Victorian Rural Policemen

The FACHRS 2017 mini project was called Victorian Rural Policeman (VRP). The suggestion for this topic came from talking with several members at Family History Fairs during 2016.

Rural Constabularies were established following the Royal Commission which met between 1836 and 1839, the County Police Act of 1839 and the amending Act of 1840. In 1856 the County and Borough Police Act made the establishing of a police force mandatory for all counties and boroughs. The original idea was for Village Policeman but this was too restrictive and though it is hoped to focus on the village aspect these men did move around and while being in a rural area may have been based in a larger place.

It was decided to concentrate the project on those individuals who were shown as Police Constables in the 1881 census

The overall purpose of the project was to find out more about these rural policemen - who they were and how they lived. From this general aim we went on to focus in on five key questions:

1. By joining the police force and staying with the trade did a working class man have the opportunity to move up the social ladder. Was this the case with the policemen within the project?
2. During the course of their police career did they stay with one force in their local area or did they migrate to other forces in more distant counties?
3. The hypothesis that the provision of a police house encouraged a man to marry earlier than might have otherwise been possible. Can this be proved or disproved by the project findings?
4. Did the Police Constables fit the stereotype of being "honest and upright, and earnestly devoted to his duty." (Emsley 2010 p157)
5. How many actually pursued a career long enough to possibly be entitled to receive a pension and for those that did can they be seen to have actually been in receipt of one?

This project proved one of our most popular, and there are 100 Policemen documented in Information Sheets and narratives in the VRP section in the Members Pages on the website. Several members have given talks to Local History Societies following their VRP research.

Here are a few observations from the research received:

Few rose to the rank of Inspector, more managed Sergeant but the majority remained Constables throughout their career. A number moving from Third Class to First Class Constable. Some only remained a Police Constable for a relatively short period of time 10 years or under returning to a previous trade or a new one. Most of these seem to have left voluntarily rather than being dismissed. Of the men who remained in the service for a long period most obtained a pension when they retired.

Brita Wood VR{ mini-project Co-ordinator Feb 2018

(Emsley Clive 2010 “The Great British Bobby A History of British Policing from the 18th Century to the Present” Quercus)