William Fred Brown was born at the right time and to the right parents. At the time of his birth, on 25th August 1872, Victorian Britain was in the midst of a drive to educate every child in the land. The 1870 Education Act made primary education compulsory and schools were being built in every community where no school already existed, for both boys and girls.
Chitterne had a school already, built in 1840 by the villagers themselves on land granted by Lord Long, owner of the Chitterne estate. In 1867 William’s father, William Frederick Brown, became headmaster at the school and also held night classes. In fact both William’s parents were committed to the new drive to educate. His mother, Sarah nee Woodman, worked alongside her husband as assistant mistress for many years.
With parents like these and a “good” school, according to the school inspectors of the time, you could say that William had a lucky start in life. The working life choices in Chitterne for most school leavers were farming for the boys and domestic work for the girls, but William chose differently, he chose the police. As his father had perhaps predicted when he’d said: “No young fellow of energy will stay in Chitterne.” (Note the ‘fellow’ reference, girls were still not expected to fly the coop!)
I don’t know what William did after leaving Chitterne School, he wasn’t with his parents at 53 Bidden Lane in the 1891 census. But I do know that he joined the Metropolitan Police in London on 5th February 1894 as PC 172 of M Division (Lambeth), warrant number 79304, a London copper. He married Mary Ann Roach in the Shadwell (Tower Hamlets) district of East London on the 18th January 1904 at St Marys Church Stratford le Bow when he was 31, Mary was 21. The couple had one child in 1911, a daughter named Lilian Woodman Brown who died aged 23 months and was buried in Chitterne St Mary graveyard. Later they adopted their nephew Maurice William Brown Jones after the death of his mother Ellen, Mary’s sister.
In police circles and later in the press William was known by the nickname ‘Farmer Brown’ thanks to his broad Wiltshire accent. He rose through the ranks reaching the rank of Inspector, Detective Superintendent and then Detective Chief Superintendent in charge of CID headquarters at Scotland Yard.
The newspapers of the 1920s, such as the Daily Sketch and Daily Mail avidly followed the investigations of crimes in the capital and came up with the nickname ‘Big Five’ to describe the 4 Chief Superintendents in charge of the four Metropolitan London districts plus their colleague in charge of CID HQ. William was in the news when he arrested Ronald True for the murder of a woman in a London flat in 1922.
In 1931 he was awarded an MBE in King George V’s birthday honours. He retired in 1932 and he and his wife Mary came back to Chitterne to live in the house where he was born, after some alterations. The couple bought the entire row of 6 cottages and their gardens, demolished most of the row but kept and extended number 53, creating Syringa Cottage. William died there in 1941, which brings us back full circle to my last blog and to the letter his wife Mary wrote on her husband’s death to the other Mr Brown. Mary died in 1972, aged 89 and is buried here in Chitterne too.
With thanks to PB for his initial enquiry, the extra photos and info, and for sparking my interest and quest to discover more about William Fred Brown of the Metropolitan Police.