Entries in Puttnam (1)


Book 2: John Pengilly, Henry Packer, Joseph Balderson, Edward Stones, Elias Brown, John Skelly, John Puttnam, Frederick Sullivan: RINGSTEAD POLICE CONSTABLES.

Police Constables

The post of village constable has a long history. From the time of Edward I each parish had had to appoint two constables each year. These appointments became the nomination of the ‘Vestry Committee’, (they met in the vestry of the church), which was made up of the local gentry. The post of constable was not one that many men wanted as there was no formal wage and it could be a time-consuming job. Some men, who could afford it, paid others to take on the role. It was also a job unlikely to make a man popular among his fellow villagers. He would have to place accused people in the stocks, or in the lock up, or, if there was nowhere else suitable locally, in his own house.

The familiar truncheon became a weapon and symbol of office. By the early nineteenth century most parishes would have five or more constables and, in the rural areas the post lasted well into the nineteenth century.

Times were changing, however, and the Gordon Riots in London in 1780 and the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819 made the authorities, somewhat unwillingly, accept that the army was not the best force to keep public order. The Gordon Riots accelerated the formation of the Metropolitan Police. The Peterloo Massacre, where the military broke up an illegal gathering so violently that eleven people were killed and several hundred injured, began the movement for a national civilian police force

Already, in 1828, a Select Committee on Criminal Committals and Convictions noted:

. . . in the Agricultural counties, the business of detection is often left to a village constable who is perfectly unfit to deal with any but village crimes.

The parish constable, was also responsible for short measures, bastardy orders and, it seems, practically anything that went wrong. Earlier than this Select Committee, an article, taken from ‘an agricultural publication’ was printed in the Northampton Mercury on 30th August 1822. It reveals the bigotry of the times but also the low opinion some people had of the constable.

I believe the generality of Gipsies to be ignorant, and hardened, and wicked enough for any crime. . . And although Mr. Constable swears that there are no gipsies in his parish to his knowledge, and nobody sells by false weights and measures  to his knowledge, yet he knows that he has sworn to a lie: he knows that the publican sells by a little white mug about three quarters of a pint; but as long as it passes with the magistrate all is right, and he ‘only does as the other constables do’. - (I have been one myself, Sir, so I know what they do.)

The fear engendered by the ‘Swing Riots’ in the 1830s in the rural areas also helped lead finally, in 1839, to the County Police Act which allowed county magistrates at Quarter Sessions to adopt powers to create local forces, but with no central government funding. Some counties resented both the interference with the old system and the costs involved but Northamptonshire was one of the earliest to take up this option. The Northampton Borough Police had already been formed in 1835 and in 1840 the County Constabulary now followed. The first Chief Constable was Henry Goddard, an ex Bow Street Runner.

The new system used much of the terminology of the old, and as the two ran side-by-side for a number of years it can be a little confusing. The Northampton Mercury for the 7th July 1832 had reported that:

Mr. Richard Freeman of Ringstead was sworn into office as Chief Constable for the Hundred of Higham Ferrers: in the room of Mr. Joseph Walker, deceased.

Richard Freeman was a wealthy local farmer who declares in the 1851 Census for Ringstead that he is a farmer of 270 acres, employing seven labourers. He is obviously part of the old system but even in 1872 at the Petty Sessions on April 15th we see that William Bull, a shoemaker and grocer, and, Charles Robinson, shoemaker and shoe agent, are sworn in as constables for Ringstead. The constables made an application for an increase in the fee allowed for expenses for attendance but were told this was a matter for the Justices at the Quarter Sessions. This is obviously still part of the old system still continuing. The 1839 Act did specifically allow the Justices of the Peace to appoint ‘special constables’ to supplement the professional police force, if needed, and it these that continued the old Parish Constable system. Many saw this change to a centralised professional police force as an attack on the liberties of England. A 'Rugbaean' wrote a one act play, published in 1840, called John Bull and the Rural Police which ended with the cast singing a song to The Old English Constable:

Yet all at length must bend to fate, so borne along the tide,

A victim to Reform at last a sudden death he died.

And while o'er England's liberties new laws and fashions ride,

Alas! I fear our country's peace lies buried by the side

Of a fine Old English Constable, one of the olden time.


For times and seasons now are changed, old customs pass away,

No longer English hands and hearts will prove old England's stay;

Gendarmerie will henceforth be the order of the day,

And we shall think on with regret the former happy sway

Of the fine Old English Constables, all of the olden time.


What qualifications did these new police constables have to possess? The Act specified that they must be:

. . . under forty years of age; to stand five feet seven inches without shoes; to read and write and keep accounts; to be free from any bodily complaints, of strong constitution and generally intelligent.

He also could not have certain jobs such as servant, gamekeeper or innkeeper and must have ‘a certificate of character to be signed by one or more respectable persons’

We are told that the constable was to receive not less than 15s and not more than£1 1s a week. For clothing he was to be supplied with:

First year, one great coat, cape to ditto, badge to ditto, coat, badge to ditto, two pair of trowsers [sic?], one pair of boots, one pair of shoes, hat, stock. Second year, one coat, badge to ditto, one pair of trowsers, one pair of boots, one pair of shoes, hat. The supply for the third year will be the same as for the first year, and for the fourth the same as the second, and so on for successive periods.

In the Northamptonshire Constabulary the original uniform would have been a ten-buttoned single-breasted, blue coat, grey trousers with a leather belt containing cases for handcuffs and staff and a plain black top hat. It was not the most practical uniform for chasing felons down country lanes.

The constable was also to be supplied with a staff, (I have not seen it in any reports called a truncheon) and, perhaps more surprisingly, in some circumstances, with a small cutlass. Again I have never seen a cutlass referred to in any reports for Northamptonshire.

The Constables had a long day, for the Chief Constable, on 13th June 1840, extending the hours that had been laid down in an order made less than three weeks earlier, stated that the constables would go on duty at 5 am until 10 am and then patrol from 7 pm until the beer houses are closed or longer if necessary. They were also to watch out particularly for vagrants pitching their tents and remove them.

The first newspaper article that I have found which refers to the new police in Ringstead is to a Police Constable Tuckey who brought a charge against Thomas Whittering and William Cobley for being drunk and disorderly. The case was heard at Wellingborough Petty Sessions on Wednesday 7th February 1844. It is a case, that we have dealt with in an earlier biography, relating to young William Cobley who was so drunk that he believed that he could move the earth off its axis.

It seems clear at this point that the constable was not based in Ringstead for in another case, where William Wagstaffe was charged of stealing two rabbits belonging to Thomas Bayfield’s son, Police Constable Tuckey went to Ringstead. When charged with the offence, William said that he had found the rabbits and that:

                . . . they were in a pie and the skins were in the cupboard

At first Ringstead was in the Wellingborough Division under Superintendant Luke Knight and the nearest constable was in Raunds. In 1849 the Superintendant took charge of a District and under him there would be two or three Divisions run by the new rank of Inspector.

We do not know exactly when Police Constable Tuckey left but it was before 1849 when the original Personnel Register was re-written and only officers then serving were included. John Pengilly joined the force on 1st November 1849 and we find him, on the 27th January 1851, according to the Northampton Mercury, as ‘the police officer stationed at Ringstead’ Later events lead us to doubt that this is strictly correct in that the 1851 Census has him living at Higham End, Raunds. The case is about William Knighton of Raunds keeping his licensed house open, ‘after the hour of ten o’clock’ and John ‘proved’ the offence.

Living with John in Higham End is his wife Sarah and son William John. Perhaps, surprisingly, John and his family are from Ashburton in Devon and we may wonder what brought them to Northamptonshire. Of course, we should not be too surprised because the life stories that we have followed throughout the century have shown us that village life was not the stable, settled affair that we sometimes imagine. This was particularly true of those who followed the new ‘professions’ of National School teacher, station master or police constable. The old constable system relied on the village looking after itself. Under the new service the rule was to appoint from without and to move men before they got too comfortable.

John was the son of John and Susanna Pengilly (the spelling varies) and was baptised in Ashburton on 12th March 1819. Ashburton is an inland parish of Devon which had grown to prosperity through agriculture, tin mining and the wool industry. Throughout the nineteenth century, however there was emigration from Devon and Cornwall. In the ‘Hungry Forties’, agriculture was depressed and this was worsened by the impact of potato blight in the 1845–7 period. In Ashburton, the serge and blanket manufacturing industry was an important employer and this was also in rapid decline. The town had 3,080 inhabitants in 1801 and 4,165 in 1831 but by 1841 it had decreased to 3,841 and this decline continued throughout the nineteenth century so that by 1901 the population was only 2,628. These were hard times in the area. Pam Ferris, the actor, in a series for BBC Wales found out that her great-great-grandfather, Richard Perkins, in desperation, had walked with his eight children from north Devon to Aberkenfig, near Bridgend in Wales.

Many young men and women, would have been forced to leave the area in order to seek work. It was also at this time that John's mother died and his father remarried so, perhaps, events at home may have also provided a reason for John to seek a new career as a police constable in Northamptonshire. There was, however, a more compelling reason why John came to Northamptonshire. He had been a member of the South Devonshire Railway Company Police which had been disbanded in 1849. The new Chief Constable of Northamptonshire, Henry Bayly, looking for more constables for his force went to Devon to actively recruit these experienced men and ten former railway policemen came to county as a result. In the event, the idea was not a great success, for four men left in the first year and within six years all had left the force.

In 1841 John, like his father was an agricultural labourer in Ashburton. By 1851 his father had remarried and was a land drainer in Ashburton but Police Constable John Pengilly and his family were living in Raunds.

How did John fare in rural Northamptonshire? Ringstead had quite a strong dialect and John would have had a broad Devon accent. One can imagine that the wags outside the pubs at closing time would have found his accent irresistible. I have only found the one case where John is named but it is probable that he did come across a Ringstead resident whose activities pepper the pages of the Northampton Mercury court reports. The Saturday May 31st 1851 issue list those, ‘Committed to the County Gaol and House of Correction’ and includes:

Korah Dicks for one month for using a gun for killing game at Ringstead and for one month for assaulting a police-constable at Ringstead.

It is likely that John was not long in Ringstead for his daughter was born, in 1854, in Long Buckby, another shoemaking village with some reputation for disorder. It is logged in the Personnel Register that John received five punishments, waqs injured once on duty and had just one favourable report. It also records that he was dismissd on 15th April 1855. Unfortunately no reasons are given and this lack of detail is true of the Register.

By 1861 John and his family are living in Salisbury Terrace in Islington and he is an Inspector at a Railway Coal Depot. It seems that John tried to start up his own business as a corn dealer but the London Gazette for 29th December 1868 lists him as a ‘Bankrupt to surrender at Basinghall Street’. It states that he is late of Copenhagen Street but, in the 1871 Census he is still there, in Islington, and has been reduced to, ‘coal heaver’. He is fifty years old and he is dead before he is sixty. It seems that the years had not been kind to John

We saw, in an earlier biography of Korah Dicks, that it was parish constable Samuel Figgis who landed in trouble for allowing Korah to get drunk before delivering him to the Northampton Gaol in 1855. Also, Joseph Dearlove and William Beeby are sworn in as parish constables at the Wellingborough Petty Sessions of April 11th 1856. The remnant of the old system still had a role to play in Ringstead in supporting the new police force. It  was also in 1856 that the County and Borough Police Act was introduced which stated that the acceptance of a fully manned, centrally inspected, efficient police force would be rewarded with government funding of one quarter of the cost. There was again opposition on grounds of cost and also of local democracy, as the county police forces were still under the administration of the Quarter Sessions whereas the borough forces were governed by elected representatives.

Many of the local constables must have been involved in investigations following the disappearance of Lydia Attley in 1850 and the discovery of a body and the aborted trial of William Weekley Ball in 1864. The investigation was taken over by their superiors. The Chief Constable, Captain Bayley, Superintendant Noble and Inspector Williamson were present at the Inquest on the supposed body of Lydia.

