In 1844 Brighton's first chief constable, Henry Solomon, was attacked and killed in the police station at the town hall. His assailant, John Lawrence, was to be the last person hanged in public at Horsham. David Rowland's detailed account of the murder and its aftermath sets it vividly in the context of the times.
Here is an excerpt from the book, which recounts the moment when the fateful blow was struck by the notorious gambler John Lawrence:
Just before 8pm on Wednesday 13th March 1844, Chief Constable Henry Solomon was on duty at the police station in Brighton town hall when one of his officers, John Barnded, brought in a 23-year-old man who had been arrested for stealing.
John Lawrence and another man had first been seen loitering outside Caleb Collins' shop at 47-48 St. James's Street, where they made off with a roll of carpet. A shop assistant had given chase and had caught Lawrence in Chapel Street, while the other man managed to escape. He was taken back to the shop, arrested and taken to the town hall, where Solomon now interviewed him at length.
In the chief's office at this time were three other people: Samuel Slight, an accountant, who was also the son of one of the town commissioners, Edward Butler, a collector of the town's poor rate (or taxes) and William Alger, a draper. Constable Barden positioned himself outside the door.
Once the interview was over, Lawrence was told to sit down, but he began to get very agitated. He removed the cravat he was wearing and demanded to be given a knife, saying that he wanted to cut his throat.
When Solomon rose from his seat to cross the room Lawrence quickly bent down and picked up a poker that was in the hearth. He struck Solomon a mighty blow to the right side of his head just above his ear. It was so violent that it actually bent the heavy poker. Blood gushed out from the wound, and Solomon collapsed on the ground, unconscious. Two surgeons were called to treat him, and he was then taken to his home in Prince's Street. He died the next morning, at around ten o'clock, leaving a widow and nine children.
In this fascinating look back at an impoverished small town on the brink of a railway-inspired golden age, David Rowland recounts the background of the main characters, social and economic conditions of the time, Solomon's funeral service, John Lawrence's trial , and the final sad ending to the whole saga, at the public gallows of Horsham.