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Harrogate Story 





The policeman is called by the same name, but he is not the same sort of person as the Constable of the past. The latter had been first appointed in the days of our Norman kings. About 1600, Shakespeare sketched a satirical, but recognisable, portrait of the Elizabethan Constable when he created the character of Dogberry in the play Much Ado About Nothing. Dogberry's counterpart, possibly a little less pompous and rather more intelligent, might then have been found in Bilton-with-Harrogate, for at that time it had had such an officer for over a hundred years. 

When Sir Robert Peel founded our modern police force about 1830 he chose to use the old word for it, but as the earlier kind of Constables continued to be appointed in his time - and, in fact, much later - it is not surprising that people distinguished Robert Peel's police by the nicknames of "peelers" and "bobbies." 

We can fill in the details in the portrait that Shakespeare gave of the old-time Constable. In the later eighteenth century, several Constables drew up the formal accounts of their activities. It appears from these that, like the police, they were the agents of law and order, and were responsible to the Chief Constable (in their case) of the West Riding. But in their selection, in their period of service (which was unpaid), in their duties and, above all, in their status, they were widely different. The township chose them out of a relatively small group of the more important townsmen — innkeepers, farmers, shopkeepers, manufacturers. In the first group, then very influential in Harrogate, were Shutt’s, Dearlove’s, Thackwray’s, Hattersley’s. As they were almost invariably busy men, the time was limited that they could give to the public service. Being amateurs, they could not draw on the experience that a professional body accumulates and they could not acquire much of their own, as they held office for a year only. Yet, possibly by native wit and a knowledge of their neighbours' characters, they seem to have done their job so well that an increasing burden of responsibility came to be thrust on them. Not only the Chief Constable and the local Justices of the Peace, but even the central Government continued to add to their duties. 

By the later eighteenth century, the Constable had to sign a document that he called the Fourteen Articles as an assurance that he had fulfilled his numerous obligations. One of these was a monthly search for possible delinquents: pauper strangers who had entered the township without bringing with them a protection certificate; publicans whose ale was below standard or who overcharged; unlicensed ale-sellers, of whom there were many hereabouts; and Roman Catholics and Quakers, who were then considered ipso facto disturbers of the peace. 

He had to levy a rate - his "lay," as he called it - for the Chief Constable, and hand over to him twice a year what appears in the Accounts as Bridge Money. Its full title was "For Vagrants, Bridges, House of Correction, York Castle, &c.," with an occasional "Judges' Lodgings" thrown in: it was the County Rate in its early form. Twice a year also, about May Day and Michaelmas, he had to attend the Sheriff Turn, the Court at Knaresborough, taking with him the township jurymen, known as the Four Men. A week before this Court a Statute meeting was held, at which he made his report to the Chief Constable. (Incidentally, it was at this time that the local "hirings" of servants took place). Then, more journeys to Knaresborough were made to attend the Brewster Sessions; to hand in the names of all township officers nominated by the Vestry Meeting, and to take Overseers and Surveyors to have their appointment confirmed by the Justices and to be sworn in by the Justices' Clerks; to get the Chief Constable, on occasion, to adjust measures; to obtain warrants for Assessors (for valuations) and to "return the value of the township"; and to obtain warrants also for Collectors of various rates and taxes. Among the last were the Land Tax, the Windows Tax, the Income Tax (introduced during the Napoleonic war), the Servants, Horses, Dogs and Powder Tax (which put an abrupt end to the habit of wearing wigs). In Harrogate, there were the Queen's Rents and the Duke of Devonshire's Rents to be collected. For all of these the Constable was responsible, though he did not collect them all himself; if a difficulty arose, he was called in. In 1793 the Horses Duty was being, evaded locally, so the Constable obtained from Sir John Ingleby a "Warrant for Close Sierch with Sufficient Assistance." Constable Boddy also expected trouble in 1804, for he took two helpers with him when he went to "strean (that is, distrain) for the Income Tax." 

Besides the important Sheriff Turn, the Constable had also to attend the Grand Inquest, the minor Court, held at various places in the Forest. It met quite often in Harrogate and always at an inn: in 1791 at the Bay Horse (Empress), in 1805 at the Green Dragon (usually called the Dragon), in 1823 at the Swan. The Constable's expenses naturally went up when this Court met further afield, at Hampsthwaite (1807), Hopper Lane (1814) or Fewston (1829). The population near the last two places was then much bigger than at present, for there were linen and woollen mills in the Washburn Valley. 

The wars with France between 1793 and 1815 gave the Constable many extra duties: the summoning and enlisting of Militia-men, the collecting of Militia Subscriptions, and the billeting of Militia and soldiers, with the making out of the necessary returns. The Constable of 1812-3 had to deal with crowds of "passengers," mainly the wives and children of soldiers, who apparently were changing quarters, and passed through the township. To groups ranging from 20 to 100 he supplied more than 200 passes, including some riding passes supplying them with transport. The total cost was quite alarming, about seven guineas, but he managed to get the money back from the County. 

The Constable was the man to whom at all times "passengers" (that is, travellers in distress) turned for a night's lodging, or for a pass to the next township. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, he gave away considerable sums in this casual relief. From the beginning of the century, however, he was always reimbursed by the Overseers, who had by then taken over from him the collection of all moneys. They had also relieved him of his complicated duties with regard to the "settlement" of paupers. Before he had had to take them before the Justice for their examinations and, when necessary, to return them to their township. In addition, he had the numerous affiliation cases. Now, his dealings with the poor were largely, reduced to police duties: the arrest of defaulting fathers of illegitimate children, and the taking of them, and of other convicted persons, to Knaresborough Castle, to York Castle, or to the House of Correction at Ripon or Wakefield. 