In 1860, the new Division of Thrapston had been formed which took pieces from Oundle, Kettering and Wellingborough. This was part of the enlargement of the force following a report by the new Police Inspectorate, formed in 1856, which had found the county greatly undermanned. A new Thrapston Police Station was built with living accommodation for the Divisional Inspector and the town Constable as well as the police offices and Magistrates Court Room.

By 1860 the uniform had changed to a blue, knee length eight-button frock coat with no pockets and blue trousers. The hat had now been reduced from a top hat to a more serviceable bowler type with a metal badge.

Unknown Constable in Northamptonshire County Constabulary. Pre 1870

Copyright Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police (Northamptonshire Police Archives)

It is not clear who looked after Ringstead in the period after John Pengilly lefyt but on 1st June 1863 Henry Packer joined the Wellingborough Division. He was 27 years old and 5 ft 8¾ inches tall. John Pengilly had been 5 ft 9½ inches tall and all the Ringstead constables were above the average height for the time.

 P.C. Henry Packer became responsible for Ringstead although it does not appear that he was actually living there. It was he, who, on the 22nd August 1865, found Odd Dicks, one of Korah’s sons, sitting on a stolen mangold wurtzel, under a hedge, at the side of a farmer’s turnip field.

Henry was the son of a tailor, born in about 1836 in Long Buckby, but living with his family in Helmdon. He seems to have been something of a trouble-shooter, going into villages to sort out ‘hot spots’. In 1863 and 1864 he appears in a number of cases in Finedon, in 1865, as we have seen at Ringstead, and in 1867 and 1868 he gives evidence in cases at Easton, Collyweston, Raunds and Thrapston, where it is said that he is stationed. He appears to have been something of a high flyer because in 1861 he was a police constable in Chalfont St. Peter in Buckinghamshire and by 1871 a Police Inspector in Towcester.

There was a hierarchy of police constables, although rarely referred to in the newspaper reports. In the early years, when a constable first joined the police force he would be referred to as a ‘third class constable'. He would receive some simple training and would be sent out into the streets and lanes. In the beginning it was considered that it would take some four years to become a second-class constable and then, if his conduct was appropriate, he would be upgraded to a first class constable after another five years. In fact these periods were soon condensed and Henry was promoted to a Second Class Constable on 1st January 1864, to First Class on 1st January 1866, to Merit Class on 1st April 1867, Sergeant, Second Class on 1st February 1869 and Inspector on 1st February 1870. A meteoric rise! Surprisingly he had two punishments and no favourable reports. On 30th September 1874 he resigned, probably to become Master of the Towcester Union Workhouse

Certainly, the 1881 Census shows Henry in that capacity and in he continued there until his retirement. He died on October 6th 1905 aged 70 years and was buried in Towcester Cemetery.

We see other police constable’s names in connection with Ringstead. In September1865 Police Constable, George Arnold, who was almost certainly based in a neighbouring parish, brings a case against W. Dicks for drunkenness, abusive language and disturbing the peace. It was, as usual at this time, near the Swan Inn.

It seems that there was no single officer responsible for Ringstead and that the first police constable to be actually stationed there was Joseph Balderson. Our introduction to him is when one of the locals accuses his Inspector of assault. In his evidence at the trial, Joseph states that he had been at Ringstead, ‘during the last fortnight’, so we must assume that he had started his duties there on around the 27th July 1868. He says that he was only temporarily placed at Ringstead which, he adds:

                Was memorialised for in consequence of the riotous conduct of some of the inhabitants.

One wonders if this was a punishment posting for he had been promoted to Constable First Class but on 20th April 1868 he had been reduced back to Constable Second Class. On August 4th around 11 pm Joseph, pounding his new beat, was outside the Black Horse when he heard a loud noise coming from the other end of the High Street, near the Swan Inn. He found twenty or thirty young men collected there and he asked them to go home as the noise had, ‘aroused the neighbours’.

At this same time, by coincidence it seems, Superintendant Noble and Inspector Williamson had been driving in a gig on the road from Addington to Ringstead. As they were coming up the road from Ringstead Station to the village they heard the noise of a ‘drunken party’.

Alfred Wilson was one of those men outside the Swan Inn. According to his testimony he had been score keeping at a local cricket match and it was about ten o’clock at night. His cottage was at the bottom of the Swan Yard and he was talking to several men who were on their way to night harvest work. He said that Inspector Williamson came up and demanded why he had not gone home. Alfred alleged that:

The defendant [Inspector Williamson] attacked me with a stick inflicting several bruises. He followed me all the way to my home, beating me as he went.

Thomas Smith, Joseph Cobley and Lemuel Lockie all supported Alfred’s version of events, except the time which they said was near to 11 o’clock. Thomas Smith, (possibly another man) who lived at the Swan Inn saw from his window:

The defendant was striking complainant with a stick and Superintendant Noble was hitting him with a whip.

Lemuel Lockie who also saw the incident from his window which overlooked the Swan Yard testified that there were:

                Two or three men in the yard, but there was no disturbance.

Alfred told the court that on the following day the doctor had called on him. Unfortunately the doctor could not be present because he was attending a patient. Was this the truth or did the good doctor not wish to appear on the ‘wrong’ side? In evidence, the three police officers stated that they had not seen or carried out any assault. Inspector Williamson had concluded that the men were displeased by the temporary appointment of a policeman in the parish and that Wilson had said:

                We will have no ------ bobbies here.

The Bench considered that there was no evidence of the defendant having used ‘more violence than was necessary in supporting the law’ and the case was dismissed.

We have seen that some of the villagers did not welcome a police constable into their midst. On the other hand, many villagers had actively sought to have a constable stationed in the village. At the Northamptonshire Quarter Sessions in July 1868:

A memorial from the inhabitants of Ringstead, praying for a police-constable to be stationed at the parish has been heard before the committee. . . The Chief Constable states that with his present force he cannot permanently place any police constable at Ringstead.

It seems that the manpower was found and this was the cause of Joseph Balderson ‘temporary’ posting to Ringstead. He was born in Spratton in Northamptonshire in1844, the son of a farm labourer. In the 1861 Census he is twenty-one years old and still living at home with his parents. Like his father he too is a farm labourer. Most of the early police constables appointed came from agricultural labouring backgrounds and this was true even of the Metropolitan areas.

The local drinkers must especially have resented this temporary policeman among them. On 11th October 1868 P.C. Balderson discovered Joseph Baker on Sunday afternoon:

. . . lying on a public footpath in the village in a state of intoxication and fast asleep. His dress was discomposed.

Baker flatly denied the charge but was fined just 1s. with costs as it was his first offence.

On 18th February 1869 Joseph was still in Ringstead. He was on duty at 12 o’clock at night at the ‘top end of the village’. He heard a loud noise and found James Cope and Joseph Cobley (a witness in the first case), ‘kicking up a disturbance’. He asked them to go home but they refused, sneering:

                . . . they didn’t care a - - - - -  for old Balderson.

Mr. Henry, defending protested that:

. . . the defendants had been at work all day and were simply going home quietly after a glass of ale.

Again the loyal shoemakers came out as witnesses. George Cole and Thomas Roberts gave evidence that they had been at the Swan Inn with the defendants and that they had drunk little. Joseph Balderson had abused them without provocation. Needless to say, they were found guilty and fined.

You get an impression that some in the community saw the police as interfering busybodies, spoiling people’s fun from such reports as this from the Northampton Mercury on the Thrapston Feast in August 1870:

There was a large number of persons present, and in the evening the company danced to the music of the Ringstead brass band. The proceedings were extinguished by the police at about ten p.m.

Can we reasonably infer from the word, ‘extinguished’, that the report writer considers that an enjoyable evening had been snuffed out?

Joseph had met Mary Elizabeth Bayfield (or Boyfield). She had been born at Upwell in Cambridgeshire where her father, John, had been a corn miller. However, John originally came from Bythorn and his wife, also called Mary, had been born in Raunds. It appears from the birthplace of one of their children that the family had been in Leeds in Yorkshire but when we find them, in 1861, Mary, the mother, is a young widow living back in Raunds with her children. She is a schoolmistress. Mary Elizabeth and Joseph Balderson married on 31st August 1869 and by the 1871 Census they are together, with their one-month year old son, Edgar, in Seivers Row, off Chapel Road, in Ringstead.

And so the cases continued for Ringstead’s temporary constable. In February 1870 Lemuel Lockie, (another witness in the first case), was charged with stealing a hive of bees, the property of George Essex, baker of Denford. In this case we see the police constable’s smart detection work. He gave evidence that he:

. . . searched prisoner’s house and in the cellar found a piece of sack (now produced) and a pair of shoes (also produced). Upstairs witness [P.C. Balderson] found a pair of trousers with honey adhering to the inside of the leg. The trousers were concealed within blankets. The honey appeared to have been recently smeared on the trousers. Witness then went to the prisoner’s garden and observing the soil near his door disturbed, unearthed a large iron pot containing several pounds of honey in the comb. The quantity was about a hivefull.

Joseph also examined the defendant’s closet and dust heap and found honeycomb from which honey had been extracted. He also compared the boots with the footmarks made in George Essex’s garden and found that they matched. Lemuel was sentenced to three months imprisonment in the House of Correction.

Joseph also charged Frederick Bishop of Saffron Walden with begging on the 25th June 1870 and he was committed for one-month hard labour and, in the same year, William Dearlove, a local farmer’s son, with two separate charges of shooting pigeons. The case was gone into in some detail and witnesses, employees of William’s father, gave evidence on his behalf. The case against William Dearlove was finally dismissed but Joseph had shown that he was willing to charge those who lived in the big houses as well as the cottages.

In February 1871 he encountered the rascally Korah Dicks, now an ‘aged man, although not quite sixty years old. He charged him with hitting a little girl with his stick who, he said, had spat at him. A year later Joseph is giving evidence against Elizabeth Jeffs for stealing turnips from Mr Peach’s field. She was fined, including costs, 12s. 9d.; in default she was committed to gaol; for 14 days. The report tells us that Elizabeth:

. . . appeared to be about 16 years old, appeared to be an orphan and until recently was, with her brother, an inmate of the Thrapston Union Workhouse, whence they were taken by an old man with whom she has since lived.

In fact Elizabeth, who was from Titchmarsh originally, was nearer thirteen than sixteen and had been in the Workhouse with her mother and two brothers. She and her brother, John may have escaped from poverty and crime but her youngest brother Henry is likely to be the twenty-one convict, born in Titchmarsh, who is in Pentonville Prison in 1881.

Joseph had five 'punishments' in his career but during this time he had been promoted back to Constable First Class on 1st January 1871 and then on 1st September 1873 to Merit Class

In February 1874 Joseph gave evidence in the case of George Wilson, a lad of about thirteen years of age, who was charged with stealing a silver watch. George admitted the theft and, as he had already been incarcerated for eight or nine days was only sentenced to receive ‘twelve strokes with a birch rod’. [George became ‘Manager of a Boot Manufactory’ in Northampton, married late in life to a woman, Ellen Elizabeth Slinn, fifteen years his junior and had three children.]

Unknown Constable in Northamptonshire County Constabulary. After 1879

Copyright Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police. (Northamptonshire Police Archives)

I have not found further cases where Joseph Balderson is named and the diary of the new Constable, Elias Brown, shows that he took over in Ringstead from early 1877. It is a little confusing as in the  1881 Census we find Joseph with his wife, Mary, and their family which includes Alfred who is just one year old and born in Ringstead. They are now in Crick and Joseph is still a police constable although, on the 1st May 1882 Joseph was once agin 'reduced', this time to Constable First Class. . He was then posted to Badby in west Northamptonshire where he is recorded in the 1891 Census. Soon after, on 30th November 1891 Joseph was 'discharged to pension' and his certificate of of character is 'Fair'. Ten years later he is 61 and. in a, not unusual, ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ move, Joseph has become a publican in the Plume of Feathers in Everdon.

