Newport Before the Passing of the Municipal Corporation Act, 1835

The precursor of the modern policeman in Newport was the constable mentioned in the Charter of James I, 1623, who was to  “do and carry out all assizes, assays, corrections and punishments in our Hundreds of the aforesaid town.” 

Under this charter, the Mayor and aldermen were empowered and given authority for “framing, determining, ordaining, making and establishing from time to time reasonable laws, statutes, conditions, decrees and ordinances,” which to them seemed “good, wholesome, useful, necessary and honest according to their wise directions for the good rule and government of the borough. 

Very little is known of police activities until 1711, when Ordinances, comprising about fifty paragraphs, were made dealing with the maintenance of order, the conduct of trade, regular attendance at church, duties of the Mayor and aldermen, in fact, with every activity with which the Corporation was concerned. 

The following chiefly concerned the police. Every person or persons who  “do make assault, affray, or bloodshed ” was liable to a forfeit of seven shillings for every assault and affray, and for every bloodshed, ten shillings. One half was payable to the Mayor and the other to the commonwealth of the town. 

Every constable was liable to a forfeit of five shillings if he neglected to punish beggars haunting the town, failed to search inns and alehouses for tipplers during divine service, and failed to apprehend those using vain recreations or pastimes on Sundays. 

Every burgess was liable to a forfeit of ten shillings if he failed to keep defensive arms in his house to preserve the peace, and failed to attend the Mayor with such arms when proclaiming the fairs. if required to do so. 

The bailiffs and constables, with their maces and halberds, were required to attend the Mayor and aldermen when, in gowns and cloaks. they walked to St Woolos Church to hear divine service and sermon, and then “in a decent manner “, walked back to a place appointed by the Mayor.

No person or persons were allowed to leave horses in the street on market days to the annoyance of the market or danger to persons. The penalty in this instance was twopence to the man who drove the animals to the pound, and twopence to the poundkeeper. No person was allowed to suffer his swine or pigs to go without yokes or pims within the liberties of the town.

The following sentences passed at the general Quarter Sessions for the borough of Newport in 1760 are of interest

“Ordered that Mr Thomas Phillips, presented at the last general quarter sessions, for making a dunghill by his stable door, be discharged, having removed the same.”

“Ordered that Jane Williams, widow, be fined one penny for, keeping a disorderly house and selling beer without a licence.’

In order to give the reader a picture of the growth of the Police Force, it is necessary to give a brief description of the town itself before the Force was actually founded.

In 1800, Newport consisted almost solely of one long thoroughfare – High Street, reaching from the bridge to the west gate, and Church Street (now Stow Hill), continuing from the bottom of High Street up past St Woolos Church. There were only a few houses in Mill Street, Cross Keys Lane, Griffin Lane, Skinner Street and Corn Street, and the whole of the land west of Stow Hill and High Street, and between St Woolos Church and Gold Tops, consisted solely of fields.

In this year the old wooden bridge was replaced by a stone structure.

In 1801, the first year concerning which official figures are available, the population of Newport was 1,135 and the acreage 938. The town was in comparative darkness nightly, being lit only by a few oil lamps.

Newport at one time possessed its own Court of Quarter Sessions. The Mayor and two senior aldermen and the Steward, as magistrates of the borough, were empowered by a charter of James 1. 1623. “to inquire, hear and determine all causes, etc., which could or ought to be inquired of by the Justices within any county or borough in England, so that by this means they proceed to the determination of any treason, murder, felony, or other offence or matter whatsoever touching the loss of life or limb.” The Sessions, which could not be held without the attendance of the Mayor and Steward, were discontinued in 1813.

On 22nd May, 1820, a burglary occurred at the Watchhouse, the articles stolen including spying glasses, a pistol, a sweeping brush, a mop. the key of the boathouse, a great coat and a bottle of whisky. Informa- tion of the burglary was made known to the inhabitants by the Town Crier and a reward of £5 was offered but without result.

