Skelton in Cleveland - Crime Watch.

Skelton Felons Society Meeting in the Wharton Arms Hotel in the 1950s.
Left to Right - Bob Garrett [Confectioner], ?, ?, Clarence Ruddock,
Cyril Ridsdale [builder], Roland Whittaker [Newsagent],
Bob Young [Butcher], Tommy Evans, Tom Kingston [Chemist],
Arthur Ellingham [Plumber], ?.


The previous page shows how the Parish Constable was just an untrained villager, elected annually by the local Council of the time, the Parish Church Vestry, and burdened with responsibilities other than just maintaining the Law.
The victim of crime today often finds it hard to get the Police to investigate and bring the wrongdoer to justice.
In Skelton before the North Riding Constabulary was established in 1856 the only way justice could be obtained was by bringing a private prosecution in the way that civil actions are made today.
The expense of paying for Warrants and Summonses, bringing witnessess to Court etc was beyond the pocket of most people and in any case the "bloody code" of Laws often resulted in the criminal being either hanged, severely punished or let off - and no compensation made.
There is evidence that despite the severity of the Law in the 18th Century, when there were over 200 "hanging" offences, poaching and pilfering of crops etc was often rife.
In years of bad harvests and when there was no work, families often faced starvation and took the chance.
In response to this situation there was a Nation-wide movement by the landed gentry and local tradesmen to form "Societies for the Prosecution of Felons".
In 1787 a group of Skelton landowners and businessmen had got together to consider how to combat the losses that they suffered at the hands of local offenders.
On the 7th August 1788 the "Skelton Society for the Prosecution of Felons" was established.
It was basically a local, mutual Insurance company, whereby those who could afford to be members paid an annual subscription and prosecutions of offenders was paid for by the group fund, which could also compensate the victim for any losses.
The Society would announce its presence in local publications and often rewards would be offered for information leading to prosecutions, from £1 for Vandalism, to £5 for stealing a sheep and £10 for Robbery and Arson.
This bribery was a clear invitation to the criminal mind to profit from wrongful accusations and abuse occurred in some areas.
Annual General Meetings of the Society were held at a Dinner in one of the local Inns.
After the Police Force was started in 1856 the Society lost much of its reason for existing, but the boozy Dinners continued right up to the 1970s.

One of the first North Riding Constables.


Statistics show that as the population of an area increases criminal offences increase more than proportionately.
The industrialisation of Britain and the movement of people to urban areas had seen this effect in action.
Although there was no Government compulsion to do so, many British towns employed their own Police and nightwatchmen.
London had the Bow Street Runners as early as 1749 and by Sir Robert Peel's Act of Parliament had an efficient paid Metropilitan Police Force in 1829.
In 1839 the Government passed the County Police Act. It was known as the "Permissive" Act, as it gave local Justices of the Peace at the Quarter Sessions the authority to establish a paid Police Force, but only if they opted to.
There was much opposition to the idea in the North Riding of Yorkshire on two grounds.
Firstly the civil rights brigade, who seem to have so much loud voice today, considered it would be a restriction of long held freedoms and smacked of control from above, the sort of thing foreigners did on the Continent, but not here.
And secondly the canny Ratepayers were too tight to pay for it - or perhaps they were wise and had premonitions of current Council Tax Bills and Socialist profligacy.
Petitions were sent in to the Justices of the Peace, claiming the Police were unnecessary as the area was:-
"in a state of perfect Tranquility" and the property owners were already "heavily burthened with Rates for Poor, Church, Highway and County."
However a private force, paid for by local subscribers, was formed on the 5th November 1839 in Guisborough Town Hall.
It was called the "Cleveland Association" and consisted of two mounted Officers.
For £105 per annum they had to provide their own horse and clothing and were expected to protect the property of the whole of Cleveland.
Among other duties they acted as the speed cameras of the time by proceeding against:-
"All Farmer's Servants, Coachmen and others who may be detected in driving their waggons, carts and carriages furiously or negligently on the Turnpike Roads or Highways, so as to endanger the Lives and Persons of Her Majesty's subjects."
They did manage to arrest 20 persons before the scheme was abandoned in 1840 for lack of support.

