Before describing the successive steps by which the County Constabulary progressed towards its long-delayed reorganisation, it will be convenient to follow the method before adopted, when dealing with the somewhat similar march of events in the Metropolis, and to preface such description by a short account of the unreformed county police, thereby shewing how disastrous were the consequences of the faulty system in vogue, as revealed by the deplorable condition of rural England under its influence. The great source of information on this subject is the exhaustive report of the Royal Commission, appointed in 1839, to inquire as to the best means of establishing an efficient constabulary force in the counties of England and Wales. In the course of their enquiry (which was the most complete investigation of crime, its causes, and the means of its prevention, ever undertaken in this country), the Commissioners not only interrogated heads of business-houses, their commercial travellers and foremen, country magistrates, police men, and coastguards, but examined thieves, receivers, and all kinds of gaol-birds.
The immediate result of the activity of the new metropolitan and municipal police forces was found to be, that habitual criminals had migrated in large numbers from London, and from those towns where an improved constabulary had superseded the old parish watch, and had begun to ply their trade Country magistrates in the unprotected districts. unanimously reported that the bulk of the more serious offences recently committed in their respective neighbourhoods was the work of strangers. Questioned on this subject, a prisoner confessed – “I considered that in London and Liverpool, or such places as have got the new police, there is little to be done, unless it be picking pockets ; people there think that they are safe under the eye of the new police, and will take large sums of money in their pockets.” Another prisoner, in corroboration, said “The most important obstructions that could be placed in the way of depredations is a more efficient police similar to that in London and Liverpool, very few robberies in the centre of Liverpool, all in the outskirts, out of the police districts.” A second cause that contributed to the migration of both thieves and receivers to the provinces was the extension of the railway and canal systems, which, besides facilitating the rapid movement of plunderers from place to place, exposed quantities of valuable merchandise on truck and canal boat without protection.
Merchants were indifferent to the fate of their goods when once a receipt had been obtained from the carriers ; and they again, in common with the shipping agents, found it extremely difficult to put a stop to the petty thieving that went on, partly because the loss was generally undiscovered until the goods reached their destination (which as often as not was in a foreign country), and partly because the number of people through whose hands the property passed was so great, that the attempt to fix the responsibility on any individual would have been to incur a laborious and expensive system of checking and counter-checking that the value of the articles stolen did not seem to justify. Of all these petty thieves, the bargemen were the worst offenders, and the opportunities they met with, combined with the impunity they enjoyed, attracted many thieves to the calling ; all over the country receivers of stolen property set up shop near the canals ; burglars would bring their spoil by night to a pre-arranged rendezvous, and hand it over to the bargees, who took it aboard, concealed it under the cargo, and disposed of it at the fence’s shop as occasion offered. Much ingenuity was displayed in this traffic. For instance, an ex-bargeman convicted of theft explained to the Commissioners how he and his mates used to extract valuables from bales, casks, and boxes without risk of discovery, every trip they made. Silk could be withdrawn from the centre of a bale by means of a hook specially designed for the purpose, chests of tea were carefully opened, a few pounds extracted, and the remainder made to occupy the original space by means of judicious damping. In the case of casks of wine or spirits, the following ingenious method was resorted to; first one of the hoops was removed, and two holes were bored on opposite sides of the cask, one for drawing off the liquid, the other for letting in air ; when a considerable portion of the liquor had been taken, the cask was filled up with water, the holes were pegged up, and all traces covered up by replacing the hoop. Nor did canal-thieves confine themselves to pilfering from boats, but as they travelled the country, they slaughtered sheep, snared game, and milked farmers’ cows.
The next matter investigated by the Commissioners was the lack of proper protection to travellers on the public highways. By this time highwaymen, the terror of the last century, had been practically suppressed, but footpads were more common than ever ; countrymen returning from market used to make up parties, and wait for hours for company rather than go home alone, whilst after dark many a commercial traveller would go armed with a pistol, and accompanied by a dog, for fear of being robbed. More serious still were the revelations brought to light with regard to wrecking. It was proved that almost all the inhabitants of the coast were wreckers ; children were brought up to consider the practice legitimate, and women prayed that the winter would bring a rich harvest. When the weather was stormy, hundreds of people would crowd to the beach, not with any thought of rescuing the drowning, but only eager for plunder ; as wreckage neared the shore men might be seen swimming out to be the first to touch any article that appeared to be of value, for by local tradition undisputed ownership was in this way acquired. Witnesses testified to all kinds of atrocities.
