Reginald James Puxty 1913-1933

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Reg was my great uncle, the youngest of 7 boys, with one older and one younger sister. He was born in September 1913 near Ticehurst, East Sussex. His father Albert worked as a Brewer’s Carman, but had previously been in the military, serving in the Royal Battery Horse Artillery in South Africa during the 2nd Boer War. At the time of the 1911 census (two years before Reg’s birth), they were living at Coopers Corner, Hurst Green, and I believe they were still there in 1913.

Reg had a normal upbringing; he is mentioned in the Kent & Sussex Courier of 20 July 1923, winning a prize for perfect attendance at the school prize day, along with his brothers Bart and Ben.

He was mentioned in the Kent & Sussex Courier again on Friday 26 July 1929, having suffered an accident after colliding with another pedal cycle.

The article read 'Cyclist's Accident. While riding on the "step" of a cycle ridden by Albert Kemp, Reginald Puxty was severely cut when a collision occurred with another pedal cycle. Puxty was thrown to the ground and received injuries to his leg, being attended by Dr Kinder. He was later conveyed to the Tunbridge Wells General Hospital, where the wounds were stitched.

After leaving school, Reg was employed as a butcher’s assistant by Mr H C Ford, of The Square, Ticehurst. He was also a member of Ticehurst Football Club.

On Tuesday 31 October 1933, 19 year old Reg was knocked down by a car near his home, and fatally injured. As a child, my father used to tell me the story of how Uncle Reg was knocked down by a drunk driver, who was found not guilty of manslaughter.

I have taken the following from newspaper reports, to piece together what happened on Tuesday 31 October 1933.

Killed Outside Home - Ticehurst Youth Knocked Down By Car. A Ticehurst youth was knocked down by a car and died within a few moments when only a dozen yards from his home late on Tuesday evening. He was Reginald Puxty, the son of Mr and Mrs Puxty, of the Platts, Ticehurst, and was walking home from Ticehurst when the accident occurred shortly after 10pm. He was 19 years of age and well known in Ticehurst, where he had been employed for some years as a butcher's assistant by Mr H C Ford of The Square. He was at one time a member of the Ticehurst Football Club.

The car driver was Gilbert Ford, of Union-street, Flimwell, who was driving home from the direction of Ticehurst. He formerly carried on business as butcher at Flimwell.

An inquest will be held at Ticehurst Institute today (Friday) at 4.30pm.

An inquest was formally opened on Friday 3 November 1933, at the Ticehurst Institution. The Coroner, Mr F C Sheppard, said that shortly after 10pm on Tuesday, the deceased was walking towards his home with a young man named King, when a motor car collided with Puxty. He received severe injuries, and died almost immediately.

Albert Frederick Puxty (my great grandfather), of Lower Platts, Ticehurst, a road foreman, said his son, who lived with him, was a butcher’s assistant, and was 19 years of age. He had good general health and good sight and hearing. He last saw him at about 6pm on the day of the accident, when he left home in good spirits.

Dr A Kendrew of Ticehurst, said he arrived at the scene of the accident a few minutes after it had occurred, and found Puxty already dead. He had sustained a fracture of the vault of the skull, and death must have occurred within a few seconds.

The inquest was adjourned until 5 December, pending the result of other inquiries that were being made.

Reg’s funeral took place on Saturday 4 November at Ticehurst Parish Church.

On Tuesday 28 November, at Hurst Green Police Court, Mr Gilbert William Ford (38) of High Street, Flimwell, a meat salesman, was charged that on 31 October, at Ticehurst, he did feloniously kill and slay Reginald James Puxty. He was further charged with driving a motor car in a manner which was dangerous to the public, and with driving a motor car when under the influence of drink to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle. After a hearing which occupied nearly seven hours, he was committed for trial at the next Assizes at Lewes on all three charges. He pleaded not guilty, and was released on bail in a sum of £10 and one surety of £10.

The trial took place on Tuesday 19 December 1933, and was reported in newspapers across the UK. The facts of the case appear to be as follows:-

On Tuesday 31 October 1933, Reg was out with his friend Frederick James King (a labourer of Sparrows Green, Wadhurst). (I don’t know how Frederick was addressed by his friends, but for convenience, I’m going to assume he was Fred). They were coming from Ticehurst village and walking towards Flimwell. It was a dry, moonlit night, and when they had turned the corner towards Flimwell, Fred was on the right hand side of the road, close to the grass verge, Reg nearly touching him. (Fred stated in court that they were not taking up more than 5ft of the road, in fact Reg was no more than 2ft from the grass, and Fred had one foot on the grass and one foot on the road when Reg was hit by the car). There was no traffic coming towards them. A came from behind and he heard the tyres sliding on the road. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw a car close to them and stepped aside towards the hedge, and the car hit Reg. The car appeared to be going fast. Reg was thrown in to the air and then on to the bonnet of the car, which carried him some distance before Puxty rolled off into the gutter. The car then went over to its proper side and stopped, but Reg fell off the bonnet before the car got over to the other side. Fred went to Reg’s assistance, but Reg didn’t answer him. His feet were in the gutter and his head on the grass verge. (Later, Fred found one of Reg’s shoes in the hedge and saw a mark on the road as if it had been scraped by Reg’s shoe. Reg did not swerve into the road).

Fred then went to the car, and told the driver that he had knocked a man out. The man, who was by himself, got out of the car and “staggered just a bit” and followed Fred back to where Reg was lying. The man (who was Gilbert William Ford, a 38yr old meat salesman of Corner Farm, Flimwell), said “What shall we do?” and Fred said that he would fetch Reg’s brother and then Dr Kendrew, of Ticehurst.

Reg’s older brother, Bart, lived 100 yards away from the scene of the accident. When he was called out, Ford came to meet him. Bart felt his brother’s heart and found him dead, Ford said “My God! Is he dead?” and added “Let me feel” and put his hand in Reg’s left side overcoat pocket. Bart directed Ford’s hand, and Ford afterwards walked round to the other side of the body and stood with his back to it and lurched backwards. Ford had to swing his arms to regain his balance. Ford then referred to Reg using a gun without a licence, and Bart told him that it was not the time to speak about it. Ford laughed, and Bart thought by his manner that he did not realise what had happened. (Bart said there had been some bother about his brother using a gun).

Herbert Mockford, of Wisteria Cottage, Ticehurst, who was driving a motor van, said that when he stopped he saw Ford throwing his arms about.

Daisy Mabel Collyer, of Rose Cottage, Ticehurst, said she heard a bang and a cry of “Oh” and afterwards saw Ford wander down the road towards his car. He smelt of drink, and when she said “We must fetch a doctor and the police”, Ford said “No, let’s put him in my car and go.” She had known Ford several years, but on this occasion he was “muddly and staggering” and not in his usual condition.

Dr Alfred Kendrew, of Ticehurst, said he was called to the scene shortly after 10pm, and found that Reg was dead, lying on the grass verge on the offside of the road. Death was due to fracture of the vault of the skull. He saw a car near Mr Startin’s gate, the windscreen of which was broken on the driver’s side and the offside light was missing.

PC Gilbert Miles, of Ticehurst, had been called to the scene at 10.25pm. The car was on the opposite side of the road to the body, and the front off wing was buckled, the off lamp missing, and off wind screen badly smashed. Ford said “This is a bad job.” Ford smelt strongly of alcohol, was slightly unsteady on his feet, and his speech was slurred. PC Miles formed the opinion that Ford was under the influence of drink.

At the request of the police, Dr Kendrew examined Mr Ford, but he had already spoken to him before that. Ford smelt very strongly of alcohol. His speech and articulation was slurred, but he did not walk unsteadily. He showed no concern about the accident at all. When Dr Kendrew told Ford that the police wanted him to examine him, Ford said “get on with it”. Dr Kendrew asked him to describe how the accident occurred as he wished to test his memory of recent events. Asked as to what speed and how he was driving, Ford replied that he did not know his speed and that no one could estimate his speed. Without looking at his speedometer he further said that he was driving as a motorist should.

