The Turn for the Better

On 1st May, 1852, Superintendent John Gristock Huxtable, of the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company’s Police, was appointed Superintendent of Newport Police. He had joined this force as a constable in 1840, been promoted sergeant, and had carried out the duties of acting superintendent during the time between the resignation of Superintendent Hopkins and the appointment of his successor, Superintendent English. No doubt, too, he had carried out these duties on numerous occasions during the absence of leave of his superintendent. He left the Force on 10th July, 1849, to join the Railway Police. 

His first action on his return to the Force was to complain of the lack of street lighting, which made police duty at night extremely difficult, especially as the main street lights were extinguished shortly after 1 a.m.

In July, a letter was received from the Glamorgan magistrates, thanking the new Superintendent and nine of the constables for their services at the Llantrisant elections. 

Superintendent Huxtable was next appointed deputy relieving officer for the borough and parish of St Woolos, for which he was paid the sum of £8 per annum. His duties were to check on vagrants entering the town.

Councillor Batchelor having complained to the Watch Committee of a child being “mangled by a dog,” the Superintendent was requested to take the most effective measures for the removal of the nuisance caused by dogs roaming the streets in all directions. He was requested to have 300 notices printed to this effect – and to include a warning of the danger of bathing in the canal! 

In November of the following year the committee cautioned Adam Williams, a local contractor, about the condition of the horse and carriage used for the conveyance of prisoners, but this seems to have had little effect, for in July, 1855, it was reported that a prisoner had escaped while being conveyed to Usk in Williams’ horse-drawn carriage. It was decided not to use this carriage any more, and Constable Merriman, the escort, was let off with a caution in view of his previous good character. So unsatisfactory had Williams’ service become, it seems, that the Superintendent was told to make the best arrangements he could pending the opening of the branch railway to Usk. 

On 3rd October, 1854, the Superintendent was ordered to procure a stretcher for the use of the police in conveying refractory prisoners to the police station.

In the following February, the Watch Committee drew the attention of the directors of the South Wales Railway Company to the numerous cases of robbery and pocket-picking occurring at their station, and called on them to widen the narrow platform which, in the committee’s view, was the cause of congestion and facilitated the work of the thieves.

Policeman Drowned.

About 10.45 p.m. on Saturday, 18th August, 1855, Constable Nash, of the Harbour Police, while on patrol near Cinderhill Wharf was proceeding towards the bridge at the end of the Town Pill, when he fell into the water and was drowned. 

The footway was only 5 feet 8 inches wide, with a drop of 25 feet to the water. On the other side there was the canal with a depth of eight feet. The footpath had no protection whatsoever on either side. 

When the alarm was raised by a watchman employed at Batchelor’s timber yard nearby, the Superintendent, Sergeant Bath and a constable soon arrived, obtained the assistance of a boatman and several civilians and recovered the body. In the course of the operation, however, the sergeant also fell into the water, and when he had been rescued, a woman also fell in; she, too, was saved. 

At the inquest held at the King’s Arms inn, Pillgwenlly, a verdict of accidental death was returned, with a recommendation that the area should be more adequately fenced. 

The Harbour Police at this time were supervised and under the control of the Superintendent of the Newport Police. Nash had only four months previously joined the Harbour Police, on the recommendation of the Superintendent, because he could earn 2s. 6d. a week more under the Harbour authorities. This, no doubt, meant a lot to Nash, who was a married man with two children. One of the children had been born only three weeks earlier. 

In March of the following year, Constables Fly and Ford were seen coming out of the Bush Inn, Commercial Street, and were ordered to attend the next meeting of the Watch Committee to answer a disciplinary charge. Fly, however, true to his name, resigned, but Ford attended and was cautioned. 

In October, 1857, the Superintendent submitted the first printed crime report of the year’s activities and later used facts contained in it in support of an application for an increase in salary. Numerous other forces were circularised asking for their salary scales, and eventually the Harbour Commissioners agreed to pay £10 per annum towards the Superintendent’s pay, provided the Watch Committee paid another £20, making his salary £130 per annum. It is not surprising that in the following December the Superintendent reported that the Home Office considered the Force efficient and that he had applied for the grant of £412. 16.8d. Incidentally, the Monmouthshire Constabulary was established in 1857. 

In February, 1858, it was proposed that instead of holding the Quarter Sessions for the county of Monmouth at Usk, a building should be erected at the rear of the Town Hall to accommodate them. In fact, the Sessions did not come to Newport until nearly one hundred years later, in January, 1951. 

On 12th October, 1858, the Superintendent submitted his first report covering every section of the Force for the year ended 29th September, 1858. He revealed, incidentally, that the number of brothels in the town was 55, the number of prostitutes living in brothels was 282 and the number of prostitutes living in beerhouses was 87. There were 38 beer- houses where they were accommodated. 

On 25th October, 1859, it was reported that permission had been granted for the election for the West Ward to be held at the Temple Street police station. 

