Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Prison Governor's Letter

Not all the documents we are cataloguing relate to prisoners. Epiphany 1857 contains a very sad letter written by the current governor of Bedford Prison, Robert Evans Roberts.  Roberts, originally from Kent,  took over as Governor in 1853 and remained there for over 30 years.

The letter requested the court excuse his absence at the Epiphany Quarter Session of the Peace due to the recent death of his eldest daughter and the current ill heath of his second child.  It appears his daughter, Elizabeth Janet, died soon after her elder sister Catherine Mary.  The Quarter Session Minutes book gives mention to the outbreak of scarlet fever at the Governors house, and permission was granted by the court to whitewash the house. 

Only 8 years later, Roberts lost his wife Mary Ann. By the 1871 census, his remaining child, a boy named after his father, was living up in Hull with his town clerk uncle. Robert George Roberts later followed in his fathers footsteps, becoming a prison warden in Lancashire.  Robert Evans Roberts went on to  remarry soon after the death of Mary Ann.  He and his new wife, a rather younger lady by the name of Adelaide, stayed in Bedford and went on to have both sons and daughters.


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Bonfire Night

Last November our document of the month was a deposition from a case in which a gang of boys in Houghton Regis stole straw to put on a bonfire on November 5th. In a bit of timely cataloguing I just came across a similar case in which Charles Kitchener of Luton was accused of stealing faggots (bundles of wood) from Peter Wilson in Luton. Joseph Matthews was to guard his master's faggot stack at 11pm on November 5th. A few minutes later Kitchener and two friends arrived. The friends helped Kitchener to climb the stack, from which he threw down faggots which the other two gathered. When he came down Kitchener picked up a faggot himself, only to be apprehended by Matthews and taken to the Old English Gentleman public house where he was handed over to the police. Matthews stated that nearly one hundred faggots had been taken from the stack that night. Presumably once the excitement of Bonfire Night had settled Wilson was feeling in merciful mood as the case was not prosecuted and Kitchener was discharged.

Did Luton have enough Police Constables?

...............well not according to the petition raised by inhabitants of the town in 1855. A 71 strong petition, featuring the names of business owners, solicitors and the clergy of the town petitioned the Quarter Sessions for an increase in the number of Police Constable in Luton.   At the time the population of the town and parish of Luton had grown to 16,420 but was policed by just 2 Police Constables.

The petitions throws up some other interesting statistics and comments:

- on 31 December 1854 the parish and town population had increased to 16,420, with the town population of 14,000.
- the nature of the population requires more surveillance than an agricultural population.
- the length of the parish of Luton was almost 8 miles with the average breath of 3 to 4 miles and was almost 17,000 acres.
- the parish of Luton paid £309 for the Police Rate in 1854 and had 2 constable whilst other parishes in the Luton division paid £250 and had the advantage of 4 constables.
- the Police Rate suggests they ought have 5 constables, considering the inclusion of Caddington and the probable increase in low and disreputable characters during the construction of the railway.
- the population of the county in 1841 was 107,936 for which 43 constables were considered sufficient; the rate being 1 constable per 2,500 inhabitants. 
- the population of Luton now being 16,420 same rate would require 6 constables.
- inhabited houses in the Town of Luton in 1841 were only 1,139 and in December 1854 this was more than double at 2,512.

The Quarter Session minute book for this period suggests the request was successful and the Chief Constable was given the authority to appoint an additional 6 constables. The next year saw major changes in the how the policing of Bedfordshire was organised, with the introduction of revised Police Districts.  In fact it's interesting to note that it wasn't until this year that it became compulsory for a county to have its own Police Force.  Regardless of the changes, the issue raises its head again in later years, with the town still feeling it had insufficient Police Constables.  Confirming it as a timeless issue.  The image below shows, the impact of the railways is being felt.

QSM 38