Policing in Halesworth


by Mike Fordham, Curator


Policing in Suffolk changed little between the 12th and early 19th Centuries. The county remained dependent on the established system of Justices of the Peace, parish constables and town watchmen. Each hundred had a High Constable who was directly responsible to the Justices for the maintenance of public order within the hundred.

Parish constables were compulsorily selected, with every householder liable to serve. The constable was given powers at common law to ‘apprehend any person committing crime, about to commit crime, a minor offence or a breach of the peace.’ When apprehended, an offender was required to be brought before the local Justice of the Peace. Where no pound, stocks or lock-up existed, the offender had to be retained in the constable’s own home. The constable was also required to make regular reports or ‘presentments’ to the local court regarding certain events within the parish.

The PRESENTMENTS of the several Petty Constables within the said Hundred of Blything 1809  [including]

Constable of said Parish       

BULCAMP                      David Dodd
CHEDISTON                William Walker
HOLTON                      Henry Becket
MELLS                        Martin George
SPEXHALL                 John Woolnough
WALPOLE                   W Cooper
WISSETT                   John O’Bria
RUMBURGH              William Algar
HALESWORTH        John Balls

Parish Constables were not equipped with uniform or warrant card and relied on their staff or truncheon as both a badge of office, and defensive weapon. The truncheon was individually made and decorated and usually carried the royal crown as symbol of authority.

In addition to the parish constables there were also special constables, appointed to assist in cases of emergency. Justices of the Peace would swear in their allotted  ‘specials.’ The service was compulsory and men were recruited from respectable members of the community. Once sworn in, the special constable was invested with full powers to disperse mobs and apprehend offenders. However, they were not armed save for a truncheon.


In 1835 one of the main principles of the Poor Law Amendment Act, keeping male and female members of pauper families apart, was imposed at Bulcamp Workhouse. This aroused violent hostility, leading to a riot. On the 21st December it was reported to the Guardians that a large body of men, armed with pickaxes and other implements, was advancing towards the Workhouse from the direction of Halesworth. Constables and Special Constables arrived from Wangford and Halesworth, and the Magistrates remonstrated with the mob. The Riot Act was read, and the mob withdrew, threatening to return. Military help was requested, and the Guardians resolved to defend the building against a possible night attack. The Board continued to sit until part of a troop of soldiers arrived.

By early 1836 alterations had been made to accommodate the female inmates in the east wing and the male inmates in the west wing. Separation was complete. The able-bodied men tried to obtain by force an interview with their wives but the Constables stationed in the Workhouse prevented this.

Four constables, including Benjamin Hubbard, Henry Webb and Charles White of Wenhaston, continued in the House to aid the Governor and to keep up communications if necessary with the Magistrates and Guardians. The High Constable, John Aldis of Halesworth, was requested to furnish 100 staves for the use of constables that may be assembled at the Workhouse. In April 1836 £63 was allowed by the Magistrates for police and Special Constables at the Workhouse. By July two police officers only were stationed at the Workhouse and these were discharged and the Poor Law.

Commissioners informed of the peaceful state of the Union.


In 1840 the Justices of the Peace for East Suffolk, unhappy with the inadequate system of parish constables, made application to the Secretary of State for approval to set up an organised police force under the Rral Policing Act. At the March Quarter Sessions, held at Wickham Market, John Hatton was appointed Chief Constable for East Suffolk. A Police Committee was formed and convened at Saxmundham, the Force Headquarters being housed at nearby Yoxford.

The first members of the new constabulary consisted of three superintendents and sixty constables. A constable of the new force was paid £1 a week and issued with a free uniform of greatcoat, cape, jacket, badge, trousers, boots and shoes, top hat, stock and a staff or truncheon made of wood. The new force was organised into three divisions; Beccles, Woodbridge and Lowestoft, each under the command of a Superintendent.

Lowestoft and many of the smaller County Boroughs however, still maintained their own ‘Borough Forces’ based on the high constable and parish constable organisation. In 1839 John Aldis senior of Halesworth was the High Constable of Blything Hundred. He retained the title of Chief Constable for Halesworth in Blything Hundred until after 1846.  

One of the first constables to be appointed to the new force was Edward Fitzgerald. In the following year he was appointed an inspector in Ipswich Borough, whilst still retaining his rank as constable in East Suffolk! In 1842 Fitzgerald was appointed Superintendent in the East Suffolk Force (resigning from the Ipswich Borough Force).

In June 1843 Major Peter Allez (b. Guernsey 1808) was appointed Superintendent and Deputy Chief Constable. He was stationed at Lowestoft (but between 1851 & 1857 he lived in Bungay Road Halesworth.)

‘The Suffolk Force has been highly useful both in detecting offenders and preventing crime.’ said a report in 1844. The establishment for East Suffolk consists of two superintendents, four inspectors, eight sub-inspectors, and fifty-two constables located in forty sub-districts in many of which are station houses.’

In 1857 two extra divisions were introduced and the force establishment increased to include five superintendents (one for each Division), eight inspectors, five sergeants and 94 Constables.

Peter Allez DCC & Superintendent at Lowestoft became responsible for efficiency in the northern part of the East Suffolk Force.

In August Beccles agreed to pay the East Suffolk Force £139 6s 8d a year for a sergeant and two constables to police the town. In November, the Borough of Eye agreed to pay the County £95 for two officers. Three years later Dunwich paid for one constable. This left Southwold as the only Borough Constabulary to maintain its independence, despite being described by her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary as ‘Inefficient in numbers and discipline.’

In 1869 the Chief Constable Mr Hatton resigned due to his incarceration in the County Gaol for debt. The DCC Peter Allez took temporary control of the Force. When the Chief Constable of West Suffolk retired at the same time, the Government took the opportunity to amalgamate the two forces into as a single constabulary for Rural Suffolk. Four years later, in 1873 the police force was formerly designated the ‘Suffolk Constabulary.’

In 1874, the Beccles Division ceased to exist and responsibility was transferred to a newly formed Lowestoft Division. Halesworth and Framlingham were similarly made Divisional Stations.


Between 1842-44, the first police station in Halesworth was located close to the corner of Pound Street and Steeple End. ‘A messuage and tenement on the corner has lately been divided into three dwellings. That part occupied by John Davy has since been used as a police station but is now unoccupied.’

‘White’s Directory’ 1844: entry for  Halesworth:
Edward Fitzgerald, police superintendent, Chediston Street
James Fosdike, policeman, Chediston Street
William Pooley, policeman, Chediston Street.

A house in Chediston Street was used as another temporary police station.

In 1846 it was recorded that ‘A neat police station has recently been erected in Quay St as the chief station of the Beccles Division of police. The petty sessions meet every alternate Wednesday at the Angel Inn’.

1851 Census for Halesworth:
Bungay Road                                Peter Allez (42) Deputy Chief Constable of Police
Lodging in the same house      William Runnadey (39) Police constable
Police Station, Quay Street      Richard Deare (35) Inspector of Police with family; Edward King (26) Police constable (lodger)

In 1855, Captain Peter Allez, Police Superintendent was living in Bungay Road while an inspector and two constables, James Cook and Charles Cone, were staffing  the Police Office in Quay Street. Robert Smith, another constable, lived in Bridge Street. Two years later, in 1857 Peter Allez DCC & superintendent moved to Lowestoft.  

On the justice side in Halesworth at this time, there was a County Court, held once a month at the Corn Hall and Petty Sessions were held every alternate Wednesday at the Angel Inn.

1861 Census

In Halesworth:
Police Station, Quay Street  George Edwards (44) Police Inspector
Edward Chase (38) Police Officer (lodger)
George Edwards daughter, housekeeper

In Westhall:
William Lucas (34) Police Constable (in Halesworth)

The Halesworth Police Force in 1862: 
Daniel K Taylor; Sergeant of Police at Halesworth
William Lucas; Police Constable
Ebenezer Tye; Police Constable
Henry Cattermull; Police Constable

In 1865, a new Police Station with three cells and a dwelling for the sergeant was erected in Pound Street (now 37 Thoroughfare, the Singtong Neeyam Restaurant) at a cost of £800. The entrance had a room each side and a back corridor opening on to the cell doors. Each cell had a brick coved ceiling, and a small barred window. High up on the wall of the left-hand cell was an iron staple and ring from which it is possible to chain the upward stretched wrists of a dangerous prisoner.

1871 Census, Halesworth:
122 Pound Street                   Daniel K Taylor (44) Inspector of Police (also his wife)
123 Pound Street                   Allen Precious (26) Police Constable (lodger)

1874: ‘The Police Office in Pound Street is staffed by an Inspector and two police constables. Jeremiah Gobbett is Superintendent. The Halesworth County Court District consists of the 49 parishes of Blything Hundred and Union. The Court is mostly held at the Angel. Petty Sessions are held at the Assembly Rooms.’ 


By 1830 over 30% of able-bodied men in the Blything Hundred were said to be unemployed. And those labourers with jobs needed to work for five days, just to purchase enough food to feed an average family for a week. Single men found themselves competing for work with women and children and their wages fell to perhaps two-thirds of that paid to a married man.  They rarely worked all year round, becoming part of that rural surplus on which farmers depended during the summer and autumn. But many farmers were said to be bordering on ruin. Social relationships between farmers and labourers deteriorated and rural protest and crime increased. In a number of instances threshing machines, so hated by the labourers because they displaced labour, were destroyed.

Conditions remained so bad for rural workers that, according to Mr Cooper of Blythburgh, ‘by 1836 many labourers and their families had migrated to the manufacturing districts of Lancashire, and a great many more would willingly emigrate if they had the means.’

