On Wednesday 21st October 1863, a large group of men travelled up from London by train, to watch or take part in a prize fight at Tring. Prize-fights were illegal boxing tournaments, where cash or other prizes could be won. A local newspaper described the group as “a band of ruffians” and claimed that the fight was a “disgusting sight…not fit for publication”.
Tring’s policemen intervened and put a stop to the fight. The participants and spectators were encouraged to leave the town and were shepherded onto a southbound train at Tring railway station. The police at Tring were no doubt relieved to see the group leave and didn’t think it necessary to send an officer on the train to warn other divisions.
When the train arrived at Watford, the group ran out of the station and into a nearby field. The contest resumed and the police at Watford were alerted. At that time, there were only two Constables in Watford and their Superintendent, Mr Hilsden was away on other business. When the two Constables, named Coulter and Farr, tried to intervene, the mob threatened to attack them, using “the most horrible oaths and imprecations”. The policemen were heavily outnumbered and retreated.
The Chief Constable, Archibald Robertson, was so annoyed with the way the officers at Watford had handled the situation, that he sacked Constable Coulter, fined Constable Farr and demoted Superintendent Hilsden. Many of the townspeople were shocked by Robertson’s sanctions and one wrote to the local newspaper saying, “[Hilsden is] one of the most efficient Superintendents that we have ever had and the two Constables have hitherto borne an excellent character in the police force”.
Eventually, the Chief Constable relented, but only after the Earl of Essex had written to him asking that he rethink his decisions. Hilsden was promoted back to Superintendent and Constable Farr’s reduction in salary was overturned. The Chief Constable reluctantly reinstated Constable Coulter, but saw to it that one final punishment awaited him. Coulter was moved from Watford, to one of the most remote and undesirable beats in the county : Wigginton, on the outskirts of Tring.
Coulter’s move was met with yet more outcries from the people of Watford who wrote, “We are informed that [Coulter] has now been banished to a place called Wigginton –the Siberia of unfortunate policemen”. The irony for Coulter was that he was now working alongside the very officers at Tring whose actions on the 21st October 1863 had caused his downfall.