In the Poet a Detective

by Glyn Thomas

Extract from the April 2011 edition of History Lines (No. 20)

St Editha's Church, Tamworth - obelisk - Edward Farmer

St Editha’s Church, Tamworth – obelisk – Edward Farmer

Tamworth in Staffordshire lies about 14 miles North East of Birmingham and 103 miles North West of London. It has existed since Saxon times and in the reign of King Offa was the ancient capital of Mercia, the largest English kingdoms of its time. It was the seat of the MP and founder of the modern Police Service, Sir Robert Peel from 1830 until his death in 1850. He it was introduced the Tamworth Manifesto in 1834 which created what is now the modern Conservative Party. In the 19th Century a breed of pig, Tamworth Pig was bred here.  The railways arrived with the Midland Railway route from Derby to Birmingham and later the London & North Western Railway which provided direct trains to the Capital.  A split level railway station exists. Some may be aware that the Reliant Motor Company which built the Scimitar and Robin motor cars started in the town.

Enough introduction to the town’s history but what has that got to do with the history of railway policing you may ask?

During a conversation one night with the Steward of a local Social Club, also a local historian, at a local Narpo meeting, I asked if he knew of any history about the Police in the town and in particular on the railway. “You mean Ned Farmer?” he replied. He explained there was a memorial in the town’s church yard for him and suggested I go to the library.

The next day, I found the solid Victorian obelisk in St Editha’s Church yard, near to the town’s library.  On one side were the words, “In memory of Edward Farmer many years resident in Tamworth who died suddenly July 10th 1876 aged 67 years and was interred in the New Cemetery at Derby”.  On another side were the words “To the Author of ‘LITTLE JIM’ ”

Having spent a couple of hours at the town’s library, I found that Farmer was the Chief Detective of the old Midland Railway. From articles in the Tamworth Herald in 1953 and 1994, it is written that whilst he travelled between Derby and Birmingham on the lookout for thieves and con-men he composed many poems and I quote “as perhaps there wasn’t much crime” he eventually wrote so many that they were published in 1846 in a neat little volume called ‘Ned Farmer’s Scrapbook.

Apparently every Thursday afternoon, he was to be found at the Bell Inn, Bell Street, Birmingham, and a favourite haunt in those days of the literary men of the town. I’m sure that some of our members who were detectives would not have frequented such establishments!!

One of the favourite poems was ‘Little Jim’ the Collier’s Child.

It is about the bereavement of a Collier’s child in the local mining district which came to the notice of Ned Farmer. The cottage where the death occurred and which inspired the poem was in the Polesworth District, but was severely damaged by fire in the early 1970’s and eventually demolished.  In addition to his poems, he wrote several plays and produced a couple of pantomimes at the Theatre Royal in Birmingham. He also composed a Royal Marriage song for Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward V11) and an additional verse to the National Anthem.

Sadly, the famous detective – poet was taken ill in his office at Derby on July 10, 1876. He became unconscious and died within a few hours without regaining consciousness. His burial took place a few days later in the NewCemetery at Derby, not in Westminster Abbey as he significantly predicted in the preface to his “Scrap Book”.

Regrettably Mr Farmer’s details are not to be found in the current Nominal Roll held by the History Group.  I wonder if anyone has ever heard of this famous Midland Railway detective.

Finally, I quote the words on the third side of the obelisk, to sum up Farmer’s character. “To preserve the memory of a talented man whose general temperament found one of its favourite expressions in songs of patriotism and philanthropy.  His friends erected this monument.”

Little Jim


‘Little Jim’ or the Collier’s Child by Edward Farmer

The cottage was a thatched one,
The outside old and mean,
Yet everything within that cot
Was wonderous neat and clean.

The night was dark and stormy,
The wind was howling wild;
A patient mother sat beside
The death-bed of her child.

A little worn-out creature –
whose once bright eyes were dim,
It was a collier’s only child,
They called him ‘Little Jim.’

And oh! to see the briny tears
Fast hurrying down her cheek,
As she offered up a prayer, in thought –
She was afraid to speak.

Lest she might waken one she loved
Far dearer than her life;
For she had all a mother’s heart,
Had that poor collier’s wife.

With hands uplifted, see, she kneels
Beside the sufferer’s bed;
And prays that He will spare her child,
And take herself instead.

She gets her answer from the boy,
Soft fall the words from him –
‘Mother, the angels do so smile,
And beckon Little Jim.

‘I have no pain, dear mother, now,
But oh! I am so dry;
Just moisten poor Jim’s lips once more;
And, mother, don’t you cry.’

With gentle, trembling haste she holds
A teacup to his lips;
He smiles to thank her, then he takes
Three tiny little sips.

‘Tell father, when he comes from work,
I said ‘Good-night’ to him,
‘And, mother, now I’ll go to sleep.’
Alas, poor little Jim,

She sees that he is dying,
That the child she loves so dear.
Has uttered the last words she
May ever hope to hear.

The cottage door is opened,
The collier’s step is heard;
The father and the mother meet,
Yet neither speak a word.

He feels that all is over,
He knows his child is dead;
He takes the candle in his hand,
And walks towards the bed.

His quivering lip gives token
Of the grief he’d fain conceal;
And, see, the mother joins him,
the stricken couple kneel.

With hearts ‘bowed down in sorrow,
They humbly ask of Him.
In Heaven, once more to meet again.
Their own poor ‘Little Jim.’

Webmaster’s Notes:

The graphic is from a 1895 Advertising Calendar illustration by Alex Malcolm, Glasgow & London, titled “Little Jim (The Collier’s Dying Child),” illustrating poem by Edward Farmer, published by W. H. Perkins Grocer & Tea Dealer, Modbury, Plymouth, UK.

Photograph of the obelisk by Ell Brown (Creative Commons licence)