Joseph was one of the few police constables who stayed long enough in Ringstead to become part of the community. On April 30th 1871 a son, Edgar William and on August 17th 1872 a daughter, Anna Maria were christened at the Parish Church and on February 22nd 1977 another daughter, called Mary after her mother, was buried in the churchyard). In all, it seems that the couple had at least six children who were born in Ringstead.

Bureaucracy in the police, often complained about today, was also a problem in the nineteenth century. The Northampton Mercury for 7th January 1871 had quoted the Chairman of the Police Committee who explained to the Court that:

. . . the number of returns the Chief Constable has to make, in addition to his other work, had increased so much of late, that the work over-taxed the energies and time of his clerk. The committee had the clerk up to examine him, and he said that for about four weeks in the quarter, he had to sit up till eleven o’clock at night, and some of the books were now in arrear for three years.

The committee, at the Chief Constable’s request, appointed a constable who could act in that capacity when he was not occupied with the clerical work. At that same Quarter Sessions the committee also allowed the promotion of constables from the 1st to the 2nd class without making any limit on the numbers but emphasised that a constable should not be moved from the 3rd class until he has served at least 6 months. I think the report should say from 2nd to 1st class  (rather than the reverse) but it does show that the original five years service before promotion from third class had been relaxed. It seems that retaining constables had become a problem. As we have seen from some of the cases reported, it could be a difficult and sometimes dangerous job and was far from well paid.

We have said that it was confusing that Joseph Balderson had left his post in Ringstead in 1877 but seems to have still been living there in 1880. Part of the confusion is that there was a short term replacement called Edward Stones. He had been born in the Liberty of Normacot which is in the parish of Stone in Staffordshire. In 1854, when he was nineteen years old, he had joined the Royal Marines and left, after serving his time, in 1867. It seems that he worked as a labourer for a couple of years before joining the Northamptonshire Constabulary. At thirty-four he was older than most recruits but the military was a rich source of constables. He moved around, as was usual, from Little Bowden and Daventry to Northampton and then then on to Thrapston. He moved again to the Oundle District before returning to Thrapston.

We do not know if Edward Stones was in Ringstead for the harvest accident on September 11th that the Mercury, in its report for the year 1879 recorded. A man called Overhill had been loading corn in the hayfield at Ringstead when he fell and broke his neck.

Many in Ringstead had wanted a constable to be available in the village so there was a need for a police house and station. At the Northampton Epiphany Quarter sessions on 7th January 1880:

The committee recommended that the Chief Constable should take a house at Ringstead at £7. 10s and a house at Crick at £6. 10s. for police constables.

We find Edward in the 1881 Census living in the Sivers Buildings in the Carlow end of the village with his wife Sarah and their young children, Thomas, Joseph, George, and Richard. Richard, the youngest, is only one years old and he had been born in Brigstock in the Oundle District, so the family had not been in Ringstead long. We also know from the Northamptonshire Constabulary Personnel Register that he was dismissed on 30th April, just a few weeks after the Census so his time in Ringstead was short.

No reason is given for his dismissal but in 1891 the family are at Ravensthorpe and it appears that he is a "navvy". In 1901, however, he is still at Ravensthorpe and it looks as if it is the same Census Collector's writing and Edward's occupation seems to read "navvel [sic] pensioner" so perhaps this was always the case. By 1901, his wife had died and his three unmarried sons are agricultural labourers and still at home Only Richard is still at home by 1911 and Edward is 75 years old. He died two years later.

As we have said, the Diary of Police Constable was Elias Brown shows that he became the constable in Ringstead in 1877 but how does this square with Edward Stones being there? it may be that he was a high flyer and was seconded to other duties around the District, while otheres temproarily took his place. 

In 1881 he had been a constable, living with his wife Emily and their 10-month-old son George, at 58 Gold Street, Wellingborough. When exactly the Ringstead police house and station was purchased and if and when Elias and his family moved in I have been unable to find.

He had been born in Mears Ashby in about 1857 and he, like many constables, had been an agricultural labourer as a young man although his record in the Personnel Register records that he has been an, 'Attendant and Soldier'. He joined the Northamptonshire police force on 5th October 1876

We first come across P.C. Brown named in the Mercury report of the Thrapston Petty Sessions on October 4th 1881, some five months after the dismissal of Edward Stones. Under a case about a ’battle royal between the rival clans of the Yorks and Grooms, old inhabitants of Denford’ we find George Mundin and Owen Oxley were charged with a breach of the peace and John Abbott was charged with being drunk and disorderly In both instances, P.C. Brown ‘proved the case’. In November of that year he was also concerned with a case where a lad named Petit. He was a shoemaker’s son who had been sent to Higham Ferrers with some work. He returned home, saying he had been robbed of the money and described in some detail the man who had robbed him:

                He wore a soft hat, black velvet coat, and cloth trousers and had black whiskers.

Eventually he confessed that he had lost the money and had concocted the story to avoid being flogged by his father. The money was afterwards found by a lad named Flawn. The boy, Petit, had put down the money while playing and had forgotten what he had done. In December Elias apprehended Charles Andrews, an indolent ‘Crispinite’ [shoemaker] who had absconded, leaving his wife and family to be chargeable to the Thrapston Union. In February of the following year he gave evidence against James Barker and Charles Cope for being drunk and disorderly on the 7th January and Ralph Pearson and Joseph Attley for fighting outside the Temperance Hall between 10 and 11 o’clock at night on the 11th January Other cases of drunkenness followed and in May 1883 there was a case which may illustrate changing attitudes to ‘necessary force’:

Thomas Jones, no fixed address, was charged with assaulting P.C. Elias Brown whilst in the execution of his duty on the 24th ult. The prisoner, about four o’clock in the afternoon, in company with two men and three women of a similar class, entered the beerhouse at Ringstead kept by Mr. Figgis [New Inn]. P.C. Brown perceived that some of them were intoxicated and he therefore followed them to caution the landlord against supplying them with more drink. The prisoner followed him outside and commenced attacking him in a manner which showed that he was an expert pugilist. The constable after receiving one or two blows on the chest, drew his staff and struck at the prisoner’s arm. The latter accidentally received the blow on his head from which he lost a quantity of blood. – The bench inflicted a fine of 20s., and 13s. 10d costs.

