Parish constables versus police constables: policing early nineteenth-century Essex

Scollan, Maureen Janet (2007). Parish constables versus police constables: policing early nineteenth-century Essex. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis begins by placing early nineteenth-century Essex in its historical context before going on to discuss the role of magistrates, a small group of whom could be described as semi-professional. Discussion about a survey of peace officers in 1832 introduces case studies of several policing schemes which were operating concurrently under different authorities. Consideration of the debates and public enquiries of the late 1830s link national issues to local practice, and this is followed by an examination of the practicalities of starting the county force and its interactions with parish constables and other local officers. The penultimate chapter discusses the different ways in which policing developed before and after the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act in the four ancient Essex boroughs. A concluding chapter focuses on the compulsory 1856 Act and its contribution to the diminishing role of parish

The thesis, therefore, contributes to the continuing reappraisal of the role of early nineteenth-century constables. It demonstrates that, contrary to the stereotypical images, many parish constables were both competent and semiprofessional. Hitherto much research has concentrated on magistrates and constables as historical agents, illustrating their active contribution to the development of professional policing as the old system was gradually superseded by the new police. By using a range of local and national records, this thesis focuses mainly on the men appointed as petty constables by authorities such as courts leet and parishes, and examines their occupations and background. It shows how such men operated in a cross-section of Essex communities between c.1800-c.1860, and explores their working relationships with magistrates and members of the new police.

The thesis thus challenges some negative stereotypes of the parish constable but, more importantly, demonstrates that he continued as part of an effective parallel system of law enforcement which co-operated with the county police until the mid-1850s.

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