There was no police force in the 17th century. In those days a constable was the senior local government officer at parish level – roughly equivalent to today’s Parish Council Chairman – but law and order was part of his remit and he was responsible for organising the ‘hue and cry’, a posse of able bodied villagers who were expected to pursue wrongdoers and bring them to justice.
The report of the Constable which was submitted to Quarter Sessions during the winter following the fire throws light on what was expected of a respectable village in Cromwellian England.
- There is not any guilty of cursing or swearing to my knowledge.
- None guilty of adultery or fornication.
- Our parishioners come orderly on the Lord’s day to the worship of God.
- We have no recusants [Roman Catholics] in our parish.
- We have none that live without a calling, but live orderly in their vocation [Zero unemployment]
- Our parishioners are ready and willing to pursue hue and cryes if need be.
- Our watch and ward is orderly performed. [Neighbourhood Watch in operation]
- Our butchers and victuallers kill and sell wholesome flesh and maultsters make wholesome mault. [Trading Standards are maintained]
- We have none that buy or sell by measures and waytes unsealed. [Trading Standards again]
- We have none that passed with counterfeit letters or passes. [Freedom of movement was limited by settlement laws]
- We have not any that goe about using subtle crafts or unlawfull games or plays. [No illegal gambling or fraud here]
- We have none that use unlawfull games. [As above]
- Our highways and bridges are in good repair. [The parish is responsible for repair and maintenance within its boundaries]
- We have none that make any riots or common fighters or quarrellers. [No breaches of the peace here]
- I present Samuel Newman, alehouse keeper, for suffering Richard Wills and Samuell Brabson drinking in his house at ten of the clock in the night. [The hours of darkness are intended for sleep, preparing for an industrious day’s work ahead]
- I present Richard Wills for shooting of pigeons with a gun. [A privilege of the lord of the manor – lesser mortals use a sling or a bow]
William Worcester, Constable
Do we believe him?