First of all, Ford said he was on his near side, and that Reg lurched across into him, and the impact threw his steering out and forced him on to the offside. Asked to think again, Ford became abusive and asked if “I was a blooming K.C.” to question him like that. Dr Kendrew informed Fiord that his opinion was that he was in an unfit condition to drive, and not in a fit state to have proper control of a car. He thought that the cause of the accused’s condition was drink, basing this opinion on loss of memory of recent events, incoherence and his callous behaviour about the accident, and his insolence.

Dr Harold John Fuller, of Wadhurst, examined Ford about forty-five minutes later. Ford passed Dr Fuller’s ‘Rhomberg’ test quite well.

Romberg Test

The Romberg test, according to Wikipedia, is a test used in an exam of neurological function for balance, and also as a test for drunken driving. The exam is based on the premise that a person requires at least two of the following three senses to maintain balance while standing: proprioception (the ability to know one’s body position in space); vestibular function (the ability to know one’s head position in space); and vision (which can be used to monitor and adjust for changes in body position). It is used as an indicator for possible alcohol or drug impaired drive. When used to test impaired driving, the test is performed with the subject estimating 30 seconds in their head. This is used to gauge the subject’s internal clock and can be an indicator of stimulant or depressant use.

Procedure

Ask the subject to stand erect with feet together and eyes closed. Stand close by as a precaution in order to stop the person from falling over and hurting himself or herself. Watch the movement of the body in relation to a perpendicular object behind the subject (corner of the room, door, window etc.). A positive sign is noted when a swaying, sometimes irregular swaying and even toppling over occurs. The essential feature is that the patient becomes more unsteady with eyes closed.

The essential features of the test are as follows:

  1. the subject stands with feet together, eyes open and hands by the sides.
  2. the subject closes the eyes while the examiner observes for a full minute.

Because the examiner is trying to elicit whether the patient falls when the eyes are closed, it is advisable to stand ready to catch the falling patient. For large subjects, a strong assistant is recommended.

Romberg's test is positive if the patient sways or falls while the patient's eyes are closed.

Patients with a positive result are said to demonstrate Romberg's sign or Rombergism. They can also be described as Romberg's positive. The basis of this test is that balance comes from the combination of several neurological systems, namely proprioception, vestibular input, and vision. If any two of these systems are working the person should be able to demonstrate a fair degree of balance. The key to the test is that vision is taken away by asking the patient to close their eyes. This leaves only two of the three systems remaining and if there is a vestibular disorder (labyrinthine) or a sensory disorder (proprioceptive dysfunction) the patient will become much more imbalanced.

Dr Fuller said that he was asked to by PC Miles to examine Ford. It was about 11.20pm when he saw Ford in the house of Mr John English. He commenced his examination with a general talk covering the events of the day, especially the last two or three hours. His breath smelt of alcohol. Ford told him that he had spent a fair part of the evening at a hotel in Tunbridge Wells writing out a report for this firm. Asked how much drink he had had, Ford replied “Probably four or five pints, I can’t tell you exactly.” (The Judge later calculated from evidence from the accused that he had had about 4½ pints). Asked to say “British Constitution” and “Ecclesiastical Commissioner”, he did so with a fair amount of accuracy, but his pulse was above the average – more rapid. Witness asked him to perform the “Rhomberg” test by standing to attention with his eyes closed without swerving, and he did so satisfactorily and the same by walking alone a line roughly twelve feet long. He was unduly cheerful and talkative, with no tremor, and held his cigarette perfectly still. (The magistrate commented that this test was grossly unfair, and that there were several people who would not pass it from nervous reasons “even if they were as sober as a Judge”).

Dr Fuller asked Ford if he realised the enormity of what had occurred and his impression was that he did not appreciate what had happened. Ford said this was probably due to the fact that he was a butcher, which made a difference, and that at the time he was under extraordinary control of all his faculties. Assuming an accident had happened an hour before, and considering what Ford had told him, Dr Fuller thought it possible that Ford would not be in a fit state to drive a car.

Dr Fuller said his candid opinion was that Ford was “under undue control”. Ford showed him some wheel-marks, but if the point of contact was proved to be where stated, then Ford’s story could not fit in with the wheel-marks on the road.