In 1838 unemployment in Blything fell to nothing. The architects of the New Poor Law took credit for the complete turn around. However, the introduction of the New Poor Law coincided with rising wheat prices. Farmers found it cheaper to offer men work instead of paying high poor rates.

However, by 1842 the boom was over, wheat prices began to fall and unemployment began to rise again. The dry weather of 1844, and the possible repeal of the Corn Laws persuaded farmers to reduce the acreage under the plough and to throw labourers out of work. Single men and older hands bore the brunt of the changes. 1844 saw more cases of incendiarism in Suffolk than during any other year between 1815 and 1870.

In 1838 the number of offenders in Suffolk committed for crime to the Assizes and Quarter Sessions was 505, of which 342 were convicted. Nine were transported for life, 74 for a shorter period, 254 were imprisoned for six months or less.

                                           INCENDIARY CASES IN SUFFOLK, 1837-1850.

   1837       7    1844    142
   1838       5    1845      21
   1839       1    1846      27
   1840       7    1847      20
   1841       4    1848      27
   1842     10    1849      51
   1843     44    1850      45


A large stack of barley the property of Mr J. Webb of Halesworth, was burnt to the ground one Wednesday evening in November 1856. The culprit escaped but left a quantity of brimstone and a spotted handkerchief at the scene. A reward of £50 was offered for his discovery.

If perpetrators were caught, retribution was swift and unmerciful. Robert Martin and David Dale, labourers of Halesworth, were charged with stealing half a peck of peas from a field in Wenhaston. They were committed to Beccles Gaol for one month each with hard labour.

Eliza Briggs aged 13 was charged at the Halesworth Petty Sessions (May 27th 1857) with stealing a loaf of bread, a piece of cheese and a letter valued at 6d, from the property of Isaac Butcher, farmer of Holton, where she was employed by Mrs Butcher. The items were found in her possession. The Court sentenced Eliza to 21 days imprisonment with hard labour.


Ebenezer was one of four children born in Hasketon, Suffolk, to William and Priscilla Tye.  In 1861 at the age of 22, Ebenezer was living in Alderton and working as a journeyman blacksmith. His lodging house was next door but one to the local police station. For whatever reason, Ebenezer soon became a police constable and moved to Halesworth. Although inexperienced, Tye was described by his sergeant, Daniel Taylor, as ‘an active and zealous officer.’ In June 1862 he was rewarded at the Quarter Sessions for extraordinary courage in a case of larceny.

On the 24th November Sergeant Taylor arranged for P C Tye to keep observation on a house in Clarke’s Yard, Chediston Street, occupied by a well-known petty thief John Ducker. Sergeant Taylor continued with his tour of duty until past 1 am, and did not return until the following evening. To his dismay Sergeant Taylor learnt that nothing had been seen of P C Tye since the previous evening. With the assistance of constables Lucas and Cattermull, the sergeant made enquiries and, suspecting Ducker’s involvement in the young constable’s disappearance, they went to the suspect’s house. Ducker was found with two black eyes and other injuries. The sergeant left P C William Lucas with the suspect and went off to inform Superintendent Gobbett who was based at Beccles. When asked to account for his injuries, Ducker insisted that he had been hit by a piece of wood while chopping wood.

Later a search of osier beds and a small brook not far from Ducker’s house revealed the body of the young constable immersed in the filthy water. An old cap similar to one usually worn by the suspect was found nearby. 

The suspect was taken into custody at the Station House in Quay Street, where he was seen by the local surgeon, a solicitor and the Chief Constable, who had travelled up from Ipswich. Although Ducker denied any involvement in the murder of Tye, the circumstantial evidence was so strong that he was later committed to the Police Station at Beccles on remand. He appeared at the Suffolk Assizes in March 1863, where it was suggested that when confronted by the young constable, a fierce struggle had ensued with Ducker using a large studded cudgel to overpower Tye. Further, wet clothing found at the suspect’s home was saturated with deposits similar to those found on the constable’s clothing.

John Ducker was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was publicly hanged outside the County Hall, Ipswich, before a crowd of 4,000. He admitted his guilt prior to the sentence being carried out.  

‘The Funeral of P C Ebenezer Tye. The mortal remains of this unfortunate man were conveyed to their last resting place, the new cemetery, on Saturday last, and were followed to the ground by a large body of the County Police, including 8 Superintendents, 3 Inspectors, 2 sergeants and 42 Constables, together with the poor man’s father and other relatives. The deceased, as well as his sergeant have always been much respected by the inhabitants of the town.’ 

The Suffolk Mercury

 Link to the Suffolk Record office for further information on this murder

Halesworth police at the grave of P C Tye, Halesworth Cemetery
Halesworth police at the grave of P C Tye in Halesworth Cemetery