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Durham County Constabulary

From the reign of Elizabeth Tudor to the mid 19th century, the Law was kept through the parish constable, appointed by the parish council, all under the supervision of the Justices of the Peace, who were themselves answerable to the Crown.

In Heworth Township, the Select Vestry of Heworth Chapel chose constables each year about Easter time. During the 18th century Heworth had four ’constableries’ to cover the chapelry, one in High Felling, one in Low Felling, one in High Heworth, and one in Low Heworth. Usually, there were four constables to each unit, making sixteen altogether. In emergencies, extra constables could be sworn in. Men were expected to volunteer for duty for yearly spells. Some served long and frequently, others hated the job. Pay was very low, and training often non-existent.

The duties of the Heworth constables included:

Maintaining public order.
Keeping the peace.
Apprehending offenders, vagrants and nuisances.
Conveying the above, or felons, under guard.
Custody of prisoners.
Placing offenders in the stocks, lock-up or gaol.
Serving writs and summonses
Warning and attending upon Coroners.
Summoning jurors.
Inspecting public houses, lodging houses and other premises.
Checking weights and measures.
Supporting bailiffs at evictions.
Giving evidence before the magistrates.

Heworth Township had no gaols, but there were stocks set outside the west gate of the church. Convicts went to Durham Gaol.

During the early 19th century an increase in the population, and the growth of social ills associated with the industrial revolution, the arrival of immigrants, poor health, poor housing, and lack of education, and not least fear of revolution, all made the constable’s job much harder. Reforms were needed.

After the Reform Bill was passed in 1832, County Constabularies and City Police Forces were established. Heworth was in the Durham County Constabulary until 1974.

Policing was organised thus:

1839-40-41 : The county was divided into wards, with one superintendent in charge. Heworth went into Chester ward, the superintendent there having subordinate officers at these sub-police stations:

Whickham; Winlaton; Blaydon; Swalwell; Ryton; Dunston; Tanfield; Birtley; Washington; Ayton Banks; Heworth; Jarrow;Boldon; E. & W. Cleadon; Whitburn.

Gateshead Borough had its own Superintendent.

For several years the parochial constables still served alongside the county men, gradually fading and being absorbed. There were many new rules of service and specified duties, but the old ones were still relevant. Conditions of service certainly improved.

Mode of Appointment:

Every application to join the Force went before the Chief Constable. The rules of selection took into account a man’s Height, Weight, Eyesight, Age, Family background and Health.

Each applicant must have no convictions, and took a medical examination every third year.

Clothing and Equipment:

Each officer was given annually one complete uniform, with one extra greatcoat and raincoat, and one pair of trousers every other year. Each received a boot allowance of one shilling and sixpence a year.

Every policeman carried a truncheon, handcuffs, keys, a notebook, a diary, an instruction book, a lantern, and, if sent any great distance, a knapsack. Later, a whistle was added and torches replaced lanterns.


In 1853 Durham police were paid thus:

Chief Constable. £350 per year.
Superintendents 1st class. £100 per year.
Superintendents 2nd class. £ 75 per year
Inspectors £65 per year.
Sergeants. £54 per year.
Constable. £48 per year.

New recruits were paid 15 shillings a week for the first two years. Inspectors and above were paid monthly.

Free houses were provided, and in most colliery villages, free coals as well. Superintendents got a horse allowance. There was extra pay for dangerous duty such as riot control, strikes, and epidemic outbreaks or disasters.

In 1842, a superannuation fund was set up, by which the men each contributed 2.5 % of their pay towards a pension.

After the Felling Local Board was established in 1863 to organise local affairs instead of the old Heworth Parish Vestry Council, its members decided that a central police station was needed. By 1870 a substantial corner house at the bottom of High Street opposite to the Beeswing Hotel, had been adapted as the first County police station in Felling with a Sergeant Evans in charge.

In Slater’s Directory of Felling in I894, the police station is placed in Collingwood Street, with Sergeant Wm. H. Tillar in charge. Heslop’s Local Advertiser, in November, 1939, held an obituary on Fred Clegg a well known Felling shopkeeper whom I can vaguely remember. It said he was a native of Manchester, and that "he bought the old Felling Police Station, at the foot of High Street and opened there a confectioner’s and tobacco shop". A sociable man, he made friends, helped his neighbours and was a successful businessman, keen trade unionist and a. ’Knight of the Golden Horn.’ The premises are once again a good-sized house.

None of the staff at Felling Police Station could tell me anything about its origins, or its first police force. The building is in local redbrick, with local sandstone trimming, and was put up about 1900, at the same time as the new Council Offices were going up opposite in Sunderland Road. This site was carefully chosen to represent the civic power combined with the power of the Law, and Sunderland Road was an important highway along which tramcars ran, giving easy access to both headquarters.

The new police station was as well equipped internally as seemed necessary in 1900. There was a reception desk, waiting room, a few small offices, several cells, a medical room, and a washroom with WCs and wash-basins. On the top floor a private flat was provided for the superintendent, who was thus obliged to "live over the shop", not forgetting the stable out back for his horse.

The superintendent was able to command three inspectors, eleven sergeants, sixty-eight constables, and two messenger boys with bicycles. No motor vehicles were available then for the police.

The constables were dispersed around the Felling district, living in designated police houses which could also serve as sub-stations. From the 1920s Felling Council allocated council houses to police officers, who received an allowance as part of their salary to pay the rent. In 1921, Superintendent Albert Gargate was the chief at Felling and his senior inspector was Thomas Carruthers, who later became superintendent. He was the last officer to live above the station at Felling. Gargate retired to a house in St. Mary’s Villas and Carruthers to a house in Sunderland Road Villas in Heworth. Both men were greatly respected and well known in the community.

There were sub-stations in these places in the 1920s:

Heworth Village - a Coronation Cottages next to the Swan Inn
Heworth Colliery
Wardley Colliery
Felling Colliery with Felling Shore
Windy Nook
Pelaw - in Princess Street
Bill Quay - near the shipyard
Pelaw Main Staithes.

In my childhood in the Thirties, the policeman walking his beat was a familiar sight and we knew many policemen by name, and, more to the point, they knew us. Children were corrected on the spot by constables in a firm and sometimes severe way, if they were spotted doing something untoward.

A boy was instantly put off a tram for spitting on its floor, another who swore at a shopkeeper was made to apologise, and then marched home. Two boys, trying to uncoil a roll of barbed wire in the grass at the barricade on Watermill Lane in 1940, didn’t see the sergeant in time. He bent them over his knee and smacked their bottoms. None of us considered these as cruel or unjust punishments, but as simple retribution.

What was perhaps more important, we tended to trust policemen as people we could turn to when in need of help. It goes without saying that there were no police women then, but no-one found that in any way peculiar. Before the advent of the police patrol car, officers rode on public transport free of fares, so at all times they got on and off buses, trams or trains, thus ensuring peace on board. Probably their biggest problem was handling drunkards late at night.

With the formation of the new county of Tyne and Wear in 1974, came the changeover in this area to the Northumbria Police Force. Panda cars and fast patrol cars replaced the constable on foot or bicycle, thus isolating the policemen from the public. Officers need no longer live in police houses, but on their own, anywhere. So we ceased to know each other, and therefore perhaps stopped trusting each other. Affluence and poverty side by side caused increases in most types of crime and a loss of respect for authority followed, mostly because wilful, irresponsible people embraced the "permissive society". Nevertheless, I believe we still have the best police force in the world in our small country.

by J. M. Hewitt



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