A ship called “The Grecian” went to pieces off the Cheshire coast – the captain was drowned, and his body was found stripped naked by the wreckers, who, not content with his clothes, cut off one of his fingers to obtain possession of the ring. Even this act of savagery was surpassed at a village called Moreton, where it was proved that a woman had bitten off the ear-lobes from a female corpse for the sake of the earrings. Mr Dowling, the Commissioner of the Liverpool police, stated that in Cheshire parish constables never interfered with wreckers, and on occasions when the borough police were employed on salvage duty they had to go armed to protect themselves against the hostility of the neighbouring villagers. In Cornwall, public opinion was so well disposed towards wreckers, and so superstitiously hostile to shipwrecked sailors, that the coastguard were frequently intimidated and forced to desist from their efforts to save life. It is related how, on one occasion, after communication had with much difficulty been established with a stranded ship by means of the rocket apparatus, the onlookers rushed down and cut the hawser when only one man had been saved, because they believed that if the crew was rescued, ill-luck would befall the district.
The Commissioners’ summing-up on this part of the subject was couched in the following words : “It is our duty to report, as the result of the extensive inquiries we have made, as to the mode in which the primary duties of a civilised community, in the protection of the persons and property of wayfarers and strangers, are performed, that the barbarous practices above described are not confined to particular districts, but prevail among the population of our coasts wherever wrecks occur. Another matter which occupied the attention of the Commission had reference to the lawlessness prevailing in the manufacturing districts. As is well known, the introduction of machinery, or, more correctly speaking, the quarrels and consequent cessation of work to which the innovation gave rise, brought much suffering to the wage earning classes. In 1826 the hand-weavers of Lancashire rose in rebellion, and the combinations entered into by the operatives in mines and factories were at first remarkable for the extreme violence of the methods employed, being signalised by an epidemic of machine-breaking in some counties, and by the crime of vitriol-throwing in others. The right of every man to sell his labour at his own price, or to cease work altogether if it pleased him to do so, was at this time recognised, and the legality of combination was no longer denied; but the organisers of labour were not willing to grant to the independent artisan the same measure of liberty that they demanded for themselves and for those whom they claimed to represent. The result of this attitude on the part of the leaders of trades-unionism was that cases of coercion, accompanied by violence, were of common occurrence, and the need of an efficient police force to protect life and property, as well as to prevent intimidation, was very urgent.
In this connection the Commissioners remark “some of the strongest corroborative evidence in favour of the efficiency of a well-organised constabulary or police force, might perhaps be found in the extreme bitterness of invective with which the parties implicated in illegal practices in these districts treat any proposition for its introduction, whilst they view with complacency any actual increase of the military force.” The “illegal practices ” above referred to had their origin, not only in differences between employers and employées, such as the rate of wages and hours of labour, but certain organisations, confident that they were stronger than the representatives of the law, presumed to take the law into their own hands, and to dictate terms right and left. At Sevenoaks, in Kent, a colony of journeymen paper-makers determined to pay no poor-rate, and terrorised the local constables when they came to levy distress. The authorities having sought the assistance of the Metropolitan police, a small party was dispatched from London, which, though savagely attacked, succeeded in arresting some of the rioters. On their return they proposed to take one of the local constables with them to identify the prisoners, but he was so alarmed at the consequences of incurring the vengeance of the paper-makers, that he tried to escape, and could only be induced to accompany the victorious policemen by counter threats of personal violence.
