The Era of the Parish Constables


Before the Devon County Constabulary and Cornwall County Constabulary were formed in the 1850s, parish constables were elected once a year by the vestry meeting in each parish. The office of parish constable was often an unpopular one, for they received no wages and many attempted to buy their way out of having to serve. However, once the Constabularies had been formed the locally-appointed parish constables passed into policing history.

George Gater Potter (pictured with his wife)George Gater Potter (pictured with his wife) (image © Mrs Frances Peek) was the last recorded parish constable of Abbotskerswell, a village near Newton Abbot. This photographic print was taken from an old glass plate negative dated about 1860, or possibly a little earlier, at a time of the infancy of the Devon Constabulary.

The parish vestry record of Lamerton Parish, near Tavistock, of 1st April 1852, detailing the appointment of the eight local parish constables for the year.

The parish vestry record of Lamerton Parish

The records were so-called because the meetings of this parish committee took place in the vestry of the parish church.

Truncheons and hand cuffsPart of the collection of parish constables' truncheons, tipstaffs and handcuffs held by former P.C. Peter Luscombe.

The parish constable's tipstaff and, later, truncheon were 'badges of office' as opposed to their modern-day use as weapons of defence. These officers wore no uniforms, so many used to hang their truncheons outside their cottages to indicate their presence and authority.

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