Today's Citizens, Past Lives at Beverley

Law and order

During the Victorian period, the government was worried about an increase in crime and the very first official police force was set up in 1835. As a small town, Beverley did not have a great deal of crime, but it had its own borough court where cases were tried sometimes several times a week. The most serious crimes, which could be punished with the death penalty, were tried at the main court in York.


The police force:

By the early 1850s the Beverley police force had a superintendent, eight constables who also worked as night watchmen and three sergeants at mace or day policemen. If they needed help, night watchmen had to raise the alarm with a rattle and they also carried lanterns, handcuffs and staves (large sticks). 


Crimes in Victorian Beverley:

All kinds of crimes were committed in 19th Century Beverley, from murder and riot to dog fighting and theft. The town had many homeless people who often turned to crime to survive. At the time, their only other option was to live in the workhouse.

The most serious problem seems to have been drunkenness, especially during busy times like market days, elections, fairs and the Beverley races. People were also often arrested for gambling, poaching and arguments with family or neighbours. 


The House of Correction:

Crimes could be punished with anything from a small fines to imprisonment with hard labour, or even death. Drunken people could be put in the stocks (a wooden post that people could be fixed to) under the Market Cross. 

The local prison was called the 'House of Correction'. It was behind the Sessions House in New Walk, and opened in 1810 to house up to 100 prisoners at any one time. In prison people were given a diet of plain food, hard work and moral training, which was supposed to make them turn over a new leaf. 

Prisoners were not allowed to speak to each other. During the day they were expected to work, perhaps at weaving, sewing or breaking stones and, worst of all, moving a treadmill to grind chalk into a powder. 

Even children could go to prison in the Victorian period! Read about 11-year-old Sophia Constable, who was imprisoned at Northallerton Gaol in the late 19th Century. 

View other relevant My Learning resources or see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas. 

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