Scanty as was the protection afforded to the well-to-do, the chief sufferers under the parochial system were the very poor. If a labourer had anything stolen from his cottage, he had to put his hand in his pocket for half-a-crown, or more, before he could employ a parish-constable, and should there be no committal, all the expense of the investigation and subsequent proceedings fell on the man whose only offence had been that he had lost his property ; and even when the offender was convicted it sometimes happened that the circumstances made it impossible for the magistrate to allow full expenses. The injustice of such a state of affairs is well illustrated by a case heard at Devizes in 1853, the details of which were as follows : a poor man had a pair of boots stolen from his barge, he followed the thief into Somersetshire, and after a long chase, caught him and handed him over to the nearest constable, who conducted the culprit back to Wiltshire, where at the ensuing Sessions he was convicted and sentenced. The constable’s bill amounted to £4, 16s. 7d but because the offender, a boy, was convicted under the Juvenile Offenders Act, which only authorised an allowance of forty shillings for expenses, there was a deficit of £2, I6s. 7d. to be made good by the man who had lost his boots.
The reluctance of the public to prosecute, which, as we have seen, was one of the many avenues of escape open to the criminal, was only to be expected, and was due rather to a defective system than to any lack of what is called public spirit. At a time when punishments were vindictive, men sympathised with the prisoner, and could with difficulty be induced to appear against him ; this was especially the case when the community at large, and not any particular individual, had suffered injury. When the severity of the penal code was mitigated, it still remained unfashionable to prosecute, partly from force of habit, partly because the public which had no confidence in the police, would not willingly incur the trouble and danger of taking an active part in the administration of justice, but chiefly because the expense of putting the law in motion was prohibitive for all but the comparatively wealthy. Well aware of their impunity, tramps would enter cottages at an hour when the owners were at work in the fields, steal the supper from the cupboard, and perhaps take a coat from behind the door, confident that poor people could nothing to further the ends of justice as long as the first question asked by the parish constable was sure to be “Who is going to pay me? ”
Even when thieves were caught red-handed, and delivered over to the constable, the informant was frequently tempted to think better of it, and either let the matter go by default or compound with the prisoner. In 1837, within a space of seven months, 201 persons, taken into custody for felony, were discharged without trial, simply because the parties concerned refused to prosecute, and out of this total as many as 53 were well-known thieves. Under these circumstances it is not to be wondered that from all parts of England suggestions poured in, urging the necessity of provision being made for the appointment of a public prosecutor, suggestions which were emphatically echoed in the report of the 1839 Commission. In Scotland, it may be mentioned, such an official, called the Procurator Fiscal, had existed for some time, with the most beneficial results, whilst in London, the Metropolitan police undertook similar work in the public interest. Amongst many contributing causes which were answerable for the breakdown of the parochial system of police, the chief was undoubtedly the incompetency of its agents. Frequently a pauper would be chosen constable, either with the idea of saving expense to the parish by keeping down the poor-rate, or from a misdirected impulse of charity, which prompted people to give the appointment to an old man who could earn his livelihood in no other way. Sometimes the parish constable would add the business of master of the village alehouse to that of policeman, a comfortable arrangement which, if not otherwise advantageous, at least produced perfect harmony between the representative of the law and the representative of the trade.
Justice, so called, was administered in a haphazard, and often in a ludicrous manner. In one country town constables were instructed to arrest all vagrants, and after having their heads shaved at the local gaol, set them at liberty ; in another district the magistrates ordered parish constables to tap with their staves the pockets of all labourers they might meet after dark, in order to break any pheasants’ or partridges’ eggs that might be concealed there ; a Bedfordshire farmer who had given offence to a gang of poachers was shot in broad day- light on the public road, and in the view of several persons, but the assailant was not arrested, the constable excusing himself from acting on the plea that he did not think himself justified in apprehending anybody without a warrant. A return from the City of Lincoln, on the other hand, described how an over-officious parochial constable “brought two men in handcuffs to the police station at Lincoln for a trifling squabble and assault, which he did not witness, and without any previous information or warrant.”
Complaints against constables, on the score of their neglect to pursue criminals, came from all parts of the country. A return from a Monmouthshire village reported the escape of a murderer which was solely due to the refusal of the constable of the tything of Colgive to get out of bed at midnight, though “repeatedly and urgently called upon” to do so ; and in another country parish, the constable, when summoned to quell a disturbance, sent word to say that he regretted that he was unable to come himself “but that he sent his staff by bearer.” At Welchpool the wife of a shopkeeper poisoned her husband, and the same night eloped with the shop-assistant. The Coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder against the guilty couple, but no pursuit was made for several days, and then only after the magistrates and others, scandalised at such a miscarriage of justice, had got up a public subscription to defray the expenses of the constable’s journey. The apathy of those who were responsible for the policing of rural England produced its natural result and, in the absence of adequate Government protection, people who were not content to submit quietly to be robbed by any scoundrel who preferred plunder to labour, made their own arrangements for self-protection.