Though the office of Constable was still looked on as particularly honourable, the routine work involved was given to a paid substitute from the 1820's, (At this very same time, the Overseers and the Surveyors of the Highways were beginning to adopt the practice, for in all these cases the work was already too irksome for an unpaid and busy man, and too specialised for the amateur.) Rather confusingly, the substitute is often referred to, and even signs papers, as Constable. From 1822, Thomas Ripley, a substitute, received five guineas a year, and during his close on forty years' service that ended in 1854, Roberts Mills had a yearly wage of £10. Though Mills might be classed as a professional Constable (but not a policeman), his job was not a full-time one (a fact that seems to reflect some credit on our predecessors), and £10, even for those days, was hardly a living wage. Mills was a grocer in what time he had to spare. 

An Act of 1842, "For the Appointment and Payment of Parish Constables," recognised rather belatedly that the day of the paid official had arrived. From this date, rather strangely, instead of the traditional one Constable for the township, five were appointed. It is fairly certain that the four others left the duties of the office entirely to Mills. This is strongly suggested by the flippant receipt given by George Gascoigne in 1851 : "To gallant services as Constable for the last 12 months. 9s." This, as he states, was the cost of taking the oath and of the necessary journey to Knaresborough. Had he spent even a half-day on Constable's duties he would have certainly added two or three shillings for the loss of his time. 

In the earlier period, the eighteenth century and just after, Constables' Accounts throw further light on their duties then. Peter Dalby in 1785 went "with 2 Gentlemen to the Justice for Defrauding Killinghall Bar," a traffic misdemeanour now fortunately impossible but at that time not uncommon. His taking up William Vitty for "Biding in Cart " is difficult to understand - unless it was the township pass-cart and it was needed for the conveyance of another pauper. As a curious reminder of the Rising of the '45, Jonathan Shutt carried a certain Charles Stewart, at Christmas-time, 1787, as a vagrant, before Sir John Coghill. William Malthouse, in 1815, notes his "Expences in going to the Cross Roads to Settle a Riot." This was at the Prince-of-Wales' corner, where Hattersley's inn then stood. The cause of the riot cannot have been the news of Waterloo, for the battle was not fought till some two months later. It is a pity that township officers, intent only on recording their duties (and their dues!), were not more communicative. 

Another duty of the old-time Constable was to impound stray animals and see that they were kept until their owners had paid the fine. The pinfold was therefore his responsibility. A map of 1774 shows one in Bilton Lane. Gate repairs are mentioned in 1770 and recur frequently, and there was also a high replacement rate in locks - facts suggesting some impatience on the part of the owners of strayed cattle. A new pinfold is recorded by the Constable of 1788. It was apparently an additional one, for twice afterwards two new locks were bought together. This was probably the pound marked on later maps as in what is now King's Road, then sometimes known as Walker or Pound Lane. William Voackes, the mason who was later to build the Workhouse, made it: he charged for nearly 80 yards of wall, which suggests a considerable demand for accommodation. In 1829, four workmen of Francis Emmatt worked on repairs to this pound for two days, during which they drank 18 pints of ale, as their free "drinkings," and this ale cost 3d. a pint instead of the customary 2d. Walling was, possibly, particularly strenuous work. Further repairs are noted only until 1854, but at least one of the pounds existed in 1859. In that year the Stray Proprietors made a threat that they would impound the cattle grazing on the "township lanes" (that is, the made roads in the area, other than Turnpikes) that the Surveyor (incidentally, well within his rights) had let for their eatage to a farmer. 

The stocks and their maintenance were also the business of the Constable. Misdemeanours like drunkenness in the poor (this, as well as gambling, was then legal for the rich) were punished by this public humiliation. The last new pair of stocks recorded were set up in 1813: William Fawcett supplied the woodwork and Peter Hardisty the "iron, lead & solder, Plate & nails." 

In the matter of personal equipment there are many references to handcuffs, and in 1826 a "superior finished Stave " cost what appears to be the excessive sum of 24s - the equivalent of £8 or £10 today. That was in the days when the Constable paid a substitute, to whom it is unlikely this decorative baton was handed over for actual use. 

As the Constable had been, and still nominally was, the chief officer of the township, he took charge of the perambulation of the boundaries. In this ancient ceremony, the exact limits of the township area were impressed, in some way or other, on the memory of a boy and a girl. This was before the accurate maps of the Ordnance Survey, which did not cover this district until the mid-nineteenth century. Many others besides the children accompanied the Constable, and on their return they were entitled by ancient custom to free drinks, paid for out of the Rates, for their performance of this civic duty. Liquor at' the Black Swan cost 28s. in 1816 – “When Ramble the Boundrey," as the landlord wrote it. In 1823 the bill for "Riding Boundaries " was 46s.! 

This custom of drinking seems to have applied to almost every activity and occasion. Once, even an arrested man was allowed to celebrate the event ("Ale for R. Tiplin when confined "): but here the Constable may have been influenced somewhat by the name. In Harrogate, the Constable was frequently an innkeeper and this fact may partly explain the origin of the custom which, once established, was very difficult to break. When he and the Four Men attended the Sheriff Turn at Knaresborough they ran up hotel bills of several pounds. Here the day of reckoning was to come in 1858, when the Auditor gave his ruling that all such charges on the Rates were illegal. On their appeal, however, an allowance was granted, but it was only a paltry one of 2s. for the journey and 2s. 6d. for a meal. 

But the Constables of the earlier days, if they fulfilled all their irksome and responsible duties (and a good many appear to have done so), might well consider that the township owed them an occasional celebration. At any rate, they had deserved well of the community.




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