The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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19th & 20th Century Law & Order in Rural North Essex: Tuesday 9th Nov 2021

Martyn Lockwood's Tues. 9th Nov. talk about early Essex policing, with emphasis on the Foxearth area, was well appreciated by 41 members & visitors.

Several different types of local policing schemes under various Acts of Parliament existed before the 19th century including the 5 Essex towns with Borough status. These had a handful of constables on a part-time basis who were only paid expenses. Few of their responsibilities would be recognised today.

Essex was one of the first counties to establish a police force in 1840 with initial widespread distrust and resistance. Those living in rural areas could see a need for policing in cities, but felt the expense of keeping them in the countryside far outweighed their potential usefulness.

The first constables recruited had to be under 40, 5' 7’’ without shoes, to read and write, to keep accounts, be free from bodily complaint, of strong constitution, generally intelligent He needed a certificate of character that he was "sober, honest and of good temper, with respectable connections. Their salary was 19 shillings (95p) a week. The average working day was between ten and twelve hours, with a day shift and a night shift seven days a week often under difficult conditions. A week's annual leave each year was granted - unpaid of course. Constables were issued with basic uniform, rattle, truncheon and a pair of handcuffs anyone who resigned had to pay 5 shillings (25p) to have the uniform altered for the next recruit

Initially, stress was laid upon securing the goodwill and co-operation of those living in areas where the police had to operate. All patrols were on foot and it was not uncommon for a constable on a rural beat to walk over 20 miles each day. Duties were arranged to allow attendance at Divine Service, Constables were expected to show an example of “due respect for the observance of the Sabbath day."

There were no refreshment breaks and it was left to the ingenuity of the constable to obtain refreshment where he could often in public houses This led to high incidents of drunkenness amongst police officers, resulting in many dismissals from the force.

lf the constable hadn't enough to do he was given a variety of other tasks to keep him occupied: assisting the Inspectors of: Weights and Measures, Nuisances, Lodging Houses, H.M. Revenue Officers, under the Explosives Acts and Officers under the Poor Law.

A Constable who wished to get married had to request permission from the Chief Constable and the character of his future wife was examined to see if she was of a good character. A pension was not an automatic right, but only recommended by the chief constable and approved by the justices who received a pension.

Martyn gave information on early Constables for Foxearth and its neighbouring villages. Many of the crimes were petty theft, which he illustrated by a few notable cases.

The first constable to receive a newly instituted Merit Star, in 1872, was Constable John Street of Foxearth in the Hinckford Division, awarded for ’highly distinguished and discreet conduct in the discharge of duty, particularly when accompanied with risk of life, personal courage and coolness aided by marked intelligence’ It came with an additional pay of one shilling per week, (subject to forfeiture for misconduct).

The details for the award was given as:

PC 136 John Street, Foxearth was on duty in the Parish of Pentlow at 2am Sunday 7th January 1872, when he detected 3 men leaving the farm premises of Thomas Brand at Pentlow. One of them named James Beevis of Glemsford, Suffolk had in his pockets and in a sack 17 fowls just stolen from Brand’s premises. The Constable endeavoured to apprehend the three offenders and after a severe struggle with the three, numerous blows being exchanged, he succeeded in knocking Beevis down. The other two offenders unsuccessfully tried to beat Pc Street then ran away. Street succeeded in apprehending Beevis and secured the stolen property. He reported the particulars to Inspector Fox, who immediately drove over to meet PC Street at Glemsford, In the struggle one of the other offenders' cap was secured and Street soon identified as the cap of Jesse Goody of Glemsford. Inspector Fox at once apprehended him on the charge of being connected with Beevis in stealing Mr Brand’s fowls.

Of the Foxearth Constables some were moved sideways to other villages due to misconduct. Others included Pc George Sebastian Harrington 1920 who served in WWI but rejoined the Essex Police, and Pc Richard Beart Ball 1937. He joined the RAF in 1942 but was killed on operations in the Far East with no known grave.

Martyn’s research was based on records at the Essex Police Museum Chelmsford CM2 6DN It was set up in 1992 to provide an archival and educational space displaying documents, artefacts, objects and photos on local history. A valuable resource for research with family history


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