On Tuesday 29th January 1884, a man drove a horse and trap up to the Post Office on Solihull High Street and asked the postmistress to cash some postal orders. Whilst she was talking to him, another man in the shop seized £49 in gold from the counter, then jumped into the trap and both men rode off in the direction of Birmingham. A policeman followed them but did not managed to overtake them.
The St James’s Gazette, published the following day, gave an account of the robbery and said that the men, riding a very fast brown horse, were wanted in London and various parts of the country.
Within a few days, two men had been arrested in Birmingham and charged with the robbery. William (“Kiddy Bill”) Harrison, a painter and a well-known pick-pocket of Spring Hill, was arrested in Dale End and taken to Solihull where he was identified as the younger of the two men involved. Arthur Arnold, a horse dealer, was arrested at his residence in Upper Highgate Street and locked up at Moor Street before being conveyed to Solihull.
Both men appeared before magistrates at Solihull Police Court on Saturday 2nd February and were remanded in custody. Miss Mary Ann Pearman, who was the sister of postmistress Ruth Pearman, gave a statement to the court that she had been working in the post office on the day in question. She stated that between 12-12.30pm, the prisoner Arthur Arnold (who was unknown to her) had entered the premises and asked that she give him a couple of sovereigns for £2 worth of silver.
She went towards the inner office to check the till but then turned round and told him that she could not oblige him, whereupon he left the shop. She told the court that she feared his request for change might be a trick to pass bad money. A few minutes later, a little girl entered the shop and said that a gentleman in a trap wanted someone to attend him outside. As Mary Ann Pearman was now at the telegraph instrument receiving a message, her sister, Ruth, the postmistress went outside to assist the gentleman. Mary Ann also then left the shop to deliver the telegram she had just received to a house a few yards away.
Whilst outside the shop, Mary Ann noticed Arthur Arnold going in the direction of the post office. Her sister was standing near the trap, conversing with the man in it. He was purchasing three one-pound postal orders and, according to the postmistress, was carefully counting out £3 in silver, dropping several of the coins ostensibly to delay the transaction.
When the postmistress returned to the shop to collect the postal orders, she discovered that a small box containing £49 had been emptied.
Florence Blundell, a servant girl from Handsworth, stated that she was at the window of a house in Streets Brook at about eleven o’clock on the morning of Tuesday 29th January when she saw the two men drive by in the direction of Solihull. She was in Solihull High Street between 12:20 and 12:30pm on the same day and saw Arnold walking rapidly from the Post Office. She heard a horse and trap coming down the road and, as soon as Arnold saw it, he whistled it and jumped in. The prisoners were remanded in custody for a fortnight.
On Saturday 23rd February 1884, the prisoners appeared before the Police Court where witnesses including Helen Blakemore, milliner, Elizabeth Davis, shopkeeper, and Henry Trinder, chemist, stated that they had encountered Arthur Arnold on the day in question and that he had also tried to change silver in each of their shops. Other witnesses were called to give corroborating evidence and the case was then adjourned.
On Saturday 8th March 1884, the two “respectably dressed” men again appeared before the court. Harrison stated that he did not know where Solihull was, and that he was having dinner at the Dolphin Inn, Unett Street, Birmingham at the time of the robbery. Several witnesses corroborated his alibi and, on 14th March, William Harrison was discharged whilst Arthur Arnold was committed for trial the following month at Warwickshire Quarter Sessions. Bail was granted after Arnold’s defence counsel claimed his client had been “rendered a cripple through having been put in a cell which was a perfect hovel, and in a disgraceful state.”
At the Warwickshire Quarter Sessions on 9th April 1884, the evidence was again presented and the main question was raised as to whether the accused, Arthur Arnold, was the person who committed the robbery. The case for the defence rested on witness testimonies that gave Arthur Arnold an alibi of being in various public houses at the time of the robbery. It was said that he was seen in Bell Barn Road, Edgbaston around 11am on 29th January, heading for the King’s Head in that road, where he allegedly played bagatelle from around 11am until around 1pm. Between about 1:30pm and 1:45pm he was then seen at the Chequers Inn.
In summing up, the Chairman described the case as one of the most important and complicated that had been tried at the Sessions for a long time. He emphasised to the jury that it was the duty of the prosecution to establish the charge beyond all reasonable doubt. The jury then returned a verdict of acquittal after only a few minutes’ discussion – a decision that was received with applause from spectators.
Having been acquitted of the Solihull robbery, Arthur Arnold found himself before the Lichfield Police Court on 22nd April 1884, charged with stealing money from the till of R. Cleaver, seedsman, Bore Street on 25th January 1884. His defence was that he had never been to Lichfield in his life and he had an alibi of being in the house of Thomas Adams, shoemaker, in Nelson Street, Birmingham. He was discharged owing to lack of evidence.
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Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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