Thomas Hill.
The first N Riding Chief Constable.


The County and Borough Police Act, 1856, was passed making local Police compulsory.
Government Inspectors were appointed and paid Police Forces organised Nation-wide.
In this area, the North Riding Constabulary was established on the 14th October 1856, with Headquarters at Northallerton and Chief Constable, Captain Thomas Hill, formerly of the North York Militia.
50 men of all ranks were initially appointed
It was immediately recommended that this was an insufficient number to adequately police a large area with a population of 188,755 - about to boom with the opening of the ironstone Mines.
"Squad cars" were ordered in the form of 16 horses and 10 "carts", which were the personnel carriers that we now remember as "traps"
Officers were issued with two sets of Uniform, which consisted of a frock-coat, trousers, great coat, "pork-pie" hat and cape.
A leather belt was worn over the frock-coat. Items issued to recruits later on were often hand-me-downs.
Policemen received a copy of Standing Orders, which detailed the duties and standards expected of them.
While it was far from the bureaucratic dinosaur that the Police have become today, they had to make a number of written returns.
In 1889, PC Robert Clark was paid 24 shillings and sixpence a week, with free uniform and a boot allowance of two shillings and sixpence a month. He was issued with 2 pairs of trousers, 2 tunics (frock-coat type), 2 greatcoats, 2 helmets, 1 cape, 1 whistle and chain, 1 pair of handcuffs, 1 truncheon and 1 oil lamp.
A whistle was issued to each Officer with strict instructions that it was to be used as seldom as possible to avoid causing "alarm and inconvenience" and every use was to be recorded "in red ink in the journal".

The first Squad Cars - Horse and Trap.

Duties were to be arranged so that the Officers could attend Church. Bibles were issued to each Station and any wilful damage done to it subject to strict punishment.
A small Constabulary Library was formed to "encourage the habit of Reading".
A small "curtain" was permitted on the back of the hat in hot weather.
An order of 9th September 1887 stated:-
Whenever flogging with a birch rod is ordered to be done by the Police, under an order of the Justices, the greatest care will be exercised and the birch rod for children under 10 years of age will be lighter than for those who may be older.
In case any child should appear to be of a specially weak constitution or in delicate health, a medical man should be consulted as to the propriety of the punishment being carried out, or the severity with which it should be inflicted.

An order of 4th August 1896 reminded Officers of their duty to ensure that each Steam Engine travelling on Highways had a person in front at a sufficient and proper distance.
The hours of normal duty were 9 a day with no days off and only 8 days Annual Leave.
Only single men were recruited and they had to live initially in the Police Station, to which they were appointed.
This was useful if ever reinforcements were needed by those on duty.
A Constable in 1857 started on only 17 shillings per week [85p in decimal] rising to £1 1s.
Out of this 1 shilling [5p] was deducted for Lodging and 8 shillings for food.
Training was 2 or 3 weeks at HQ undergoing 3 to 4 hours Drill under a Sergeant. Legal training was nil and some recruits were in fact illiterate. Learning the ropes was done on the job from older Officers.
Amazingly, in the first days of the Force an Officer was allowed to go into a public house for a drink on duty.
Fights with drunken roughnecks were inevitable, especially when young, single men flooded into the area to work in the Mines and lay the railways.
The typical question for a Police recruit on first arrival at their Station was - "Where are you from - can you scrap ?"
Until the passing of the Pensions Act in 1890 Officers like everyone else worked until they dropped.
If a married man died while still serving the rest contributed half a day's pay to the widow.
Despite these conditions, applicants to join always outnumbered the vacancies available.
Captain Hill forbade the use of the new fangled bicycle, as he considered an Officer travelling at speed could not properly see about him.
In 1898, however, the new Chief Constable, Major Bower authorised their purchase.
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