On My Doorstep – Part Twelve


The murder of the Reverend Hollest, 1850

Murder most foul was committed in Frimley on 27th September 1850 at around 3 o’clock in the morning. The vicar of Frimley, the Reverend George Hollest and his wife, were lying in their four-poster bed in the Parsonage when they became aware of intruders. According to Mrs Hollest, “we both jumped up in bed at the same time. I saw two men at the foot of our bed”. Both were armed and threatened that “if we made any noise, they would blow our brains out”.

Bizarrely, the Reverend thought that it was their sons who were playing a trick on them, testament to either his unworldliness or his poor parental control. Mrs Hollest was made of sterner stuff and realised that this was indeed a real burglary, tried to summon help by ringing a bell but was pushed to the ground for her troubles. She broke free and managed to raise the alarm, prompting the intruders – there were three indoors and one waiting outside – to flee the scene. By this time the Reverend gave chase, picking up his loaded gun which he kept by the door. Mrs Hollest heard a shot and when her husband returned, he informed her he had been shot in the abdomen. Mrs Hollest summoned the police – Frimley had two parish constables at the time – and the surgeon, Mr Davies.

At first, the vicar was not thought to be seriously injured but his condition soon deteriorated and he died the following evening “after much suffering”.  A post mortem revealed a loose marble in the fold of the peritoneum, between the bladder and the rectum. The thieves had got away with quite a haul – they abandoned a telescope and umbrella by a tree in their dash for freedom – including three watches (two gold and one silver), various small silver items, a bag of copper coins from the Parish Clothing Fund and a gold ring set with a bloodstone and on which Forget me not was engraved in old English lettering. A reward of £150 was offered for the arrest of the malefactors.

Three young men of bad character, according to contemporary reports, were arrested in the Rose and Crown beer-shop, Hiram Smith, James Jones and Levi Harwood, and were brought before the deliciously named local magistrate, Captain Mangles. A fourth suspect was added to the group, Samuel Harwood. There being no honour amongst thieves, Smith turned Queen’s evidence. Betraying the physiognomic theories of the time, the Times described him as having a sallow, unhealthy skin, an extremely forbidding expression, prominent features and a hesitating glance that marked him out as a rogue.

According to Smith, the four men had walked to Frimley, armed with two horse pistols which they loaded with marbles. After breaking in to the Parsonage, they feasted on bread, beef, wine and spirits and being satisfied that they were undetected, went up to the Hollest’s bedroom, Samuel Harwood, who was unmasked, waiting outside. Witnesses identified Smith as having been in Frimley some days earlier, selling earthenware, presumably on a recce. One of the coins from the Clothing Fund which was badly worn was found on one of the burglars, was recognised by Mrs Hollest.

Levi Harwood, who confessed to the murder, and James Jones were sentenced to hang on 15th April 1851, Levi Smith was cleared of murder but detained and brought to trial for another robbery – he cheekily claimed the reward but there is no record of him being paid – and Samuel Harwood was released through lack of evidence. One consequence of the murder was that Surrey got its own county constabulary.  The parsonage was sold shortly afterwards and today is a convent.