Bolton Genealogy

18th Century Churchgate


Before the Bolton Police Force was formed in 1839, maintaining law and order, such as it was, was carried out by parish constables, who were elected for a period of twelve months. There was no remuneration for this. Their duties were mainly the inspection and maintenance of roads, bridlepaths and bridges, collection of rates, apprehension and detention of law breakers, and on occasions their punishment, such as whipping and placing in the stocks.

Because these duties were so unpopular and time consuming, many parish constables appointed deputies to act for them. As the rates of pay were so miserable they tended to attract only those who were unable to find employment elsewhere, such as the down and outs, the feeble or the sick. Consequently, Bolton was a pretty lawless place, as law-breakers could carry on their wrongdoing with little fear of detection.

The Manor Court of Turton*, formed in the early 18th century (and for which records have survived), is a good example of how this worked. The Court met in the Spring and Autumn of each year. The jury generally consisted of 13, and was presided over by the steward of the manor or his deputy. At each court, constables, moss lookers, wood lookers, fence lookers, house lookers and by-law men, together with affeerers and an impounder, were appointed. From October 1790 the jurors would swear themselves in as special constables. A list of stewards can be seen below.

The court principally busied itself with repairs of roads, fences, and water courses, straying of horses, cattle, poultry and dogs, harbouring of strangers, improper getting of turf, and eavesdropping! Its limit of jurisdiction seems to have been a penalty not exceeding 40 shillings. As time went by, and the police force became established, the role of the 'Specials' took on a wholly different character, being invaluable in times of need, such as when there were riots in the town (which happened frequently in Bolton in the 19th century) and latterly in times of war.

The following is a list of Special Constables in Bolton for the years 1816-1831

Stewards at the Manor Court of Turton

1737: Henry Moreton 1745 James Brandwood 1749 John Hamer 1761 John Kay
1764 John Kay 1764(May) Joseph Smallwood 1767 John Ridgway 1801 Charles Barrett
1835 James Winder 1848 John Ashworth, jnr.

* Held at Turton Tower.