IN an era when most people felt subservient to rank and privilege, a tailor boldly took out a private prosecution for assault against a titled cleric.

The two men came from neighbouring hamlets. Thomas Mitchell acted as parish clerk at Easton, near Winchester, and the Rev Sir Henry Rivers had been installed as Rector of Martyr Worthy.

Mitchell accused him of attacking his young son, George, by 'striking and afterwards kicking him when the said George Mitchell was in a state of nudity and by that means causing various bruises on his body.'

Mr Bingham, who took the brief, alleged Rivers had so badly injured the defenceless youngster he could neither stand, nor walk away from the beating, and for several months was unable to attend school, asserting: "It was an actrocious and unjustifiable assault as ever been committed. The defendant, a clergyman, had thought it fit to commit a most aggravated assault."

The youngster, who was just 12, had been swimming with three friends at Ten Hatches on the River Itchen on June 15, 1836. They were on the Worthy side of the water and the cleric was fishing from the opposite bank some distance away.

When he suddenly came towards them beckoning, they rushed off naked, grabbing their clothes.

The youth had just run across the footbridge linking Martyr Worthy to Easton when the rector caught up with him and struck him on the head. He fell down, stunned. Rivers then repeatedly kicked him on the hip and shoulder.

"I was lying on the ground when he kicked me, I was so hurt I could not get up."

The attack however did not go unnoticed.

William Mould was in his back garden in Easton when he heard a boy crying and sent his son to bring him to his house where he was found with a bruised hip and a little blood behind his neck.

His evidence was corroborated by neighbour Sarah Douce who had been walking on the common land when she saw the boy on the ground some five or six yards from the footbridge.

"He was lying on his belly with his head resting on his hands. There was a blow on his neck near an ear and blood was running down his neck."

Hampshire Assizes did not reconvene for eight months after the drama and it was not until March 6 the following year that his father told jurors how he had confronted Rivers who denied he had hurt his son.

Mitchell was evidently angered by his arrogant attitude.

"I said he had made a cripple of him for life and Rivers told me I was a fool. I said I would not be trodden over and would go and seek recompense. Sir Henry told me to go about my business and do what I liked. He said my son had committed a great nuisance and if he caught him again, he would serve him worse."

Mitchell told jurors his son could not attend school for two months and sit upright for some time due to his injuries.

His final witness was shoemaker Thomas Tanner who saw his son three days after the incident with several bruises to his hip and neck, confirming: "He could not walk without a stick and then hobbled along."

Mr Missing, acting for the rector, claimed the hip injuries had been exaggerated to "excite the sympathy of the court" and medical evidence showed they could not have been inflicted by a heavy boot. In all probability, they came from a fall.

"I am not prepared to justify the conduct of any man who takes the law into his own hands but the greatest provocation had been given to the defendant by Mitchell and the other boys running about naked at a time when Sir Henry's daughter was walking in the meadow, and it was still more aggravated by Mitchell running near her in that state when he might have avoided it. Such conduct is enough to rouse the feeling of a father or husband."

Missing then reiterated the one question the judge, Mr Justice Williams, had posed. Did they believe Sir Henry had committed an assault?

Without hesitation, jurors declared he had.

The rector was ordered to remain in custody until a fine of 10s was paid to the King.