Fontmell Policemen in the 19th Century

January 11, 2006

This is the story of the policemen and their families who lived in the police house in South Street, Fontmell Magna, which was the former Toll House on the Shaftesbury to Blandford turnpike road. Although the formation of the Dorset Constabulary did not begin until the autumn of 1856, the magistrates of the Shaftesbury, Blandford, Wimborne and Sturminster Newton had appointed policemen on a local level from about 1849. In the 1851 census for Fontmell the names of two policemen are mentioned: Robert Hart (aged 40) and Richard Randall (aged 28) who presumably belonged to this local grouping, but we do not yet know why there were two of them or where they were housed.

The Toll House, South Street

The Toll House, South Street

Expenditure by the Turnpike Trust indicates that the Toll House on the Sutton Turnpike (South Street) may have been erected in the early 1850s. It replaced a small building situated on the highway verge. Shortly after the passing of the Highways Act 1862, parishes were amalgamated when the Shaftesbury Highway District was formed, but the Shaftesbury Division of the Turnpike Trust was terminated on 1st November 1865. It would seem likely that the old toll house was bought and renovated by Dorset Police in time for their first appointed officer in Fontmell to take up residence in 1857.
Dorset policemen were regularly posted to different stations

Map of Dorset

Map of Dorset

throughout the county. This map shows the position of some of the bigger towns mentioned below, from Bridport in the west, to Sherborne and Shaftesbury in the north, and to Wimborne in the east.
William Adams (P.C.21) was the first member of the Dorset Constabulary to be stationed in Fontmell Magna as a constable first class, there being three classes of constable. He lived in Fontmell from 12th January 1857 to 22nd December 1858 together with his wife, Sarah and daughter Emily. In order to comply with the recruitment regulations, William would have been 5ft 8 inches or more in height, would be between 22 and 35 years old and would be literate. He had been born in Cerne Abbas in Dorset and his wife in Henstridge. In 1858 he was transferred to Kington Magna, where in 1859 he was ‘attacked by railway labourers’, the village being only a short distance from the new Salisbury to Sherborne line. He was then sent to Shaftesbury, where in the 1861 census, he is recorded as aged 39, living in Bell Street with Sarah (aged 39), Emily (aged 13) and a general domestic servant, Sarah A. Alner (aged 16). His rank of 1st class may have been in jeopardy in 1861 when he was ‘reprimanded for being under the influence of liquor at Shaftesbury’, but he escaped demotion. Between 1862 and 1876 he was moved to Cranborne, Bere Regis and Wimborne where he was ‘commended for arresting two men in Devizes for house breaking near Wimborne’. This led to his promotion of PC Merit Class in 1870. In 1876, on the death of his wife Sarah, a collection of 1s.9d. per man raised £10.14s.3d from his fellow officers. Later that year he transferred to Witchampton, then Bridport in 1878, Charminster in 1879 and Buckland Newton in 1882. He retired the following year at the age of 64, after 27 years service in the force, with a final report of ‘good character’, and a pension of 14s. a week.