In 1839, there were upwards of five hundred voluntary associations for the apprehension of felons ; of these associations some only concerned themselves with the financial side of the question, and by a system of mutual assurance guaranteed compensation, in part at least, to any member of the society who had suffered loss by theft or arson others took a more active part against depredators, and revived the ancient institution of Hue and Cry in a practical manner by binding themselves to make quick and fresh pursuit on horseback after any aggressor. During a parliamentary election at Maldon, one party was compelled to employ a bodyguard of professional boxers to protect its candidate from the attacks of political opponents, who, in their turn, retained the services of a band of gypsies, as a measure of retaliation. But perhaps the most irregular of all these associations was that established in the Isle of Ely, where the parishioners of Whittlesea kept a pack of blood-hounds for the purpose of hunting down sheep-stealers.
After carefully considering the operations of these societies for self- protection, the Special Commissioners unanimously condemned such expedients, and stated, that in their opinion, “the fact that they had been found necessary was as serious an indictment as could be preferred against the rural police,” and remarked, that the existence of such associations might, in after years, be cited as a proof that the community which employed them was relapsing into a state of barbarism.
The prostrate condition of English police under the parochial system should be sufficiently clear without the production of further evidence. What, however, is perhaps the most convincing proof, that could be found, of the utter futility and unseemliness of the police arrangements in rural districts, is contained in the following plain statement from the magistrates of the Trant division of Sussex, on the subject of the lack of proper lock-ups for the temporary detention of prisoners. “In case,” they complain, “a prisoner is remanded for further examination, there is no efficient place nearer than Lewes (23 miles) . there are cages in several parishes but never used being unsafe, for twenty years we have been compelled to hire a man, and handcuff him to the prisoner, and they are obliged to live at a public house. Two incendiaries were each locked to men hired for the purpose, and kept at a serious expense for ten days, separately in different houses.” Some sixty years ago a comic engraving was published, which po trayed a prisoner handcuffed to his gaoler, undergoing a mock trial in the taproom of an alehouse for the amusement of the village tipplers. Such an incident may well have happened, at a time when it was no uncommon occurrence for a constable to confine his prisoner in a stable, or to chain him to a bedpost, until it might be convenient to remove him to a distant lock-up. In concluding their comprehensive and interesting report, the Commissioners (Colonel Rowan, Mr Shaw Lefevre, and Mr Edwin Chadwick) strongly recommended the immediate establishment of a paid rural constabulary throughout England and Wales, with an organisation similar to that of the Metropolitan police, and pointed out, that in order to lessen the expense of the proposed establishment, the new constables might conveniently perform various civil and administrative services, in addition to their normal duties connected with the maintenance of the peace.
Shortly after the presentation of the report, an Act of Parliament, commonly called “The Permissive Act,” was passed, enabling a majority of the Justices in Quarter Sessions, to raise and equip, at their discretion, a paid police for the protection of their county. Justices who decided to take advantage of the Act were empowered to appoint a chief-constable, and delegate to him the power of appointing, directing and disciplining a sufficient number of police constables, the expense of the force to be charged against the general county rate. Adjoining shires were permitted to unite for the common purpose of policing the larger area ; and if any county refused, as a whole, to avail itself of the facilities now afforded, any division of that county might maintain a separate police force ; provision was also made for the voluntary amalgamation of existing borough forces with any country constabulary, that might thereafter be appointed in the immediate neighbourhood. The permissive character of the “Rural Police Act” has often been adversely criticised, sometimes, perhaps, without due allowance being made for the difficulty of the problem which confronted the government. It cannot be denied that, judged by its immediate results, the Act was largely a failure, and it is equally certain that its ill-success was consequent upon the free choice between adoption and rejection allowed to local magistrates ; but it must be remembered that the power of the govern-ment in this matter was far from being unrestricted, the only possible alternatives before the authorities being, the policy of making a small beginning, and the policy of doing nothing at all.
