A Poole Peeler

I feel quite guilty that I haven’t posted anything on the blog for quite a while. I have been distracted by the book, having at last finished the main text (yippee!). However this is far from the end of the process because there are corrections, additions, index, illustrations etc. etc. However here is an offering about one of Poole’s early policemen who started in the force soon after Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police.

Benjamin Inkpen was born in Sturminster Newton around 1801 and set up in Poole as a tailor, first in Market Street and then in lower High Street where he lived with his wife, Mary Anne and his children, Maria and Benjamin George. In 1829, accounts show that he supplied 5 coats for the local watchmen at a cost of 53s each (a total of £13 5s).  By 1830 he was also serving as a constable at an annual salary of £5, becoming High Constable in 1831 and Chief Constable in 1832.

Inkpen's shop was in lower High Street near the corner of New Street

Inkpen’s shop was in lower High Street near the corner of New Street

At that time, the police force came under the control of the Lamp and Watch Committee also responsible for street lighting. The duties of the constables could be very demanding. Poole was rent with bitter political divisions and violence frequently broke out at election times. The closely fought election of 1831 brought the supporters and opponents of Parliamentary reform into conflict. Riots broke out across the county and a mob wrecked the King William pub in Parkstone and attacked the house of Thomas Gaden, a strong anti-reformer, before Inkpen and the heavily outnumbered constables could regain control of the situation. In 1832, for the first post-reform election, 179 special constables were recruited by the magistrates to control any riots and the total bill to the authorities was over £65. When a violent crowd gathered outside the Guildhall during the 1835 election and accused the Tories of rigging the result, Inkpen was cut on the head by a flying missile.

Legislation in 1835 brought the police under the control of the new, reformed town council. They decided to reappoint Benjamin Inkpen as High Constable with the additional duties of Water Bailiff at a salary of £20. His previous service had obviously impressed and he possessed the ability, rare in the Poole of the 1830s, to put aside his political sympathies to perform his professional duties. By 1839, John Sydenham described the force as consisting of 6 daily and 6 nightly policemen with a day and a night superintendent. A house in Hill Street was converted into a police office.

There were administrative duties for Benjamin Inkpen besides the more dramatic elements of the job. He had to present regular accounts for expenses, issue summons to appear in court and organise licensing sessions for inns and alehouses. He attended Coroner’s Inquests and was busy at the time of the Quarter Sessions giving evidence in various cases. Meanwhile, his tailoring business continued to supply the police force with uniforms.

Early police uniforms included a frock coat and reinforced top hat

Early police uniforms included a frock coat and reinforced top hat

A series of Acts of Parliament in the 1850s required the local council to take responsibility for the sanitary condition of the town and for trading standards. As they had little cash in the coffers, the obvious solution was to make further use of their Inspector of Police as he was now known. Benjamin Inkpen was appointed as Inspector of Weights and Measures, Inspector of Lodging Houses, Inspector of Nuisances and later, with a suitable increase of salary, Sanitary Inspector and Inspector under the Contageous Diseases (Animals) Act!

He set about his new roles in a typically thorough fashion, asking the Council for a standard set of weights and measures and producing byelaws to be observed by lodging house keepers. These give an idea of what the poorest housing must have been like at the time. The byelaws stated that each room had to be at least 250 cubic feet (6ft x 6ft x 7ft is 252 cu ft). Each room had to have a bin for dust, ashes and other waste, to be cleared every two weeks and the walls should be lime-washed twice a year. Every house had to have a privy or if this was shared with another house, it had to be close enough to satisfy the Inspector.

Benjamin Inkpen also had to serve notice on those responsible for nuisances of all kinds such as Joseph Joyce whose house in West Street was seriously dilapidated or fishermen using illegal nets in the Harbour. When George Curtis complained in 1860 that Mr Hewlett was keeping a disorderly inn, Inkpen was instructed to keep a watch on the premises. As part of his regular police duties he was also involved in a variety of activities: detaining deserters from ships, seizing a boat-load of stale herrings from Weymouth and tracking down illegally dredged oysters. In 1854, there was an attack on the police by the crew of the brigantine Secret and in 1860 they were obliged to station a force of men on the Quay to avert trouble during the seamen’s strike.

A Government inspection of the Poole police in 1860 reported that there were 11 men on the force, 9 constables, 1 superintendent and 1 sergeant. This meant that there was 1 constable to every 841 people and to every 431 acres. Following the report, it was decided to employ 3 more constables, to acquire 10 cutlasses at 15s each and to replace the capes with oilskin coats. Sword exercises were to be taught by Sergeant Barnes. A recruitment advertisement of around this time shows what the authorities required in a constable. He should be between 21 and 31 and at least 5ft 9ins tall ‘without shoes’. The salary was 18s a week.

Police cutlass

Police cutlass

In 1862, Benjamin Inkpen announced that as a result of his ‘advanced age and decayed constitution’ he had decided to retire. As a tribute to his service, the Council granted him a pension of about £50 a year, half his final salary. He retired to Fifehead Magdalen near Gillingham where in 1871 he was living with his whole family, his wife, his sister Phillis, his son George, daughter Maria, (wife of James Scott Renwick, a commercial traveller) and two grand-daughters, Mary Anne and Eliza. He died in 1876 and the official record of his will designates him as a ‘gentleman’.



About Poole High Street Project

Contact: Jenny Oliver - j.oliver48@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to A Poole Peeler

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