John George English, of The Laundry, Ticehurst, said Ford was examined by Dr Fuller in his house after the accident, just after 11pm. In his opinion, Ford appeared to be suffering from the shock of having killed a man. He was not under the influence of drink at all. He went to Hurst Green Police Station with him, and Ford talked quite sensibly and asked to see two more doctors.

Dr Kendrick saw Ford again after he had been seen by Dr Fuller, and he again told him he was not in a fit state to drive. He heard the Sergeant tell Ford that he might have other doctors, and his reply was “Let’s have fourteen”.

PC Miles arrested him and took him to Hurst Green, and there he was seen by two other medical men, Dr Hitchen, of Hawkhurst, and Dr Hancock, of Hurst Green. That was at 1.35am. Mr Neve, for the defence, said that when seen by the two doctors at 1.35am, Ford was perfectly fit a drive a car. The road was good. A trench had been opened and filled in, leaving just a slight ridge just in a state of settling down.

At 3am PC Miles went back and took measurements, which he detailed.

John Charles Boorman, of Bedgebury Cross, Goudhurst, a butcher, said he knew Ford and saw him at 9.15pm in the Royal Oak Inn, Flimwell. Ford went behind the bar and put his arm around the landlady and her sister, which gave him the impression he had had a drink or two. [Boorman married Reg’s sister Evelyn (known as Babs) the following year].

Thomas Butler Field, aged 82, of 21 Church Street, Ticehurst, said he was a friend of Ford’s. He went with Ford to Tonbridge Market that day for a drive, starting at 10.20am. He detailed several calls at Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Lamberhurst, returning to Ford’s home about 9.30pm, where they had some soup. Ford took him home to Ticehurst and he was then in a fit state to drive a car.

Alfred John Blaza, of the Petrol Station, Flimwell, said he saw Ford in the Royal Oak at about 9.40pm that night and saw him have one glass of beer. Ford had certainly had some drink, but was fit to drive a car.

Albert Thomas Kemp [presumably the same Albert Kemp whose bike Reg was hitching a ride on when he had his accident in 1929] said Ford passed him just before the accident, and he was then driving normally. He also saw him after the accident, and there was nothing to suggest that he was under the influence of drink. The road at that spot had been left in a rough condition.

John Noakes Wickham, of Mount Pleasant Farm, Goudhurst, said he saw Ford at The Royal Oak at 9.40pm, and he was then quite sober.

Mrs Hilda Ford, wife of accused, said that when her husband came home at about 9.45pm, he was sober.

At the trial, Ford said that he was driving along the Ticehurst-Flimwell road keeping to the centre to avoid a trench line. He had his headlights on and he was not driving fast. He saw the two men walking on the side of the road, and when he was at the point of passing one of them stepped out, and the offside of the car struck him. The impact affected the steering, and caused the car to go to the offside. Accused added that he may have said that owing to going through the ear and being a butcher he did not show his feelings as much as some people. His Lordship, Justice Charles, said “Do you say that the thousands of us who went through the war could kill a man and not care two pence about it?” Accused did not agree that he was at all jovial, and he was not under the influence of drink.

Harold Ernest Waterhouse, of Ticehurst, and Mabel Jenner, his fiancée, said that they saw Puxty and King as a bus approached. Puxty went across the road and the bus swerved. Puxty and his companion appeared to be amused.

The jury found the accused “not guilty”. Mr Justice Charles said “You may be discharged. I quite agree with the verdict. You will go on driving your car in your business. Do drive carefully. Be extra careful, because this has been a most awful experience for you. I know you will be very, very careful in future.”

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About the author: LesleyShiner

I have been researching my family tree and my husband's for over 20 years. My surname interests are Puxty, Holloway, Biddlecombe, Hayward, Pemberton, Relf, Spooner, Ward, Dutton, Forward, Mansfield, Pitches, Griffiths, Jump, Titchmarsh and Braithwaite plus more, from England, Wales and Ireland.

My husband's are Shiner, Alderton, Rowe, Osborne, Miller, Webber, Gilling, Farrant, Featherstone, Lewry, Mitchell, plus more, from England, mostly Southern England.

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