Reference has already been made to the difficulty of securing satisfactory recruits for the metropolitan police, and the available supply had been still further reduced by the demands made upon it to satisfy the necessities of the boroughs. An endeavour to provide simultaneously the whole of England and Wales with efficient police-officers would have been to attempt the impracticable, whilst knowingly to admit inferior men into the ranks of the new constabulary would have been to condemn it irretrievably. Nor was the lack of suitable material the only reason why a cautious plan of campaign was necessary and inevitable ; the same spirit of obstinate opposition which had been encountered and nearly overcome in London was, to some extent, apparent in the counties ; country gentlemen, besides being indisposed to favour any innovation that threatened their personal supremacy so near home, were strongly opposed to any additional burden being thrown on the county rate. The press, without repeating the bitterness displayed in 1829, added its influence to that of the county magnates, and the idea that any reform of the rural police was at all necessary was scouted by people who ought to have known better; the very men who a year before had testified to the increase of rural crime, now declaring that any interference with the existing machinery for its suppression would be disastrous. Amongst the many objections put forward, some were not very complimentary to the “great unpaid ;” it was argued, for example, that the county justices were comparatively harmless so long as they wielded that blunt instrument, the parish constable, but should they be armed with a sharp weapon, such as the police-constable was admitted to be, no man could foresee the damage that would result. Whilst public opinion remained in ferment the Government was surely well advised to act with caution, by making the adoption of the Act dependent upon the consent of those whom it was designed to benefit. In this way much opposition was disarmed, and the care of the infant institution was entrusted only to those who voluntarily under- took it.
Between 1840 and 1856 the history of rural Sessions, which hitherto had been competent to deal with all offences except treason, was limited to remove murder, capital felony and some other offences from the cognizance of the Justices. In the metropolis, at the same time, much criminal business was transferred from Justices of the Peace to Stipendiary Magistrates. This was due rather to the increase of commitments consequent upon an improved police, than to any implied incompetence of the Courts.
For counties which adopted the Permissive Act, the record is one of almost constant progress towards efficiency ; in the counties which preferred to prolong the defective régime of the parish-constable, the story is largely one of stagnation, unnecessary friction, and weak- kneed experiment. Although these tendencies are so diverse, the migratory habit of criminals makes it impossible to follow the history of either to the exclusion of the other. No police system can rightly be considered without constant reference to neighbouring systems, because every improvement in the police of one district immediately increases the difficulties of every adjacent district. The result of the Permissive Act was precisely what might have been expected, and the situation may be summed up in the single phrase – crime follows impunity. The influences of pride and local jealousies proved powerful enough to prevent a complete recantation by those counties which had pinned their faith to the status quo ante, but they were not sufficiently potent to produce insensibility or indifference when the day of reckoning came. County magistrates, who in 1840 had refused to set their houses in order, were ready to embrace almost any expedient by the end of 1842. By this time they were only too glad to accept the services of police officers, trained in London or elsewhere, and to entrust them with the task of supervising the local constables. One of the chief reasons why parochial constables had become so useless, was because there was no one to keep them up to their work. The office of High-Constable (finally abolished in 1869) had long been purely nominal, and Justices of the Peace could hardly be expected to devote much time or trouble to the unpleasant task of extracting service out of unwilling agents.
In country towns where watchmen were employed, it was usually the constable’s duty to oversee the watchman, but it was found by experience that the business was so indifferently performed that a plan, known as the “clock system ” had, in many places, been introduced. This method of supervision consisted of a mechanical contrivance, in the shape of a clock with a revolving face : the watchmen were instructed to pull the chain attached to the clock every time they passed any of the machines during the night. In the morning, the constable would visit the clocks, and note the hours at which the chains had been pulled ; but as a matter of fact the check on the watchmen was valueless, because subsequent inquiry showed that one man could easily attend to three or four clocks. In the more remote country districts watchmen were seldom or never employed, and no responsible person conceived it to be his particular business to supervise the comings or goings of the parish-constables.
