Poacher arrested after terrifying gun struggle

PUB VIEW: The Shipwright's Arms at North Hylton. Below, the North Hylton ferry landing - part of PC Tillar's beat.
PUB VIEW: The Shipwright's Arms at North Hylton. Below, the North Hylton ferry landing - part of PC Tillar's beat.
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POLICE Constable Frederick Tillar ruled his rural Wearside beat with an iron fist in Victorian times – yet still came under attack from thieves, vagabonds and drunks.

To the outside world the officer’s North Hylton patrol – consisting mainly of fields, the odd farming village and a few pubs – appeared to be a countryside paradise.

North Hylton ferry landing was part of PC Tillar's beat.

North Hylton ferry landing was part of PC Tillar's beat.

Appearances, however, could be deceptive. Indeed, just one year after being attacked by miners at the annual regatta, Tillar was facing his biggest problem yet – poachers.

“In the summer of 1876 North Hylton was over-run by rabbit hunters and grouse pinchers,” said local historian Norman Kirtlan, of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

“And so it was that on Sunday July 22, the officer concealed himself in a hedge near to the Sunderland to Newcastle road, to see what kind of game he could bag himself.”

Just a few hundred yards away, as local gamekeeper George Adams was leaving his cottage near Hylton Castle, he chanced upon a couple of ne’er-do-wells walking past.

Plenty of cheek, as well as a veiled threat or two, followed, before one of the lads enquired of George “Have you got your sixer of you?” - making reference to a gun. “Why?” asked George, cautiously, whereupon the other lad, 18-year-old Brian Hodgson, pulled a revolver from his pocket and announced: “Cos I’ve got mine!”

Pointing the gun skywards, Hodgson fired wildly - jeering as the startled gamekeeper quickly ducked back into his cottage to get out of harm’s way.

The joke, however, was on the pair of poachers. As they made their way towards the Three Horse Shoes pub, still laughing and joking, so PC Tillar pounced on them.

“What’s your business?” demanded Tillar. “That’s my business,” came Hodgson’s cheeky reply - prompting Tillar to threaten to search both boys for guns and game.

“Hodgson was obviously the cockier of the two, and he told the officer he would not be searched while on the Queen’s Highway,” said Norman, a retired police inspector.

“Indeed, Hodgson even threatened to ‘put Tillar right” if he attempted to search him, but Tillar ignored him and grabbed Hodgson’s hand as it disappeared into a pocket.

“It was then that the policeman’s heart sank; as he felt the familiar shape of a revolver lying within Hodgson’s pocket and knew that this may well be a fight to the death.”

Within seconds Hodgson managed to pull the gun out into the open and, as the lad tried to turn the barrel around and point it at Tillar, so the officer grappled with him.

With a desperate heave Tillar managed to throw the struggling teenager to the ground. Even here, however, Hodgson managed to kick the officer in the head and stomach.

As his pal made off into the distance, so Hodgson yelled: “Are you going to let this B……. take me?” But there was no response from his friend, who kept on running.

“The officer and the teenager continued to struggle for half-an-hour - with each holding onto the gun with one hand, while fighting with the other,” said Norman.

“At one point Hodgson grabbed Tillar in what the Echo described as a “dangerous place”. Howling in pain, the officer stuck his thumb into Hodgson’s eye as a reprisal.

“An uneasy truce betwixt eyeball and dangerous bits then ensued, during which time the battle royal continued, with Tillar eventually managing to pull the revolver free.”

Once Hodgson was safely handcuffed, PC Tillar flagged down a passing horse and cart and dragged his poacher prisoner to Southwick Police Office for questioning.

The lad, of course, denied any wrongdoing. Indeed, he claimed to have found the gun, had no intention of poaching and had never threatened to shoot PC Tillar either.

But the testimony of Hylton Estate gamekeeper George Adams helped put the boy behind bars, after he revealed Hodgson had threatened - and shot at him - on the same day.

“Upon examining the chambers in the revolver, the police discovered that five chambers were still loaded, accounting for that discharged at the gamekeeper,” said Norman.

“Constable Tillar had indeed been lucky to escape with his life, let alone the damage to his dangerous bits. Any of those five loaded chambers could have killed him.”

Hodgson, who was described as a servant to a local farmer, was dragged before Sunderland Magistrates Court on August 7 - just over two weeks after the shooting.

In his defence, solicitor Mr Bell claimed that “regardless of the fact that Hodgson had a firearm”, Tillar had no lawful business in stopping and searching the two youths.

But PC Tillar replied that Hodgson had been argumentative and abusive from the start, threatening to “sort out” the officer before Tillar had “ever laid a finger on him”.

“Tillar claimed that at the point when Hodgson dipped his hand in the pocket containing the gun, he felt he had to act - and the magistrates agreed,” said Norman.

“Hodgson was fined 20 shillings and his “sixer” confiscated. As for PC Tillar, well his dangerous bits recovered sufficiently for him to throw himself into more mischief. Next up for him was the great Hylton Turnip Robbery - more of which will follow at a later date!”

l Look out for another PC Tillar story next week. Sunderland Antiquarian Society, at 6 Douro Terrace, is open to visitors each Wednesday and Saturday morning.