Elias was promoted rapidly so that he was made a Sergeant Second Class on 15th January 1883 by which time he had already left Ringstead. On 1st December 1885 he was again promoted to Sergeant First Class. He did have one favourable report but also six punishments which is perhaps surprising. Then, as now, it was a difficult profession in which to avoid censure. Elias "retired to his pension" on 5th January 1902 by which time he was in the Northampton Division.

In September 1883, John Skelly, a 2nd Class Constable, born in Middlesex, was posted to Ringstead. There seems to be greater cooperation with other constables and we see him patrolling in Denford, Great and Little Addington and sometimes in Raunds. As a result, P.C. Daniels and P.C. Andrews are also sometimes involved in Ringstead matters. Earlier in 1883 he had given evidence in cases which showed that he had previously been in Thrapston, perhaps serving his probationary time. He had joined the Northamptonshire Constabulary on 1st April 1882, aged thirty-two years old, and had been allocated to the Thrapston Division. His only reference was from the Marquis of Exeter although he had been an ordinary labourer. We see from the diary the long distances that rural Constables had to walk seven days a week. It was not unusual for them to walk twenty miles in a day. There was truth in the stereotype of a policeman needing solid, well-shod feet.

In 1878, the Contagious Diseases Act brought in new laws and controls to control epidemics in livestock. Farmers had to notify the police of any cases and isolate their stock. In September 1883 the Mercury has columns of announcements under this legislation notifying the public of the cases of Foot and Mouth Disease and Swine Fever and the isolated areas. Ringstead had seven ‘infected places’ with Foot and Mouth in a county total of 819. This disease had first been identified in England in 1839 but, initially, had not been thought of as serious, alongside the other diseases that livestock suffered.

John’s early months were dominated by him dealing with this outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease among the local cattle herds although there was time for another, more unusual, case. His first entry in his diary reads:

Saturday 8th September 1883. On duty in Ringstead and neighbourhood and thence to Denford and neighbourhood. Mr. Robert Crawley of Thrapston reported that he had 30 Beast with the Foot and Mouth Disease in a Field called Grose Holme Meadow Ringstead. I have examined the fence and found them in good repair, thence to Thrapston making inquiry about 7 men belonging to a German band for stealing 2 sheets from a house in Bedford on the 7th instant. Met Inspector Tarry and P.C. Capps.

These meetings with the Inspector and other local constables were a regular part of the Constable’s patrols with certain ‘points’ designated on his route for ‘Conferences’. In these days before easy access to a telephone system, communication was a problem and this Conference system was a way in which the constables of adjoining parishes or ‘beats ‘could meet up and exchange information. It was also, of course, part of a monitoring system but these conferences would have provided some companionship and support , in what was often a lonely job. We see an earlier example of the checking aspect of the system in the diaries of Inspector Williamson which he kept from 1866 to 1888. On 28th January 1866 he came upon the unfortunate P.C. Ball who was at his ‘point’ at the Obelisk. [This probably refers to The Obelisk in Finedon at the junction of the Thrapston and Irthlingborough Roads. It was erected in about 1789 as direction pillar and to record the return to sanity of George lll.]

Met Constable Ball, found him fast asleep at the point and snoring, his lamp stood by his side and after standing by him some few minutes I picked up his lamp and brought it home with me, he knowing nothing about it.

We do not know what happened to P.C. Ball but he continued in the force. On the second day of John’s stay in Ringstead, a Sunday, another 30 beast belonging to Mrs L. Gale were reported with the disease. He also visited Mr Thomas Nicholl’s field called ‘The Smalley’ and found that a fence, erected to keep the cattle away from the gate, had been dismantled, apparently on the owner’s orders.

There was still concern about the drinking culture in the village among some of the residents. At the Thrapston Petty Sessions on September 6th 1884 Superintendant Noble reported:

During the past year these houses [licensed] have been well conducted with two exceptions. One beer house keeper was convicted for a breach of his license and I had complaints of a publican at Ringstead not conducting his house properly but there was not sufficient evidence to summons him. . . A memorial, signed by about 80 inhabitants of Ringstead was presented to the Bench praying them to exercise the discriminating powers granted to them under a recent statute and refuse to grant any licences in the parish.

Like all the other Constables, John Skelly had to deal with drunkenness and this meant much of his work was checking on the public houses at closing time. It would have been a long day. The Diary was not like the more modern policeman’s notebook. It was a hardback book kept in the station and made up, usually at the end of the day. Inspector Tarry, on one of his visits has written in the margin, in a space provided:

Visited this station tonight at 11.40 pm. Constable Skelly in Bed. Found Diary made up and Sub-Division [Ringstead] quiet.

Is this just a statement of fact or is there the implication that he thought the Constable should still have been on duty?

We see that John, every week or so, walked round the neighbourhood in plain clothes, ‘looking for vagrants’. This was a specified part of his duties but it must have been some relief to be out of uniform.

The Northampton Mercury for 14th March 1885 reported on a socks crime when a homeless framework-knitter called William Hallam was accused of stealing 2½ pairs of socks valued at 3d. from William Wingell, tailor, of Raunds. John Skelly found him walking along the road to Kettering and, on searching him, found the socks. It transpired that he had also stolen a shirt and he was sentenced to one month’s hard labour on both counts. In August of 1885, on that same road to Kettering, John apprehended a man who had stolen a pair of shoes from Great Addington. There is no mention of a wardrobe.

Beside John’s cases for drunkenness or petty theft we also see the machinery of government increasingly making its impact locally. Parents , some with ‘conscientious scruples’ are prosecuted for not getting their children vaccinated or for not sending them to school. Charles Smith was summoned for ‘neglecting to contribute towards the maintenance of his father, a pauper in receipt of relief from the Thrapston Union but the case was dismissed when it was shown that  Charles had only a pension of 7s a week to live on himself. Thomas Sewell, a miller, was prosecuted for not notifying the police that he had swine fever on his premises. He pleaded ignorance of the law and was fined just ‘1s. with £1 expenses’.