Under these circumstances, an attempt was made in 1842 to infuse new life into the decrepit parochial system by an Act of Parliament, which ordered Justices of the Peace to hold special sessions for appointing proper persons to act as parish constables, and which authorised the employment of new functionaries called Superintending Constables to have the management of Lock-up Houses, and also the supervision of all the parish-constables within the Petty Sessional Division of the county for which they might be appointed – such superintending constables to receive a fixed salary out of the County Rates. The Superintending Constable system was given a fair trial ; most of the counties in England and Wales which refused to adopt the Permissive Act employing trained stipendiaries to look after their unpaid and amateurish parochial constables. That the compromise proved a comparative failure must be attributed not to the shortcomings of the officers selected, but to the impossibility of the task they were required to perform. Individually, superintending constables were often meritorious officers, and they proved so far useful that a substantial improvement was soon apparent in the police of nearly every county which employed them ; but their exertions, however great, were doomed to failure because the very unpromising material they had to manipulate was proof in the long run against the limited powers they were allowed to exercise. Without asserting that parish constables were altogether hopeless, it may be said without fear of contradiction that only the strictest discipline could have sufficed to render them efficient ; but the sole punishment a superintending constable could inflict on a refractory subordinate was the very mild one of reporting him to the Justices, who, in their turn, were powerless to administer anything like adequate correction. To expect a parochial constabulary to learn efficiency voluntarily from a superintending constable living in their midst, was as unreasonable as it would be to look for knowledge in a school- oom where a scholar without authority is the teacher.
Whilst this want of control was the chief element of weakness, it was not the only fault of the system under consideration. For effectual action, responsibility should be centred if possible in the hands of one individual, or at all events not equally divided between a dozen or more participants ; yet in counties where the system of superintending constables obtained, there was no uniformity or general plan, but the officer of each petty sessional division took his own line, and as long as he put in an appearance at the Sessions, and visited the various parishes of his district once a fortnight, no one interfered with him, or directed his method. It was the custom for the county to provide each superintending constable with a horse and cart, but, even with this convenience, the districts were frequently too large for any one man to supervise ; in Kent, for example, a certain division contained as many as fifty-six different parishes, whilst in Northumberland the normal area of a single police district was about three hundred square miles. Despite its obvious defects, the system was popular : not on account of any hidden virtue which it may perhaps have possessed, but simply because the small initial outlay required to start it made it look cheap opposition to the alternative system, on the other hand, though it assumed many garbs, had its root and origin in the false economy which hopes to avoid paying for the measure of security which it knows to be indispensable.
The pioneer county, as far as stipendiary police is concerned, was Cheshire, where a paid constabulary was already ten years old when the Permissive Act was passed. At the time of the formation of the metropolitan police, Sir Robert Peel was anxious to make trial of a similar organisation in the country. His efforts were successful in so far that he obtained the necessary parliamentary sanction and induced the County Palatine of Chester to appoint an experimental force ; once established, however, he was unable to exercise any control over its destinies, and the first rural police developed along lines never intended by its author. The only point of similarity between the Metropolitan and the Cheshire Constabularies was that they were both stipendiary bodies ; the county was divided into nine police districts, six of which were identical with existing Hundreds ; each district was under the supervision of a High-Constable, assisted by from six to eight petty constables. The whole scheme, therefore, was conceived on a paltry scale: the petty constables were not selected with sufficient care, they were not graded, and they wore no uniform ; responsibility was not vested in the hands of any one man, and internal jealousies rendered impossible that co-operation, which is so necessary to the efficiency of the whole. One of the reasons why Cheshire was selected as a trial ground, was because rural crime was more prevalent in that county than elsewhere ; but although some lessons of value were acquired for future application, as a result of this experiment, it must be confessed that the Cheshire Constabulary were hardly more successful in preventing crime than the parish constables had been.
