Few subjects have been as neglected by historians as the Police. Anyone studying the history of
the 19th century in particular, when the modern era of policing began, cannot fail to be struck by
the paucity of archival material. I have gathered together as much as I can find and take this opportunity to
thank the staff of the Herefordshire Archive Service for their help.
The policing of Ledbury during the 19th century falls into three periods.
From the C13 the Courts Leet or manorial courts, under the stewardship of the Lord of the Manor were responsible
for appointing, among other titles, an officer responsible for the keeping of the King's peace.
The officer's designation of 'constable' gave his authority a royal flavour.
This is not the place to
delve into the complexities of
the Manorial Courts but here is a brief description:
Lord of the Manor is not a noble title and did not necessarily mean that the owner of the title lived in
the local manor. His Lordship exercised certain jurisdictional rights over those in his manor through a court known as
Court Baron had no power to deal with criminal acts but an additional franchise, given by the Crown, gave his
Lordship extra responsibility to deal with such matters exercised through a Court Leet.
In Ledbury these two Courts sat annually as one. Matters were introduced to the court by means of a "presentment",
from a local man or from a sworn jury. In Ledbury, these courts operated until almost the middle of the nineteenth
century as a form of civil administration.
This system slumbered on over the centuries, with the Lords of the manor holding
unchallenged and unchallengeable
sway over parish constables. Incentive to reform was totally lacking until the end of the eighteenth century when
the advent of canals and new roads had an effect on the status quo.
Manorial records available in Hereford Record Office (Ref No. AF4/8) give a good insight into policing in Ledbury in the early decades of the
The title 'Lord of the Manor' could, and still can, be bought and sold like a commodity.
In 1801 George Mynd of Ross was 'Lord of the Manor' and entrusted Lord Somers of Eastnor,
John Skipp, William Baker, John Miles and Elizabeth Berrow to conduct the Court. These Court Officials swore
in a Jury of locals to deal with the business.
The 'Manor' was effectively under the control
of Lord Somers.
The Parish of Ledbury was divided into two Manors, 1)The Borough, whose records come under the title
'Manor of Ledbury Denizen'
2) 'The Manor of Ledbury Forren' (Foreign) which included Wellington, Wall Hills, Leddon and Haffield
together with Mitchell and Netherton.
Each year constables for the various divisions were appointed.
In 1801 William Bond took care of Wall Hills, whilst Benjamin Denton was responsible for Mitchell and Netherton.
Caleb Hankins policed Wellington and Timothy Denton Leddon and Haffield in the Forren Manor.
The entry for the Denizen Manor shows that Francis Ward and Thomas Woodward were appointed for the Borough.
The constable's duties were numerous and often mundane, as this entry from the 1801 ledger shows:
We present Mr William Bayliss, with the assistance of the Constables and Crier, so often as they
or either of them shall find any pig or pigs at large and wandering in or about and trespassing in the Streets
or Lanes of this Borough or in the Churchyard belonging to the Parish Church of Ledbury they or either of them shall
immediately take and drive such pig or pigs to the Common Pound within this Manor and there detain them until the
proprietor or proprietors of every such pig or pigs shall have paid to the same William Bayliss and the Constables
and the Crier or such of them as shall impound such pig or pigs the sum of one shilling for every pig so impounded
besides what is due to the Bailiff of the Manor for common poundage.
To list every person appointed every year would be possible but tedious but three names introduce the next section,
William New, John Fleetwood and Samuel Purnell were sworn in as Constables for
the Borough in 1838. However the old system was about to change!
Appointing constables by an authority with absolute power appears to have been, nationally, unsatisfactory,
or even corrupt, and Ledbury was no exception as John Biddulph sets out in his diary: (Quoted verbatim)
21st November (1838)
Attended a meeting of Magistrates very little business the chief was to consider the bad behaviour
of the Constables but owing to the partiality of one of the magistrates nothing was done two or 3
of the magistrates would have come further than I wished but one would do nothing.
Attended a meeting of Magistrates. When the misconduct of the Constables being clearly proved the one
was dismissed and the other having taken a public house had disqualified.
Two others were appointed to replace them but nothing will do unless we can get up a regular police.
Attended a meeting of Magistrates: no regular police or well regulated police can ever be obtained with
the present chairman of the Petty Sessions. Every thing is done by favour and party
The Constables are some of them the greatest scoundrels in town & the present favourites of the Chairman.
It was this system that Parliament was determined, against considerable opposition, to change.
The County Police Bill of 1839 permitted, but did not compel, magistrates to establish a police force
for the whole county. Most counties opposed this as an unnecessary expense, preferring the old system of
parish constables, Herefordshire believing that local affairs should remain in the hands of local magistrates
did nothing until 1841 and it was then only partially applied.
A new bill, the Parish Constables Act of 1842, gave power to parish vestries to appoint constables.
