Blog - Building Beginnings

Hue and cry

Before there was a regular police force, people had to make their own arrangements for apprehending and dealing with suspected felons. Although each parish had its own constable, this was not a highly trained police officer, but a part-time occupation. In rural areas it was often a local farmer who could be out in the fields or away to market at just the wrong moment.

One rural Shropshire parish in the early 19th century was experiencing so many ‘diverse burglaries, robberies and felonies, trespasses and misdemeanours’ that something had to be done. The chief problem was that offenders were escaping punishment because of ‘the great trouble and expense of apprehending and prosecuting them to conviction‘. The solution, the parishioners decided, was to form a society of responsible persons and agree and adopt an effective means of catching and punishing offenders.

The parishioners' signatures and seals

The parishioners’ signatures and seals on their articles of agreement

Their articles of agreement, an unusual document in itself, detailed the procedure to be adopted. The first course of action on the discovery of an attempted or committed felony was to proceed with all convenient speed’ to the dwelling house of the Treasurer who would give notice to other members. This seems fraught with problems. What if he was out? What if he lived on the other side of the parish from the scene of the crime?

The ‘get away vehicle’ in those days would almost certainly have been a horse and therefore it was incumbent on the informer to provide a description of both the offender and his steed.

The ‘chase’ would then begin and was highly organised. Each member of the society had a section of the parish to search so that every road was covered without duplication of effort. They were to trace their assigned route for a distance of 20 miles from their home in search of the offender  and to bear any expense incurred themselves. If they caught the offender they were to ‘summon assistance and convey them to the parish constable or JP’.

It is to be expected that any potential offenders aware of the 60+ membership of this society would probably have decided to commit their felonies elsewhere.

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