Constables and Watchmen

Constables

The Parish, or 'Petty', Constable was expected to perform all of the main duties associated with local policing:

  • keep order in inns and ale houses
  • keep the peace in the parish
  • arrest people who have committed crimes
  • prevent crimes such as trespassing and poaching
  • carry out punishments such as whipping vagabonds
  • watch the behaviour of apprentices
  • look out for vagabonds

How effective were Constables?

The Petty Constable’s job was unpaid and done in addition to a person’s usual day job. This made some people reluctant to work hard. There was no training for Parish Constables and they had no uniform or weapons.

Some people disliked having to keep a watch on and report their friends and family in the local community.

Most Constables were tradesmen or farmers in the local area. As such they knew local people well. They would have also had some limited standing in the local community.

Watchmen

A London night-watchman with his pike and lantern.
Watchmen patrolled the town streets at night, looking out for criminal activity

Their presence was meant to be a deterrent to criminals. Their role also involved calling out the weather and the time as well as helping drunkards get home.

How effective were Watchmen?

Watchmen were paid little for their job, and therefore many were reluctant to put in a lot of effort. Many were found asleep in pubs and many of them were old people, making them less effective.

They became known as Charlies or Charleys after 1663 when Charles II set up a force of paid Watchmen to patrol the streets in all towns and cities. Charlies became objects of fun, and children would attempt to bait them. In Georgian times, Charlies increasingly used watch-boxes and these were an easy target.