Among those counties which were wise enough to take immediate advantage of the Permissive Act, the lead was quickly taken by Essex, which had the good fortune to entrust the control of its rural police to a really brilliant chief-constable in the person of Captain MHardy, a retired naval officer, who had already done good work for the Coast-guard service. Taking “efficiency with economy ” for his motto, Captain MHardy was able to achieve results which proved that a really well-managed force could be made self-supporting, or in other words that an efficient constabulary saves and earns as much as it costs. The strength of the rural police in Essex averaged about one constable to every fifteen hundred of the population. Those landowners who gave evidence before the Select Committee in 1853 were almost unanimous in their testimony that the value of property had increased in counties where rural police forces had been established. Constables were paid a regular salary, and had no interest in crime except to prevent it by every means in their power : prevalence of crime in any district meant extra work and less chance of promotion for every policeman concerned. The Essex constabulary was also the first to undertake the supervision of Weights and Measures, thus saving the salaries previously paid to the old inspectors who were inefficient, and saving the pockets of labouring men who were the chief sufferers by short weight. The extent to which false measures used to be employed can only be conjectured ; but it is a fact that, when in 1845 the rural police of Wiltshire took charge of this department, in no less than 14,942 instances were defective weights and measures discovered. Further savings were affected in Essex under the headings of, conveyance of prisoners, prevention of fire, excise duties, etc., etc., whilst private associations for the apprehension of felons died a natural death wherever the maintenance of the peace was entrusted to the new police.
The effect of the admirable force established in Essex was to compel the adjoining counties of Suffolk, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire reluctantly to follow suit, and in other parts of England and Wales rural police were gradually appointed. By May 1853, twenty-two counties had adopted the Permissive Act, seven counties had partly adopted it, and twenty-two counties (including two Ridings of Yorkshire) continued the parochial system, with or without Superintending Constables. The confusion resulting from this patchwork arrangement was put an end to by the second great Rural Police Act, passed in 1856, “to render more effectual the police in Counties and Boroughs in England and Wales.” This measure, commonly called the “Obligatory Act,” enacted that where a Constabulary had not already been appointed for the whole of a County, the magistrates were forthwith to cause such a force to be appointed for the whole or residue of that County, as the case might be ; and further, that the police forces of all Boroughs containing five thousand inhabitants or less were to be consolidated with the police of the County wherein such Boroughs might be situated.
An annual statement respecting crime in Counties was required to be transmitted by the magistrates (a similar statement for Boroughs to be rendered by the Watch Committees), to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in order that an abstract of the same might be presented to Parliament. Provision was also made for the appointment of Inspectors of Constabulary, with authority to visit and enquire into the state and general efficiency of the police in the several Counties and Boroughs, and to report thereon to the Secretary of State. On a certificate from the Home Secretary that the police force of any County or Borough was efficient, a sum not exceeding one-fourth part of the total cost of pay and clothing for such police force was to be paid by the Treasury. The effect of this Statute was, for the first time, to provide every part of England and Wales with stipendiary police, thus completing the process which had been initiated at Bow Street more than a hundred years before. The Metropolitan Police Act, the Municipal Corporations Act, and the Permissive Act, valuable and indeed indispensable as they undoubtedly were, had been effective only in certain districts delinquents, whom the activity of the metropolitan police had driven out of London, found a home in other large towns ; a second migration followed when the Boroughs got their police ; and yet a third took place, as we have seen, after the partial introduction of rural constabularies. If it is true that the degree of impunity looked for has more to do with the amount of delinquency prevailing than the want of life’s necessaries, or any other factor, it is not a matter for surprise that a large army of vagrant thieves continued to ply their trade as long as there remained twenty counties and scores of small towns where no interference with their illegal pursuits was to be anticipated, and to which they might return after a successful raid to safely dispose of their plunder.
The Obligatory Act tended to reduce crime in many ways, for not only did a criminal career become much less attractive after the last Alsatia had been closed, but the efficiency of all existing police bodies was enormously increased by the uniformity and co-operation between different units which naturally followed upon the compulsory adop- tion of one general system through the whole country. Local control was not interfered with by this Act, but a certain standard of excellence was set up and maintained by means of the government grant-the withholding of which as a punishment for inefficiency, took the place to some extent of the amercements once levied against districts whose police had been found wanting. And finally, the vexatious restrictions which prevented constables from acting outside the narrow limits of their constablewicks, were removed by the clause which gave County constables the same powers in Boroughs as Borough Constables enjoyed in Counties, thus restoring a power similar to that which our English police long ago possessed, of carrying the Hue and Cry from township to township, and from shire to shire “until the offender be apprehended, or at the least until he be thus pursued to the seaside.”