         Molden’s funeral in Warminster drew huge crowds. Warm testimonials were delivered and numerous wreaths laid. The town band attended. A fund was set up for his grieving family, in addition to £90 from the friendly society, and an astonishing £900 raised by the police. His widow’s future was secured with 25 shillings a week. She continued to raise her three children in Warminster, and the 1901 census found them all in good jobs.

         Enos Molden’s grave describes the circumstances of his death and he is also named in the roll of honour at the National Police Memorial in Horse Guards in London.

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