Welcome to the world of one-place studies! Twenty-six of our members are sharing something in their particular place for this year's A-Z Blogging Challenge. Steve Pickthall shares with us some stories of policing in his place of New Fishbourne.
Before the mid-1800s upholding the law in England and Wales was very much a local arrangement. Early parish constables were appointed locally, being attested (sworn in) by at least two Justices of the Peace and were often unpaid. In larger towns, councils paid for watchmen to patrol the streets and it was only after the 1856 County and Borough Police Act that county and town police forces were set up, paid for by central government. Almost a century later in 1946 the smaller forces were all reformed into the smaller number of county/metropolitan forces we have today.
In my place, New Fishbourne in Sussex, there are no constables listed in the directories and I haven't come across any in the various census that I have transcribed so far.
However, the police are often mentioned in the newspapers and seem to be from the borough force based in Chichester.
From catching "major" felons engaged in crimes such as throwing stones at the roof of a house, defacing walls (no change there) and stealing vegetables from gardens (when the cabbage-stealing thief had been shot with a shotgun by the landowner as he tried to make his escape) to the more serious, all levels of society are represented.
A group of nine pickpockets travelling to the horse racing at Goodwood seemed to have stopped off for refreshment at the "Black Boy" pub and lightened the pockets of a good few local people, before being apprehended by a single constable (!).
There are reports of assault of an estranged wife, murder, an attempted poisoning, burglaries, sexual assaults, embezzlement, arson and many other crimes where the newspaper report often includes near-verbatim the evidence given in court by the constable of the detection and subsequent arrest of the accused.
These stories bring to life the people and events. My own favourite is a dispute about whether the police should pay to use the toll gate and from the newspaper reports, I can easily picture the exchange between the stubborn toll-keeper and the constable equally sure of his ground and the arguments in court which centred on whether the constable should pay if he did not have a prisoner in custody. I don't think there was much pushing and shoving on the day it all came to a head, but there was probably a fair amount of bluff and bluster.
The tragic stories are there too - of breaking into a house and finding both occupants dead (possible suicide); recovering the body of a child who had been "playing on the railway".
New Fishbourne was a village of about 300 people until the late 1800s but sometimes almost seems to be the crime capital of Europe, but the reports of the events that a police constable was involved in bring the place very much to life. To misquote Gilbert & Sullivan - a Policeman's lot may not be a happy one, but it certainly was an interesting one!