Nehemiah Spicer P.C.26

Nehemiah Spicer P.C.26

We come now to short diversion in our story. Nehemiah Spicer P.C.26 (1828-1917) was born in Fontmell Magna but was never stationed here. He was the son of John Spicer and Ann Sharp. The Spicer family was widely spread throughout the village and Bedchester, and numbered no less than 48 in the 1841 census. The family trade was carpentry – James, Joseph, two Christophers, two Johns and George were all entered as carpenters. Nehemiah, then only 12, was an agricultural labourer, and with his sister Betsy, was a boarder with Mrs Mary Mayo at the shop in Church Street. In 1851 he was still living in the village, but was now classified as a servant. Clearly he was not following the family tradition. At some stage in the late 1850s he must have left the village to join the Dorset Constabulary, for in 1860 the police records show that he had been stationed at Langton Matravers and was now posted at Steeple. In 1861 he was moved to Sixpenney Handley where he met and married Emma Lucas and where their first two children were born, Lot in 1862 and Frank in 1863. During this period Nehemiah was promoted from 3rd to 2nd class constable. Regular re-locations took the family first to Shapwick from 1864 to 1866 (where his third child George was born), and then to Wimborne and Spetisbury (where Sydney was born), and finally to Piddletrenthide in 1870 (where Harry, who also became a policeman, and Tom were born). This was Nehemiah’s final posting, for in 1873 he was declared medically unfit and retired with a gratuity of £82 (about £2700 today).
We can now return to the list of officers actually stationed here and among whom were several dubious characters.
James Stainer (P.C.60) was in Fontmell from 17th October 1859 to 8th August 1860. He had worked in Wool beforehand, during which time he was promoted from 3rd class to 2nd class constable. However, he was reported for drinking at Iwerne Minster and demoted to 3rd class. He was allowed to resign later in 1860 from Marnhull.
George Chees(e)man (P.C.8) was our next policemen from 8th August 1860 to 21st February 1861. The first information available about him is an entry in 1859 when he was twice fined 5s. for not being at the Conference Point at Moors Hill on two occasions. However, in 1860 he was promoted from 3rd class to 2nd class. He was transferred from Fontmell to Marnhull, but a month later was dismissed from the service for being £4.4s.6d in debt.
Joseph Pomeroy (P.C.25) moved to Fontmell Magna on 21st February 1861 as a constable first class. In the 1861 census he was aged 33, his wife Mary Ann was 32 and his daughter Mary Ann was 6 – all born in Beaminster. On 29 October 1862 he was acquitted of a charge of being under the influence of liquor at Fontmell Magna. On 12th June 1863 he was demoted to 3rd class constable. He was ‘fined a week’s pay and reduced for being drunk at Fontmell Club’. He left on 14th September 1863 being transferred to Lulworth, and was then charged with being drunk in daylight at Cerne. He eventually resigned on 29th September 1865 having been absent from General Inspection and found drunk. His report stated ‘fined and removed’.
John Cleal (P.C.72) was in Swanage during the 1861 census aged 36. He was transferred to Fontmell Magna on 14 September 1863 as a 1st class constable. However, he was demoted to 2nd class for ‘not reporting a case of geese and ducks being stolen and sheep killed’. He left Fontmell on 16th March 1865 for Lyons Gate, then on to Hillfield and Sherborne. In 1869 he was late for a General Inspection at Lyme, reprimanded and fined 2s 6d. In 1870 he was absent from Conference Point, again reprimanded and fined 15s. In 1872 he was seen drinking in a public house in Portland. He was removed and placed at the bottom of 2nd class constable. He was deemed medically unfit in 1874 after 16 or more years in the force. His pension was 9s per week for one year, after which time he had to have a new medical. In 1875 he was found to be still unfit for duty and the pension of 9s per week continued.
William Webb (P.C.18) was transferred from Longham to Fontmell Magna on 23rd September 1869. He wasn’t here for long, unusually there is no note of his leaving date, but on 18th November 1869 he was being promoted to 2nd class Sergeant, subject to passing an examination. He was transferred from Cranborne to Askerwell. However, while at Cranborne a prisoner escaped and PC Webb was demoted to bottom of 2nd class Sergeant. ‘He was removed at his own expense’, which we understand to mean he had to pay for his removal expenses to another Police Station. In 1879 while on plain clothes duty at Chaldon he allowed another prisoner to escape. He was demoted to Police Constable and interestingly was now P.C.52 and transferred to Marnhull.
On 18th November 1869 there is an entry stating that James Short (P.C.55) left Fontmell Magna to go to Longburton. In 1872 he was on duty at an exhibition being held at Dorchester on 14th May and he was promoted in 1873 from 1st class Constable to Merit Class and again in 1876 it is noted he moved from 1st class to 2nd class Sergeant. He died at Corfe Mullen on 20th April 1878, having joined the Force in 1859. His widow received £21 14s 0d (about £780 today).
Edmund (or Edwin) James (P.C.12) in 1857 was moved from Shaftesbury to East Orchard and was promoted from 3rd class to 2nd class Constable. In 1858 he was sent to Wyke Regis, from there he left for Chideock, then to Winfrith via Broadwinsor and Broadmayne. He was promoted to Sergeant in 1866. But because he ‘sent PC Pomeroy for 15 pints and 1 gin for prisoners at Cranborne’ James was demoted to Police Constable and became P.C. 18. He was sent to Fontmell Magna from Cranborne on 18th November 1869. The next entry is in 1871 when he won a book prize for neat writing. He left Fontmell shortly afterwards on 16th November 1871 for Shaftesbury. It is interesting to learn that if a policeman was demoted from Sergeant back to Constable he did not return to his original P.C. number, as in this case.
Stephen Rid(e)out (P.C. 46) was a long-serving policeman in Fontmell Magna from 16 November 1871 to 11 October 1877. In 1857 he was fined 5s ‘for having his clothing exposed in a slovenly condition’. However, between 1859 and 1861 he was promoted to 1st class constable. In 1863 while working in Milton Abbas he was assaulted, but made an arrest the following day without a warrant and was fined 5s. He moved to Winfrith, Shaftesbury and Holt between 1864 and 1866. In August 1866 he was demoted to 2nd class constable and fined for being in a beer shop. He went to East Stour that year and there is a note that he ‘complained to a private individual about the August General Orders’. While at Fontmell Magna in 1872 he was promoted to 1st class Constable and was given promotion in 1874 to Merit Class ‘for discharge of duty’. In January 1877 a collection following his wife’s death raised £10 15s 3d. He was transferred later that year to Bere Regis. He moved on to Piddletrentide and in 1882 there is a comment on his ‘praiseworthy conduct’ at a fire at Piddletrentide. He retired medically unfit in 1884 after 27 years in the force with a pension of 14s per week.
Richard Poynter (P.C. 41) Merit Class was the next policeman to live in the Fontmell Magna Police House. He stayed for over 6 years, having moved in on 11th October 1877 from Blandford where he had been for two years. He had worked locally in East Orchard for 4 years between 1862 and 1866. In 1879 he received a reprimand for being absent from Conference Point. And again in 1883 when he was demoted to bottom 1st class for being absent from Conference Point at Peggs Mile, he also had to pay his own expenses when he was transferred on 1st December 1883 to Sixpenny Handley. While there he was struck off Merit Class for neglect of duty regarding a stolen horse. While at Verwood in 1886 he retired as medically unfit, but of good character after 26 years service and given 13s a week pension. Information from the 1881 census tells us he was aged 42 and had been born in Abbotsbury. His wife, Elizabeth was also 42, born Cornwall. Their daughter, Susan A. (aged 13), was born Sturminster, Cassandra (aged 11), Mary (aged 8), and Edward T. (aged 6) were all born in Tarrant Gunville where had been stationed for 6 years between 1869 and 1875.
William Long (P.C. 91) followed in December 1883 and in 1885, having passed the necessary examinations, was promoted from 1st Merit Class to Acting Sergeant and three months later became a 2nd class Sergeant. Maybe he was considered over qualified for Fontmell and was transferred on 31st October 1885 to the town of Wimborne.
John Simpson (P.C. 114)took over on 31st October 1885. Earlier in his