The last entry in the diary is for Sunday 25th January 1885. John moved to Paulerspury near Towcester and, in the Mercury of May 21st 1887 a J. Skelly from Towcester sent in one of the best solutions to a problem set in the newspaper’s ‘Draughts Column’. John died on 11th April 1888, still a young man. Is it a coincidence that there is a William Skelly, Baptist Minister, living in Rotton Row, Raunds at this time who had been born in County Down in Ireland?

John Thomas Puttnam (or Puttenham) was the next constable that we know to have been based in Ringstead. We see once again a flurry of court cases as he tried to impose his will on the local ‘bad boys’. Like his predecessors he was the son of an agricultural labourer. He was born in Hartwell, in Northamptonshire, in about 1866 and as Thomas Puttnam we find him as a labourer too in the 1881 Census, aged just 15 years. Some five years later, on 1st September 1885, he joined the County Constabulary. He was first stationed in the Kettering Division before moving to Daventry. On 1st January 1889 he was promoted to Constable First Class  but in April of the following year he was punished for some unnamed offence and this often seemed to lead to a posting to Ringstead. Certainly in 1891, now aged 25, he is lodging with Albert Orpin, an ironstone labourer, and his family in Carlow Street in Ringstead.

He seems to have got quite quickly into his stride and at the Thrapston Divisional Petty Sessions on 14th July 1891 he charged Samuel William Bull for ‘furious driving’ at Ringstead. In a case in which his Inspector prosecuted, he also gave evidence against William Robinson, beerhouse keeper at the Black Horse Inn for permitting drunkenness on his licensed premises. William protested that he had refused to serve the man, Thomas Hillson, as he was drunk, and he had tried to get him out of his house several times. In his defence shoemaker John Dix told the court that, as the landlord had refused to serve Hillson, he and his companions:

. . . gave him two pints on condition that he drank them in five minutes – Inspector Tarry: Did he manage it? – Witness: Yes; he done it in about three minutes. (Laughter).

It transpired that Hillson had been sold beer by the landlord’s mother but in the circumstances the bench only ordered Robinson to pay costs but cautioned him about his future control of the house.

In March of the same year he gave evidence against William Davis from Thrapston for leaving his horse and cart right across the highway while he went into a public house.

More dramatic was his involvement with Constable Tebby and Inspector Tarry at a brawl at Denford Feast on June 5th 1893. At about ten-thirty at night the men in uniform heard of trouble and went to the feast. They met two Raunds men who were, ‘the worse for drink and using bad language’. They told them to be quiet whereupon the men went up to John Puttnam and began abusing him. According to the Inspector one of the men, Clark then trod on his foot and he pushed him away:

. . . whereupon Clark immediately drew back and gave the witness a violent blow in the left eye, at the same time saying. ‘Tak that, you -------‘. Witness reeled from the effects of the blow and the two constables caught hold of Clark and when he had recovered a little he (witness) told Clark he should be arrested. Nunley then shouted out, ‘Come on, chaps. The ----- can’t give us more than six months. A crowd began to collect and Robins and Nunley made a rush at the witness who was struck and kicked by Nunley whilst Robins caught hold of witness’s leg with the object of throwing him down. Witness then forced Nunley into a doorway, and whilst doing so was struck on the back of the head by someone, and at the same time Robins succeeded in throwing witness down. Whilst on the ground witness was kicked on the head and about his body, and when he was getting up was again struck on the head from behind. Afterwards he saw Clark with the handcuff on his wrist strike Tebby, who was on the ground, with the other handcuff. Witness then drew his staff and when Clark was in the act of kicking Tebby struck him on the head. At the same time he saw both Nunley and Robins kick both constables and run back into the crowd. The two constables were then lying on the ground insensible but were afterwards picked up and taken into an adjoining house.

The men had a different version of events claiming that Clark had accidentally trod on the Inspector’s foot and had been struck first and this had caused the fracas. Whatever the exact truth, it would have been a frightening experience for John Puttnam. He was examined by Mr. D Ramsay, surgeon of Raunds who found that:

. . . both eyes were blacked, the skin on the nose was broken, and there was a wound on the head, whilst he was bruised about the body and legs. In consequence of the injuries witness ordered the constable to go home to bed and he has been incapacitated from duty ever since.

John, who still bore ‘unmistakeable evidence of the injuries he received’, was allowed to sit down while he gave evidence. The five men involved, all from Raunds, were found guilty and the sentences ranged from a 20s. fine to six months in gaol.

Our last sighting of P.C. John ‘Puttenham’ is in November 1894 when he recognized that a prisoner being tried at the Assizes answered the description of a man wanted for the theft of jewellery and Jubilee coins from a Miss Robinson at Islip.

It was at this time that a Lighting Act was passed and in March 1895 a poll was taken at the Temperance Hall to decide whether it should be adopted in Ringstead. At a previous Parish Meeting 40 had voted for its adoption and only five against. A poll was from noon until 8 pm and at 8.15 pm the result was declared with 98 for the adoption and 33 against, thus giving the necessary two thirds required. Another part of the move to prevent crime was put in place.

John Puttnam married Mary Ann Donson in 1895, and we find him Police Constable, 1st Class with Mary Ann and a six year-old nephew in Barnwell. In fact. the Personnel Register has him moving to the Oundle Division on 10th August 1897 and we also see that he received another punishment on May 1897 which, as we have seen, often led to a posting away from the parish where the offence occurred. He did receive a favourable report in February 1896 but in June 1901 he was fined 10/- and extra pay was disallowed and he was also warned as to his future conduct. He died just three years later, on 22nd May 1904.

The police constable who brought the century to a close had probably travelled the furthest to keep the peace in Ringstead. We saw earlier that John Pengilly had left Ashburton in Devon , a place suffering a severe recession in the agricultural and woollen industries. Now, at the end of the nineteenth century another constable came to Ringstead from a place almost synonymous with the misery of farm workers and their families.