In December, 1830, the Newport Improvement Commissioners appointed four watchmen. An earlier system of watchmen instituted by the Overseers of the Poor had lapsed several years previously. 

The first watchmen appointed were Richard Davies, a hatter ; Samuel Watkins, a shoemaker ; Rosser Lewis, labourer, and William Jones, labourer.

The town was divided into districts and the watchmen worked from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. They were empowered to arrest without warrant any night walkers, felons, malefactors, vagrants, disturbers of the peace and disorderly persons, and were invested with the same powers and privileges as the constables. In addition to these four watchmen, there were also petty constables, varying from six to twelve in number, who were under the authority of the Borough Council. The Charter empowered the appointment of two bailiffs, whose duty in 1833 was to attend on the Mayor and to be in charge of the lock-up. They were sworn in as special constables, and the procedure of the Borough Court was directed and executed by them. One acted on behalf of the Mayor as Inspector of Weights and Measures and clerk of the market. Their yearly salaries were £2.2.0 each together with fees which amounted to between £5 and £6 per year.

Legislative reform was set on foot in 1833 by the “Lighting and Watching Act” of William IV. This provided that inspectors should be appointed and given a large measure of control over the local police establishment of all English towns with the exception of London, Oxford and Cambridge. This Act was of little permanent value, however, and only worthy of notice as the first attempt to provide a police force by day outside the Metropolis. 

In the following year the whole question of charters, etc., was investigated by Special Commissioners, who issued a report embodying various recommendations. A Select Committee which investigated conditions at Newport reported that the police force consisted of two bailiffs and twelve constables, who were appointed by the Mayor. The Improvement Commissioners were, under the Paving Act, empowered to appoint as many watchmen and night patrols as they thought fit, but being unwilling to incur expense did not avail themselves of this power. 

The petty constables were selected mostly from tradesmen and labourers. They had little skill and no inducement to perform their duties, so it is hardly surprising that they performed scarcely any duty at all. The only effective police consisted of the bailiffs and two or three of the most active among the petty constables, to whom, because of their station in life, the constables’ fees were a sufficient incentive for exertion. This small body was wholly inadequate to meet the needs of the town, and was not even sufficient to execute the orders of the magistrates.

At a meeting of the Improvement Commissioners on 9th September, 1834, a letter was read from Mr Benjamin Hall, Member of Parliament for the Monmouth Boroughs, stating that he had seen Mr Mayne, one of the Commissioners of Police for London, and had asked him to send down an intelligent officer to be appointed Chief Constable of Newport at a yearly salary of £90. 

On 2nd October, 1834, Sergeant John Redman, of the Metropolitan Police, presented himself at a meeting of the Improvement Commissioners, was recommended to the Justices and was appointed Chief Constable and Bailiff of the Prison. 

In 1835, the Municipal Corporations Act was passed, creating the Mayor a Justice of the Peace for the borough for the time being and placing the common law method of appointing constables on a new basis. The Act entrusted this duty for the first time to a body composed of the Mayor and council men -the Watch Committee. 

The Watch Committee were empowered to make regulations for the management of the police and to punish any member of the force, provided that three members were present. The Committee were required to provide police stations and to submit to the Home Office a quarterly strength return. 

The Town Council, at a meeting on 12th January, 1836, appointed eleven of their members to constitute the Watch Committee, and appointed a sub-committee to find a suitable place as a police office. 

This sub-committee reported to the Council at a meeting held at offered the Westgate Hotel on 27th January, 1836, that Councillor Oliver had offered:

“The void space of ground between the house occupied by Mr Jones, surgeon, and myself, and divided into five parts, two of which are let to the Council, costing £10.10.0 each. Should the Council wish to take the remaining three parts, they are at liberty to do so, by the same proportion of rent which will amount to £31.10.0 for about 61 feet frontage and 106 feet deep.”

A Mr Armstrong submitted plans for a building costing £4,000 but the scheme was not proceeded with owing to the financial position of the Corporation.

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