Sturminster Newton area

Sturminster Newton area

career he was reported for carrying a walking stick while on duty at Lydlinch and reprimanded. He was stationed in Sturminster Newton when his wife died in 1881 and his colleagues and Sergeant had ‘stoppages of 1s 9d’ for the collection. He then moved to Gillingham and from there moved as Acting Sergeant to Fontmell Magna. He passed examinations which qualified him for promotion to 2nd class Sergeant in 1887 and transferred to Maiden Newton on 9th July 1887.
Fredrick Sprackling (P.C.42) moved from Gillingham to Fontmell Magna on 9th July 1887, but the only information we have about him is that on 26th November 1887 he passed the necessary examinations qualifying him for promotion. He had worked in the Headquarters in 1879. In the 1891 census he was aged 30, had been born in Maiden Newton, his wife Harriet was 36, born in Thorncombe, their son Bertram was 4, born in Gillingham and Algernon was 2 months old, having been born in Fontmell. We have no date of when he left Fontmell or if he continued in the Police Force in Dorset.
Our final reference to 19th century Fontmell policemen came in the 1901 census when George Andrews was already stationed here. He was then aged 32 and was born in Chickerell, Dorset, his wife Louisa was 30 (from Oxfordshire) and they had two sons, Leslie George and Ewart Moreton.

Police House, Fontmell Magna

Police House, Fontmell Magna

The village lost its own police house in the 1960s. Now there are only police stations in the Dorset towns. But for over 100 years Fontmell Magna had its own policeman. Perhaps we need to remember that the conditions of employment were very stringent in the early days. A constable was not permitted to express any political or religious opinions, or vote in elections or marry without the Chief Constable’s permission. They undertook their duties on foot for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was only in 1894 that the constabulary was first provided with bicycles, but not every constable received one until many years later. Things are a little different today.

Acknowledgements
This article draws upon two main sources: Dorset Constabulary 1856-1956 edited by J Gray and D Holmes (no date, but possibly 1958), and especially Dorset Police Officers 1856 – 1888, edited by Maurice Hann, copies of which are deposited at the Dorset History Centre, Dorchester. The task of connecting the data contained in the original General Orders Books of the Dorset Constabulary with the Fontmell Magna Police Station would have been immeasurably more difficult without these more recent sources.

Author: Gay Mole