In 1830 the days of the old watchmen had come to an end. Industrialisation and a rising population signalled the end of ad hoc policing and called for a modern highly-organised police force. In Brighton a day-and-night police force was set up under William Pilbeam and Henry Solomon, who was promoted to ‘Inspector of Nuisances’. Unfortunately William died shortly after, leaving Henry as Chief Officer, later to become Chief Constable in 1938.
Henry was an extremely gifted man and he needed to be because he was Jewish and for a Jewish man to achieve the position as Chief Constable in the mid 19th century was truly remarkable. Brighton had long been a home for the small community and by 1800 numbers had grown sufficiently to warrant building a synagogue in Jew Street, although in 1813 there were still only nine adult male Jews registered.
Although he was a successful watch maker he needed to supplement his income because his wife bore him nine children of whom seven survived. Not shy of hard work he took on extra jobs as Inspector of Public Baths, Roads and Boats. Clearly a high profile character about town he was extremely popular and well respected by everyone.
Perhaps he is best remembered for having the dubious distinction of being the only Chief Constable to be killed whilst in office in 1844.
Lawrence was 23 and had arrived in Brighton the previous autumn. He did a bit of plastering, farming and labouring on the railways but was basically a petty crook who stole £25 from his parents before leaving home. In Brighton he consorted with a gang of thieves and prostitutes and lived with or off a well known prostitute called Hastings Bet. On the night preceding the murder he’d been out drinking with friends and the following morning was in dire need of the ‘hair of the dog’. Unfortunately he’d spent all his money the previous night and the only viable answer was a spot of villainy. For reasons known only to themselves he and his accomplice decided to steal a carpet from a shop in St James Street.
Needless to say they were spotted and in the ensuing chase with a local bobby, Lawrence was arrested and brought to the police station to be interviewed by Henry himself in the company of three commissioners. Whilst waiting for the witness to arrive and identify him, Lawrence was told to sit in a chair by the fire. Believing Lawrence to be well beyond the stage where he could do any harm, the Chief Constable chatted with the commissioners and then walked past Lawrence who reached out for the poker and struck Solomon across the back of the head. Solomon fell to the floor with a fractured skull from which he was never to recover. No reason for Lawrence’s action was ever established and ironically the witness to his earlier crime failed to identify him.
Henry Solomon’s Funeral
Huge crowds turned out for Henry’s funeral as there was genuine grief over his death. A collection was quickly organised by the town commissioners raising over £500. Queen Victoria donated £50, the Duke of Richmond £30 and the local Jewish community £52. Ultimately they raised a little over £1,000 for his wife and children. He was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Ditchling Road. By strange coincidence Lawrence witnessed this huge outpouring of grief whilst being taken to Lewes assizes and commented to his guard how foolish people were to attend such sights.
Trial, Execution and Exhumation
Lawrence was tried at Lewes, found guilty and executed in Horsham prison all within three weeks. His trial barely took three hours and the jury only twelve minutes to find him guilty. Around a couple of thousand people watched his hanging and he was buried within the prison grounds.
Shortly after these events the prison was knocked down and the bricks used to build the new police station. As the last person to be executed at the prison Lawrence was a bit of a celebrity, so they dug him up and put his body on display in the stable of the nearby Queens Head and charged punters 2d to view him.
Historical consultant David Rowland. David Rowland’s history books are available on Amazon.