The Open UniversitySkip to content

'Men of good Character, strong, decent and active': Hertfordshire's Petty Constables, 1730-1799

Saunders, Elaine (2018). 'Men of good Character, strong, decent and active': Hertfordshire's Petty Constables, 1730-1799. PhD thesis. The Open University.

Full text available as:
PDF (Version of Record) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (3MB) | Preview
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


This thesis provides the first detailed historical analysis of eighteenth century rural petty constables, through a study of their operation in Hertfordshire from 1730 to 1799. Every Hertfordshire parish appointed at least one unsalaried, part-time constable annually to act on behalf of, and within, that parish. Constables were representatives of higher authority, authority figures within their communities, and mediators between the two. This thesis contextualises constables within Hertfordshire’s overlapping administrative, judicial and personal networks, and shows that the boundaries between personal and official authority were often blurred. It presents considerable new research on constables’ work, social status, funding and the importance of Hertfordshire’s manorial courts in appointing constables throughout the eighteenth century. Discussions of constables’ roles in arrests, detecting crimes, peacekeeping and crime prevention illuminate the substructures of eighteenth-century judicial administration and augment existing histories of crime and prosecution. This thesis also examines vagrancy administration uniquely from the constable’s viewpoint and shows how Hertfordshire’s constables exercised considerable discretion when arresting, transporting and relieving travellers on the county’s roads. Constables' essential roles in county and parish governance, pauper administration and community management are also considered. Instead of examining constables in isolation, this study shows that they were one of several local officers whose responsibilities and specialist skills dovetailed in local governance, including the making and implementation of social policies. Constables are thus repositioned as key figures in Hertfordshire’s local government institutions, and shown to be higher status, harder working, less reluctant, better connected and more effective than previously allowed.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Copyright Holders: 2017 The Author
Keywords: rural police; constables; manorial courts; law enforcement; crime prevention; administration of justice; local government; county government; parish councils; poor laws; poor
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Arts and Humanities
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Arts and Humanities > History
Item ID: 56096
Depositing User: Elaine Saunders
Date Deposited: 28 Aug 2018 13:08
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2020 11:18
Share this page:

Download history for this item

These details should be considered as only a guide to the number of downloads performed manually. Algorithmic methods have been applied in an attempt to remove automated downloads from the displayed statistics but no guarantee can be made as to the accuracy of the figures.

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU