The two policemen in question, unknown on the left and ‘Farmer’ Brown on the right in retirement

That was the question posed by PB in an email recently. Searching for the answer led to new discoveries about one of Chitterne’s most famous sons.

As often happens, ‘clearing out’ or ‘tidying’ started this voyage of discovery. PB received a bundle of documents from his sister, which had originally belonged to their grandfather Ernest Brown 1878-1953.

Back of photo on the left above

One particularly fascinating photograph was of a policeman, collar number 172, sitting on a chair and a lady standing at his side. On the back of the photo was a note saying: “Gertie Isaacs, Dear Dad and Mother.”

Also in the bundle was a letter dated 13 February 1941 from a Mary A Brown of Syringa Cottage, Chitterne, addressed to “Dear Mr Brown,” advising him of the death of “poor Will” who would be buried at Chitterne on Saturday at 2pm. Presumably ‘Mr Brown’ is Ernest Brown, the grandfather.

Letter from Mary A Brown to Ernest Brown

PB found the piece on Chitterne’s famous detective Farmer Brown on Chitterne history pages and noticed that his collar number had also been 172. He then tried to find a link between his grandfather and our Farmer Brown without success. Hence his query about the two policemen with the same collar number: Are they the same man or is this just a coincidence?

I sent PB my notes on the Chitterne Brown family and he was able to discern the connection between the families. Ernest Brown’s father, Stephen, and Farmer Brown’s father, William Frederick were brothers, and sons of Frederick Brown and Mary Dunford. This meant that Ernest and Farmer were cousins.

“Farmer” Brown collar number 172

But the mystery of the photograph and the matching collar numbers remained. I suggested seeking help from the blog-reading community by posting a query. PB agreed and sent me copies of the photo and letter to include in the blog. At first I thought our two photos were of the same man, the men were very similar in appearance apart from the unknown policeman’s moustache, but I noticed that their helmet badges were different. A quick google on police badges and it became obvious, one was Metropolitan Police and the other Wiltshire Constabulary.

So I changed my mind about the match, but who was the mystery policeman? And why was a letter from Farmer Brown’s widow in the same bundle of papers? The answer lay in the female side of PB’s family. His grandfather, Ernest Brown had married Laura Gertrude Isaacs 1885-1951. Her father William John Isaacs 1852-1907 was also a policeman in various Wiltshire locations, and that is who I now believe is in the photograph with his wife, Laura Gertrude’s mother.

So the man sitting on the chair in the photo above is William John Isaacs who was in the Wiltshire Constabulary from c1881 to 1907. This has been confirmed in a reply from the History Centre to PB: “William Isaac  Police number 172 born 1851 at West Cholderton entered the force in 1874 and served to 1902.” In the censuses he was at Ludgershall 1881, Tinhead 1891, and Edington 1901. Coincidentally he shared the same police collar number as William Fred ‘Farmer’ Brown of the Metropolitan Police and Chitterne.

More about the new findings on Farmer Brown in a forthcoming blog.

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