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Parish Constables in Badsey, Aldington, Wickhamford, Bretforton and Offenham in the mid 19th century

The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 allowed Borough Councils to organise a police force, but implementation was slow. By 1837 only 93 out of 171 boroughs had done so. The Rural Constabulary Act of 1839 allowed any of the 54 English counties to raise and equip a paid police force. Then, in 1842, a new Parish Constables Act was passed in response to political unrest associated with the Chartist Movement. The appointed Parish Constables were part time and poorly paid, if at all. Nationally, the posts often attracted only a low calibre of persons, who were not prepared to risk life and limb to arrest anyone. This situation did not appear to be the case in villages in the Badsey area.

In the records held at The Hive, Worcester, are annual lists of Parish Constables in the Evesham District. Those for 1842, 1843 and 1847 to 1851 inclusive have survived. From those lists the tables below has been prepared, giving the names of the Parish Constables for Wickhamford, Badsey, Aldington, Bretforton and Offenham. The census returns of 1841 and 1851 show the main occupations of these men in most cases. Nearly all of the Constables were drawn from the ranks of the local farmers and tradesmen.

Name of Parish and Constable Occupation of Constable Years of service
1842 1843 1847 1848 1849 1850 1851
Samuel Smith Miller Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
William Knight Farmer Y            
Thomas Sheaf Farmer Y            
Richard Oldaker Blacksmith   Y   Y      
Joseph Cherry Silk winder   Y          
Thomas Taylor Butcher     Y        
James Aldington Master cordwainer     Y        
William Phillips Baker       Y      
William Henry Bishop Farmer         Y Y Y
Edward Laugher Blew Master gardener         Y    
John Phillips Baker           Y  
Edward Cooke Baker & Grocer             Y
John Keen Miller Y   Y Y     Y
John Sherwood Farmer   Y          
Charles Sherwood Farmer’s son         Y    
Thomas Byrd Farmer           Y  
Thomas Banning Farmer Y Y          
Caleb Cull Land surveyor Y Y          
William Hays Wheelwright     Y        
John Berkeley Master cordwainer     Y        
Charles Lockett Tailor       Y      
John Phipps Cordwainer       Y      
William Shephard Statuary mason         Y    
George Geden Tailor         Y    
Thomas White Mason           Y  
Thomas Banning Labourer           Y  
James Hayward Wheelwright             Y
Thomas Slatter Cordwainer             Y
Richard Hopkins Farmer Y Y          
John Pearce Schoolmaster Y Y          
John Baylis Bricklayer     Y        
John Gibbs Farmer     Y        
Wilson Smith Farmer       Y      
William Stephens Carpenter       Y Y Y  
John Harris Farm Labourer         Y    
Thomas Canning Coal dealer           Y Y
Henry Moore Blacksmith             Y

Wickhamford Parish Constable

Whilst in the nearby villages the occupant of the post of Parish Constable changed frequently, in Wickhamford, Samuel Smith kept that post for many years. The Constables and ‘Overseers’ (those appointed to look after the poor) were appointed at the start of every financial year and Samuel's name appears as Parish Constable for the village in editions of the Worcester Chronicle in April 1859, 1861, 1862 and 1865. An entry also appears for him as an ‘Overseer’ when he and Amelia Pethard were appointed in Wickhamford in 1872. The Overseers reported to the Parish councils and also represented the village when reporting in to the Rural Sanitary Authority (later Rural District Councils).

It seems as if Samuel Smith had no known competitor for the post of Parish Constable from 1842 until 1865 at least. No entries have been found in the Newspaper Archive for any arrests made by him ! Samuel Smith died in 1879 after many years of service to the village both as miller and Parish Constable and Overseer. (More information of the Smith family and Wickhamford Mill can be found in the web-site article on that topic.)

In around 1850, Worcester County Police Force took over the Borough Police Forces. From sometime in the 1860s, P.C. Surrell from the "Pershore Division" of Worcester County Police Force, was a Police Constable in Bretforton. Earlier, John Wigley was recorded as ‘Police Man’ in Bretforton in the 1861 census. This means, that towards the end of the 1850s, Worcester County Police Force had "village police constables" keeping law and order. They were all issued with "occurrence books" and walked miles covering their duties in their appointed villages. Wickhamford was covered by the Bretforton policeman, and P.C.Surrell also dealt with Aldington, Badsey and the Littletons. It was not unusual for a "village copper" to have lots of villages to look after.

"Parish constables" were abolished as soon as the village copper was around. In the vast and complex development of law and order and of organising authorities and social law and order Parish Constables came into being when the manorial rule ceased. They stopped when the village policeman appeared, and in this area it was in the 1860s.

Acknowledgement: Thanks are due to Valerie Magan for the information on the Bretforton Police Constables.

Tom Locke – May 2014