Ledbury acted promptly. At a meeting of the vestry on Sep 11th 1842 it is recorded that:
In Pursuance of an Act of Parliament passed on the 12th August last for the purpose of
taking the appointment of Parish Constables from the Courts Leet and giving it to the Magistrates and Inhabitants
in Vestry assembled: We the undersigned do hereby give notice that a Parish Meeting will be held in the Vestry room
on Thursday the 22nd inst in the forenoon to nominate persons eligible to serve the Office of Constables for the parish
And at the meeting of the 22nd Sep 1842:
At a Parish Meeting held this day in pursuance of the above notice it was resolved that the following persons
are eligible to serve the Office of Constables:
Mr Charles Edwards, Grocer, High Street.
Mr John Beddoe, Draper, High Street.
Mr John Buzaglo, Ironmonger, High Street.
Mr Henry Symonds, Grocer, High Street.
Mr John Dallon(?), Blacksmith, Wellington Heath.
Mr Samuel Higgins, Farmer, Hill Top.
Mr Charles S(?)outh, Farmer, Upper Mitchell.
Mr Thomas Powell, Farmer, Massington.
Mr James Ward, Farmer, Flights.
Mr James Hill, Groundsman, Round House.
Mr John Tooby, Farmer, Hill House.
Mr Thomas Ward, Farmer, Leddington.
Samuel Purnell, John Fleetwood and Joseph Simmonds having applied to this meeting for the situation
of paid constables We consider them competent persons and therefore recommend them to the approval
of the Magistrates. In consequence of so far attending the Meeting the salaries and incumbent of the
paid constables be left for further consideration.
At a meeting of Feb 23rd 1843,another selection of unpaid constables was made but in addition:
The meeting consider it necessary in order to prevent the depredations committed in the
town and neighbourhood that some paid constables should be appointed & they will recommend that Samuel Purnell,
John Fleetwood & Edward Symmonds be appointed at a salary of ten pounds per year each & that they were expected in
consequence of such salary to be always ready to act on any emergency in any part of the parish. Two out of the
three named persons to be chosen at the direction of the magistrate.
John Fleetwood and Samuel Purnell were evidently the chosen two but this didn't last too long
as at a meeting on March 21st 1844 it was
'resolved that the annual sum of twenty pounds allowed to the Constables Mr Samuel Purnell
and Mr John Fleetwood be discontinued from 23rd March next.'
The Parish Constables Act of 1842 also created a novel type of stipendiary police officer known as a
superintending constable. Paid from the county rate he had control over the parish constables in
his division. Most counties welcomed this as it appeared to be much cheaper than the creation of a
full time county constabulary. Herefordshire, rather belatedly, adopted this system
and in 1844 appointed William Shead to the post in Ledbury. Born in Peckham in 1816, he served in
the Royal Horse Guards from 1835-1840 followed by a four year stint
as a Turnkey in Shrewsbury Prison before being appointed to Ledbury.
As well as Ledbury his duties covered the parishes of Ashperton, Aylton, Bosbury, Coddington, Colwall,
Canon Froome, Castle Froome, Donnington, Eastnor, Eggleton, Little Marcle, Much Marcle, Munsley, Parkhold,
Pixley, Putley, Stretton Grandison, Tarrington, Woolhope and Yarkhill.
He received £ 75 per annum plus lodging for himself and family and £ 20 per annum toward the keep of a horse,
in consideration of his conveying to Hereford all prisoners committed to that prison.
In all this he was assisted by the unpaid constables of each parish.
The Courts Leet system rumbled on, although it was not responsible for the appointments it still went through
The records of a meeting on 29th October 1845 shows 'We also present the Constables appointed by the Justices
to be Constables of the Borough of Ledbury.' and in 1847 'We also present William Shead (1816-1895) to be constable of the
Borough of Ledbury'.
He obviously intended to make his mark as a Newspaper report dated 04 March 1846 shows:
'At our petty sessions on Wednesday, two informations were laid against two retailers of cider at Woolhope.
The facts of the case are these:
On Sunday the 8th ult. Superintendent W. Shead and his brother in law, John Jones, a tailor who resides with
Shead went (in the cart used to convey prisoners to Hereford) from this town to Woolhope, where the latter
proceeded to the house of a man named John Clarke, and asked him to draw some cider. This was about 9 o'clock
in the morning, and Clarke told him he was not allowed to draw drink till after one o'clock on the Sabbath day.
Jones, who to use his victim's expression, was shivering and shaking very much and appeared ready to faint,
then said, God bless you, let me have a pint of cider to help me on my road. This appeal quite overcame Clarke's
reluctance, and he accordingly drew a pint of cider. Shead came to the door, and the drink was hidden in the seat
of the settle. Shead soon succeeded in discovering its hiding place, and the consequence was that for this offence
the defendant was fined in the sum of 40s and 11s 6d expenses. A similar charge was made against a man named Brookes,
who was fined 10s, and 11s.6d expenses.'
Sheads conduct was not likely to endear him to the general public! He wouldn't get away with entrapment today.
