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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Teesside

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rural middlesbrough
Middlesbrough from Marten Road, 1859

© Courtesy of Middlesbrough Reference Library
Policing the frontier: Middlesbrough c.1830s to 1860s

When the God-fearing Quakers of Darlington created their new town on the banks of the Tees in 1830, they had a vision of an ordered community in which the lives of the inhabitants would be as clearly laid out and ordered as the streets they lived in. However, the reality was somewhat different. As large numbers of men, mainly young and single, and rather fewer women flocked into the town, a vibrant, rough-edged society emerged that had more in common with the frontier towns of Australia or America. Maintaining law and order in a town that rapidly acquired a ‘hard-working, hard-living’ reputation, characterised by drunkenness and violence was no easy matter.

Map of Cleveland, 1843
© Courtesy of Middlesbrough Reference Library
The situation was not helped by the fact that policing in the 1830s and 1840s was severely under-resourced. Although the Improvement Act of 1841, under which the town was run until the early 1850s, contained provision for the appointment of as many constables as were necessary, the town’s founding fathers showed no sense of urgency or concern for over a decade, during which the town was lightly and inefficiently policed. In the early 1850s, Middlesbrough had one policeman for every 4000 of its population. The received wisdom at the time was that one policeman per 1000 population was necessary for efficiency. Moreover, the men who donned the constable’s uniform were transitory figures, coming and going with startling frequency, and of very limited ability. Their conduct, variously described in Watch Committee minutes as ‘improper’ and ‘highly reprehensible’, and their dismissals demonstrated that they were ‘entirely unfit for the office’.

Words: David Taylor

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