Monday, 7 December 2015

Crime and punishment in Victorian Bromley

Lucy Allen Bromley Archivist gave an excellent presentation this week at Bromley Archives and Local Studies.
I suppose that those researching family history are hesitant to question the honesty of their ancestors but Lucy gave a clear concise  outline of what a wealth of record sources Bromley can offer in the different decades of the century.
She showed the history of police stations in Bromley and District in the Victorian reign moving from the parish constable of 1837-1840 to the Metropolitan Police from 1840-1901 but demonstrating in one case how parish constables remained in office under Metropolitan Police direction.
The coming of Police Stations meant that the parish cage situated in Cage Field to the north of the Market Place was discontinued as the lock up for those awaiting hearing.
By demonstrating the Bromley Petty Session registers and the reporting of criminal cases in the Bromley Record Lucy identified how cases could be brought before the Bromley Magistrates. In 1889 25 magistrates can be identified.
Lucy also showed one earlier case brought before Charles Darwin in his role as a local Magistrate. Common offences involved furious riding and neglect or mistreatment of horses, failure to licence or control dogs a nd a variety alcohol related offences. Non-attendance at school was dealt with by fine in the hope of discouraging children in employment; as Lucy demonstrated in some cases this was ineffective. The Magistrates also heard allegations of bastardy and costs could be sought for medical and midwifery care around birth.
The Magistrates also regularly attended the Union Workhouse to hear allegations against inmates who refused to work or were violent and  could be sentenced to hard labour in prison.
Hard labour would involve the treadwheel or treadmill. Although the number of offences for which the death penalty dropped between 1837 and 1862 when only murder and treason could attract the penalty in the intervening years it applied to many offences. Magistrates could refer cases to higher courts where such sentences early in the Victorian reign were being passed.
Bromley and district Quarter sessions before at least two Justices of the Peace records are held at Maidstone at the Kent Archives and Library.
Another matter which could be brought before magistrates was allegation of lunacy under the Lunacy Acts the magistrates had powers to order the Union workhouse to detain for up to fourteen days those brought before them by police, relatives or any member of the public.
From June 1858 criminal hearings are often reported in the Bromley Record which the Archives are in process of digitising for easier searching by the public.
Lucy's choice of cases included the Cudham theft of a live ferret which for a period had to be in the custody of the local constabulary and produced in court for its owner to identify.It and other stolen property recovered from the accused secured conviction against two miscreants. It would be interesting to know how the ferret was produced in court!
Lucy demonstrated the wealth of record material in the late Victorian period records held for Bromley. The presentation was part of the progamme of events throughout the year. Although there is some uncertainty surrounding council plans to move the Lubbock collection into a display in the Archives and Local Studies floor of the Central Library and the future of organisation and staffing of branch libraries it is intended that a programme of public events will be offered in 2016.