The County and Borough Police Act of 1856 changed all this.
This Act required that in any county where a constabulary had not already been established for all
or part of the county, then the Justices of the Peace for the county should at the next General or Quarter
Sessions held after December 1, 1856, proceed to establish a sufficient police force, with the Treasury paying
one quarter of the costs of the salaries and uniforms. This was the start of the Police Service as we know
it today and, presumably, at this time the system of unpaid constables appointed by the parishes assisting the
Superintending Constable was abandoned.
William Shead, as Superintending Constable in Ledbury was about to be made redundant, and received £ 21 15s 6d (about £ 2,500 today) in redundancy pay.
Clearly well qualified for a post in the new Force, he signed up on April 29th 1857 as a Superintendent at Wigmore, later at Weobley. Retiring in 1881 he died in
Blackpool in 1895.
Conditions under which the Constables served in the new force were arduous. In 1857 daily hours of duty were fixed at 10, of which 7 had to be spent on night duty.
The only leave granted was one Sunday in every five weeks!
Salaries (in 1901) were: Constable on appointment 3/- (three shillings, 15p in today's money, about £ 6000 pa today ) per day rising to 3/10d after 6 years.
Sergeant 4/- per day on appointment rising to 4/9d. (about £ 8000 pa today) Superintendent 6/7d 3rd class on Appointment rising to
9/2d per day (about £ 18,500 pa today) for a 1st class Superintendent after 18 years.
Unlike most employment at the time posts were pensionable, this being part of the attraction.
The first Superintendent of Police in Ledbury after the formation of the Herefordshire Police was George Tanner.
Born 1828, he joined the Herefordshire Police on March 28th 1857 having previously served 11 years in the
Gloucestershire Constabulary. Reduced from 1st class Superintendent to 3rd class in 1870 for disobeying orders
and general inefficiency he was posted to Abbey Dore on May 17th 1870. Pensioned out of the Force in 1875,
he died in Hereford in 1889.
In 1857 he was assisted in Ledbury by Constables T G Spiers and J Taylor with Sergeant T Simpson in Ashperton and
Constable T Powell in Coddington.
Georges replacement, William Blunsdon, born 1824, served in the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Forces before
joining Herefordshire. Stationed in Wigmore as Sergeant in 1857 he was promoted to 3rd class Superintendent
in 1862 and to 2nd class Superintendent on transfer to Ledbury. He retired in 1881 and died in Ledbury in 1898.
The next Superintendent, James Smith, b 1840, joined the Herefordshire Police as a constable in 1860. Promoted to
3rd class Superintendent in 1881 on transfer to Ledbury from Cradley, he doesn't seem to have taken his duties too
seriously! In 1868, whilst at Much Cowarne, he was reduced from 1st class to 2nd class Constable for 'being absent
from his station, being found in a public house and giving a frivolous excuse'.
And in 1887 he was reduced from 2nd class Superintendent to 2nd class Sergeant for:
(1) 'neglecting to take proper charge of a fire* in the town of Ledbury' and
(2) 'for neglecting to report his arrival at H'Quarters after delivering a prisoner at H M Prison at 6.10 pm
until 10 am the following morning instead of returning by 7.30 pm train to his station same evening'.
Moved as a Police Sergeant to Leominster in 1891 he retired in 1892.
*The fire in the night of September 24th 1887 was in sleeping accommodation at the back of the Prince of Wales
in Church Street. The fire brigade were in attendance within five minutes and had the fire under control within
thirty minutes but not before two men had died. The newspaper report makes no mention of Superintendent Smith but
Police Sergeant A T Cope, was able to get a ladder from the Police Station (by now in Church Street) to help with
Andrew Thomas Cope, son of William Cope (1832-1897) the Deputy Chief Constable of Herefordshire, was born in
1855 in Marsden.
A railway porter in 1871 he joined the Herefordshire Constabulary in 1874.
Transferred to Ledbury from Colwall in 1881 as a Sergeant, he was promoted to Superintendent as might be expected, after the fire,
in 1887. He is in Ledbury with his wife, Sarah in 1891. On moving to Ross later in 1891, the grateful inhabitants of Ledbury
gave him a purse of 30 guineas. He was later transferred to Hereford and retired in 1911, his conduct being described
as exemplary in his retirement reference.
The Establishment for the Ledbury District in 1897 was 1 Superintendent, 1 Sergeant and 6 Constables.
Superintendent J Phillips.
Sergeant J Lloyd.
Constable W Weaver. (Ledbury)
Constable G Harrison. (Ledbury)
Constable A Vernalls. (Colwall)
Constable W Jones. (Bosbury)
Constable J Evans.(Much Marcle)
Constable Walker. (Munsley)
John Phillips, born 1844, served a short tour of duty in Ledbury in
1863. A Sergeant in Abbey Dore in 1891, promoted to Superintendent he succeeded Andrew Cope in Ledbury
from 1891 to 1909.
Traffic duty on the Top Cross was not too onerous at the time.