A new book will tell the thrilling story of Saffron Walden's police force during the Victorian era - including details of a grisly murder.

Preserving the Peace: Saffron Walden Borough Police 1836-1857 by Braintree author Martin Stallion, writing as M. R. Stallion, explores the town's police force just as Queen Victoria ascended the throne.

Saffron Walden Reporter: Author Martin StallionAuthor Martin Stallion (Image: Courtesy of Martin Stallion)

Today, a plaque stands behind the Eight Bells pub in Saffron Walden, commemorating the murder of Chief Constable William Campling.

On November 9, 1849, Chief Constable Campling died from injuries he obtained nine days previously, but the prime suspect was acquitted in court and the case is still officially unsolved.


Mr Campling was arriving home on October 31 when a shot was fired from the opposite side of the road, and he was found lying by his front door crying "I'm shot! I'm shot!".

The chief suspect was Benjamin Pettit, who was seen washing a gun on the same day, and who had previously quarrelled with Mr Campling.

Pettit was ultimately found not guilty, but the court concluded a verdict of wilful murder by some person or persons unknown.

Saffron Walden Reporter: Martin's book tells the story of the Saffron Walden police forceMartin's book tells the story of the Saffron Walden police force (Image: Martin Stallion)

Martin Stallion's book contains perhaps the most detailed account of the murder ever published, alongside the story of the borough police force, which was set up in 1836 but only lasted another 20 years.

Saffron Walden was one of four Essex boroughs required by law to form a police force, as the old parish constable system was considered ineffective to deal with the rising crime rate and growing public disorder.

Saffron Walden Reporter: Thomas Dewberry, who was one of the last three officers to serve in the borough forceThomas Dewberry, who was one of the last three officers to serve in the borough force (Image: Saffron Walden Museum)

As a result, the council's new watch committee was put in charge of the force - consisting only of a chief constable, one or two other regular constables plus a few special constables taken on for specific events, such as elections or riots.

The illustrated, 94-page book uses original research from historical documents and newspapers to show how the police force operated, until the town finally agreed to a merger with Essex Constabulary in 1857.

Copies of the book are available for £12 at the Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre and Harts Books, or directly from the author by calling 01376 551819.