The Harwell Murder by Wantage historian Trevor Hancock

THE story starts with PC John Joseph Charlton who was the village policeman at East Hendred, between 1887-1899.

An experienced village bobby, PC John Charlton had in his career served in various places around Berkshire, including Maidenhead, Twyford and Abingdon.

In 1899, he was living with his wife Emily and their four children at Queens Square in East Hendred.

The family had suffered a tragedy in 1894 when the eldest son William had been run over and killed by a wagon.

At 7pm on Easter Monday April 3, 1899, things were getting too much for Isaac Day the landlord of The Chequers public house at Harwell.

The majority of his customers had been drinking for most of the day and by this time were very noisy.

One of them, Joseph Slatter, was singing and passing around his hat begging for money, supported by his friend Robert James.

Isaac Day ordered Slatter to leave, but he refused, so Mr Day called for the Harwell village policeman PC Thomas Hewett, who arrived with PC Charlton.

A struggle ensued and the two constables managed to eject Slatter and James, with the help of Mr Day.

But it did not end there.

Once outside Slatter called out 'Now Bob, give it to the buggers! Knife them I will back you!' and a fight ensued with both constables falling to the ground.

PC Charlton hit his head on a kerb and became unconscious. Hewitt managed to handcuff Joseph Slatter, but Robert James ran off.

In the meantime, the unconscious PC John Charlton was taken to the Harwell Police House and Dr Rice was summoned.

There was little he could do and PC Charlton died the following day.

Robert James was arrested at a pub in Stoke Row and conveyed to join Joseph Slatter at Wantage Police Station in Mill Street. Both men were charged with murder.

Both Slatter and James were known to the police.

Neither was married and both were ex-servicemen, Slatter having been in the Royal Marines and Robert James the East Kent Regiment.

It was reported that James was a champion boxer in the army though this was not confirmed.

Both had long criminal records for drunkenness, stealing and poaching.

On Wednesday, April 12, 1899, the two men were escorted by the police up Mill Street to the magistrates court at the town hall.

A large crowd assembled to see the two men, hissing and booing as they were escorted up the hill by 20 policemen.

Tom Reveley (the Wantage Photographer) took the men's photograph just before they entered the court.

The verdict of the magistrates was that the two men would be committed for trial for 'wilful murder' at the Berkshire Summer Assizes at Reading.

The prisoners were then escorted to the Wantage Tramway and conveyed to Reading to await trial.

Two days later there was a full police funeral with honours at East Hendred for PC John Joseph Charlton.

At the Berkshire Summer Assizes, the Bill of Indictment for murder was rejected by the judge and the charge was reduced to manslaughter.

Both men were found guilty and sentenced to 20 years' hard labour.

It is not known what happened to Robert James after he served his sentence but Joseph Slatter died in 1926 aged 73 at a Berkshire mental hospital.