The Parish Constable

Before the reign of King Alfred (871-901), England was divided into Counties, counties into Hundreds and Hundreds into Tithings or Towns. In Saxon times ten freeholders dwelling together composed a tithing or town. Of these ten, one was annually elected to preside over the rest and was called the Tithing Man, Headborough, Borsholder or Boroughs-elder. Up to the turn of this century we frequently read of Winthorpe Town. There was Town Land, "a well on the hill" was called Town Water, the present Chapel Lane was called Town Street, and the Skelton Farmhouse (the middle section of Brewers cottages), was known as the Town House.

The office of Parish Constable is thought to descend from that of Borsholder, but police duties were added to it in the reign of Edward 111(1327-77). The principle duty of the constable was the preservation of the peace, but he also had to serve summonses and execute warrants. He had to serve one year, be a ratepayer, or pay not less than £4 a year rent. He had no salary and was only on duty as occasion required but all his expenses were paid and he enjoyed money fees and dues in the discharge of these occasional duties. He was provided with a truncheon and hand­cuffs, which the constable of Winthorpe still held in 1907.

In the old records the earliest reference to a constable in Winthorpe is in Newark Corporation Minute Books Vol.1. In 1595 there was a "Muster Roll for the Newark Wapentake on 25th October." The "PETTIE Constables" of Winthorpe were requested with all the other village constables to attend at Newark on Monday and Tuesday - 3rd and 4th November at 9 am. There were three from Winthorpe, William Brewer, Henry Ridge and William Skelton and each was to bring with him sufficient money for the "enter­tainment" of these serving with the "armore" for four days. Each man had to bring his own weapons. If the man brought men to carry weapons for him he had to provide money, etc. for these "servants" and for every common soldier for the "bullet match and powder and other necessaries." By this time Winthorpe had to provide annually one militiaman, who was elected to serve by ballot at the Parish Meeting. The constable presided and his fee was 3/6d. If the one elected was not willing to serve, he was compelled to find a substitute who was paid £6.10.0d in 1802 and £8.7.10d in 1803, that being in addition to his military pay. The constable had to obtain the money from the man unwilling to serve, but he found the money in the first place from the collection of rent derived from the "Poor Close," in what was School Lane, and allotments in Hargon Lane. He also let grazing in the lanes (animals would be tethered), which in 1798 brought in £7.10.0d.

Other Duties included attendance at Courts and Assizes with Winthorpe culprits and he also officiated at inquests. He had to, check the drains, dykes and ditches and he acted as relieving officer for the overseers giving casual relief varying from 1d to 5s. He was also headman over the destruction of vermin. For dead young sparrows brought to him he paid 2d a dozen and 4d a dozen for adult birds. Between 1790 and 1826 the Winthorpe Constable paid £8.19.Id for 8946 dead sparrows. He employed a public mole and rat catcher, a Mr. Hoys, who was paid 17s 6d half yearly until 1821. Men bringing in old foxes were paid 13s per head and 6d for cubs and from 1796 to 1819, a total of £12.6.3 d was paid out for 324 foxes, the highest number being 52 in1813, one man bringing in 26 heads for which he received £1. Only once were magpies recorded when 10d was paid for 35 birds in 1824.

Attendance at one inquest was recorded in detail:-

March 16th, 1801.    Journey to Retford for coroner 10/6

                                    Coroners Warrant 4/6d

                                    Expenses on jury 12 / -

                                    Parish clerks fee for burying a drowned man  2 / -

The parish constable's duties came practically to an end when the County Constabulary was established and few were appointed after 1873, unless the County Magistrates should consider it necessary in certain villages. Was it considered essential in Winthorpe or was it just an ancient custom? The last constable at Winthorpe was John Hague, a gardener at the Hall, but in 1907 his was just a honorary position. His cottage was on the right hand side of the present Drive and it was demolished to make way for the modern bungalow now on the site. John Hague was buried at Winthorpe on January 5th 1932 at the age of 75 years.

Information obtained from the County Records Office:- Ref. 1159 Constables accounts. Winthorpe Church Magazines and Thoroton Transactions, Vol X 1906.

Miss K.E.Euston.

Extract from Focal Point.