Acoording to the Personnel Register, Frederick Sullivan was born in Kilmardon in Queens County (now County Laois) in southern Ireland in about 1865. The Great Famine of 1845-49 had devastated the area. The workhouses had not been able to cope with all those made destitute and many emigrated or died. As in Devon and Cornwall, potato blight was at the heart of it, although the government’s callous indifference played its part. We do not know what happened to Frederick Sullivan’s family but we do know that on 4th November 1887 he joined the Coldstream Guards. His birthplace was given as Clonaslee in Queens County and he was 22 years and 9 months old.

In 1870 the Liberal Secretary of State for War, Edward Cardwell had introduced the Army Enlistment Act which had reduced the normal period of service of soldiers from 21 years to 12 years. Further, only about half of this period was to be served with the regulars. Frederick, like many who enlisted, served up to six years in the regiment before leaving the regular army but remained on the army reserve. He was liable for recall for a further six years if, at anytime, there was a national emergency.

His time in the Coldstream Guards could not have been long for he joined the Northamptonshire force on 4th December 1890 but his references are from Colonel Stirling and Major Codrington so it seems certain that he left the army with a good name. We find Frederick, in 1891, aged twenty-five, a police constable in the Police Station, London Road, Kettering living with the Inspector of Police, Levi Andrews and his family. Altogether there are ten police constables lodging there as well as two prisoners in the cells. One of those in the cells is an able seaman, born in Australia. Less than half a mile away a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Charlotte Payne, was working for Charles H. Robinson, Auctioneer and Valuer, at Linden Villa, Broadway.

We must assume that Frederick and Charlotte’s paths crossed for in late 1893 they were married. Charlotte, or Lottie, would have been only sixteen and Frederick ten years her senior. In 1895 the couple had a son whom they named Edwin. Frederick was then stationed at Naseby in Northamptonshire. The first case in which I have found him carrying out his duties is in the sad one of the finding of the body of a woman in Naseby Reservoir on 16th August 1892. He was 'severely reprimanded' in this month bu,t once again, we do not know the cause of his punishment.

Over the next years Frederick would have become experienced in dealing with the petty thefts, rick fires, suicides, assaults and drunkenness that would have been the main caseload of a rural policeman. This may have been another punishment posting for in May 1896 he had been severely reprimanded and in June he was posted to the Thrapston Division abd became the Ringstead constable.

We do not find reported any cases in which he is involved but suddenly the Anglo-Boer war interrupts the lives of him and his family. The Northampton Mercury 13th October 1899 reports that the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire had sent out a letter to all the constables in the Army Reserve who have been ordered to rejoin their regiments:

The Constables who belong to the Army Reserve and who are about to rejoin their Regiments for active service in the Transvaal will be informed that should they return to the force at the end of their army service they will be entitled to reckon all the approved service which they were entitled to reckon at the date of their transfer to the Army. In wishing these men God-speed, the Chief Constable feels sure that they will do all that in them lies worthily to maintain the prestige of our Army and the glorious record of their different regiments.

Frederick, stationed at Ringstead, was one of those called up to the Coldstream Guards and, on 17th October 1899, followed many other policemen back to war. Luckily for Frederick, his time at war was not too long and he returned to a hero’s welcome on the 6.47 train on Saturday 19th October 1900. His wife and over 200 parishioners assembled at the station to:

. . . give their highly respected officer a hearty welcome. A conveyance had been provided. The horse was taken from the shafts of the vehicle and amidst cheers, Mr. Sullivan was drawn by the villagers, accompanied by Mrs. Sullivan and their two children, into the village up to his front door where every good wish and congratulation was given him on his safe return.

A little girl had been born in Frederick’s absence and he and his family were living at 10 Gladstone Street. After his furlough, which lasted until 30th October, he settled back down in the new century to the usual round of thefts, cows on the highway, riding a bicycle without lights, domestic violence and drunkenness. The couple had four more children and on 19th September 1906 he was posted to Wansford in the Oundle Division. He was awarded £2 for 'meritorious conduct for stopping a runawy horse and cart in Nassington on 13th May 1907'. On 1st December 1919 he retired to enjoy his pension.

The police constables had become part of the life of Ringstead village life. Most seem to have stayed, on average, about five years and gained the respect of the majority of the inhabitants. Alongside the constables came organised sport, the lighting of village streets and the temperance movement to help bring order. We see, by the welcome given to Frederick Sullivan that most Ringstead people had accepted and now welcomed the men in blue who had helped make their village a safer, quieter, place to live in. We, now, look back nostalgically to the time when the friendly local copper pounded the streets rather as some of the old men drinking in the Swan or the Black Horse would have reminisced about the good times they had, before the ------ bobbies came to spoil their fun.  


Richard Cowley is the acknowledged expert on the history of the Northamptonshire Constabulary and I have used his books as my bible. These are:

Policing Northamptonshire (Studley: Brewin 1986)

Guilty M’Lud. (Peg & Whistle Books 1998)

A History of the Northamptonshire Police. (Sutton 2008)

I would also like to thank Richard Cowley and the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police Force for the two photgraphs of constables and the information from the Personnel Files which Richard, the Honorary Curator, kindly researched extensively for me in the Northamptonshire Police Archive and allowed to be used in this biography. 

Censuses ( ).

England & Wales BMD ( )

Prometheus Britannicus or John Bull and the Rural Police. A Rugbaean [J.L. Brereton] (Charles Tilt 1840).

Inspector Williamson’s Diaries 1866 – 1888. (NRO ML 2022 – 2032)

P.C. John Skelly’s Police Diary 1883 – 1885 ( NRO ML 2027) (Finedon Obelisk)

Boer War 1899 – 1902 – Soldier details. British Army Service Records 1760 - 1915 ( ).

Men serving in Boer War. Peterborough and Huntingdonshire Standard Jan – Mar 1900. Researched & Transcribed by B.A. Curtis ( ) .

Ashburton on .

Emigration from Cornwall by John Biggans ( . .

Cardwell and Childers Reforms (1868-1881). County Laois. ( )

Northampton Mercury throughout the century (British Newspaper Archive)

The Victorian Policeman. Simon Dell (Shire Books 2004)

Stumbling towards Professionalism. Keith Smith (Cardiff Law School Research papers No. 3). ( )