In the following December, a letter was received from the Secretary of State advising the Watch Committee that the principal officer of the Newport Force should be known as Chief Superintendent, to distinguish him from the Chief Constable of the county. 

On 25th February, 1860, it was reported to the Watch Committee that Constable Barber while on duty had been playing the fiddle in the Farmers’ Arms, Tredegar Street. He was fined 10/-.

On Wednesday, 22nd July, 1863, Caerleon was visited by H.R.H. Prince Arthur (the Ranger of Greenwich Park), accompanied by Major Elphingstone and the Rev. W. R. I. May, his tutor. The royal party arrived at Newport by the 1.10 p.m. express from Chepstow, and walked to Caerleon, escorted by Chief Superintendent Huxtable. They visited the antiquarian museum and afterwards lunched at the Priory, returning on foot in time to catch the 5.30 p.m. train for Cardiff. 

In 1866, the Watch Committee granted the police a half-day for an outing to the country. 

Constable Jenkins resigned because of ill health in May, 1867. As the pension scheme had not been in operation long enough for him to benefit, he was granted a gratuity of £50. 

In December of this year, Sergeant Bath reported that he was unable to perform night duty, and desired to retire on pension, but in view of his past services he was appointed Mayor’s Sergeant, his wages being reduced by 6/- per week. His duties were to serve all Council and committee notices, all summonses for assaults and non-payment of rates and to execute all rate and distress warrants. His hours of duty were from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Later, an investigation into the accounts by a special sub-committee revealed that he was “an illiterate man, knowing nothing of figures, lacked diligence and method, but no attempt had been made to embezzle any money.” On the committee’s findings becoming known he resigned, having completed thirty years’ service, and was granted a pension of 17/4d per week.

Conditions in the town were also far from satisfactory, and in 1868, in view of the pending election, the Mayor wrote to the Chief Constable of the Monmouthshire Constabulary, Úsk, asking for the loan of constables. The Chief Constable agreed to this, provided the Mayor paid all salaries, special duty charges, cost of conveyance and compensation for any injury received on duty.

Despite the precaution, however, there was trouble and it was reported in the “Monmouthshire Merlin ” on 21st November, that during an election held on the preceding Tuesday, Newport’s business was completely suspended. Few shops were open and those who had taken down their shutters in the morning closed in the early part of the afternoon. The newspaper reported that (owing, perhaps in some measure to the operation of the Bribery Act) there was less drunkenness.

The first unpleasantness took place between 11 and 12 o’clock when the Chief Constable of Monmouthshire and his deputy met a large crowd escorting a boy representing the Liberal candidate. The police were stoned and several were hurt. During the evening, a gang of hooligans charged the Town Hall, and the authorities called out the military. The Riot Act was read twice and the police were ordered to charge, but the crowd defied all authority and continued to throw stones. As the soldiers charged along Bolton Terrace, Baneswell, Mrs Grant, wife of John Grant, tailor, received a fatal bayonet wound in the back while standing near her own door; her son, a member of the Artillery Volunteer Corps, was wounded five times.

The tumult ceased by midnight, and the troops marched through the streets to Pillgwenlly and back, returning to the Barracks by 1 a.m. Several policemen were taken to the Town Hall completely disabled. An enquiry followed and a reward of £20 was offered for any information as to the ringleaders.

Considerable damage was caused during the disorders to a house owned by a Mr Bingley who had allowed the police to take refuge there. Even the Superintendent’s house did not escape, for he claimed the sum of £3.15s. for damage to his windows.

In 1874, depression in shipping was causing some concern in Newport and two Mercantile Marine police officers were engaged outside the shipping office daily. Despite the depression, Alexandra Dock was opened on 13th April, 1875, but trade in South Wales was paralysed by a strike which lasted for four months until resumption of work at the collieries soon restored activity at the docks.

On Guy Fawkes night, 1875, Constables George Richard Jones and Thomas Turner saw a mob coming around Portland Street from the direction of Castle Street drawing a lighted tar barrel. The constables stepped into a dark corner to allow the demonstrators to pass, but as soon as the mob reached the chapel in Portland Street, they charged the constables with stones in their hands. Both officers were struck to the ground, and when Constable Turner tried to rise it was found that he had fractured his leg. He was taken to Newport Infirmary where he died soon afterwards.

At the inquest, the jury recommended that the committee should exercise stricter control over the sale of fireworks, which in their opinion led to such disgraceful incidents. 

The case aroused much public sympathy and Constable Turner’s widow was granted the sum of £67.12s by the Watch Committee, being a year’s salary and a further ten pounds. Public subscription raised the total amount to £140.13s. and the committee decided on this novel way of payment –

10/- per week for the first three years, 

8/- per week for the following two years, and

six shillings per week until the fund exhausted itself. 

Following this incident, the Town Clerk was given authority to apply for powers under the Explosives Act, 1875. The Harbour Commissioners also sought similar powers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *