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In the Medieval period, law and order was left in the hands of the Constable and Bailiff. [See Town and Manor / Origins].
An Act of 1405 required that every community should maintain stocks for the punishment of offenders, who were secured by their ankles; these remained in use until the beginning of the 19th century. The town stocks are clearly shown on the paintings of the town hall shown on the right.
In the 17th century, the town hall was site of the various tools of punishment - the pillory, stocks, whipping-post and ducking-stool. The ducking-stool would have been wheeled down to the river, or possibly up the High Street to the town pond, where miscreants would have had their public humiliation to correct them of their ways.
There are a number of entries in the Constable's Accounts at this time for repairs to the Ducking Stool and Whipping Post and it would seem that these articles were in regular use.
A curious entry in 1676 refers to "Two shillings and eightpence paid to "tenders" (attenders) for the whipping of Thomas Pound and one shilling for the whippinge".
The Justices of the peace were drawn from the ranks of the clergy, gentry and other town notables, such as retired army officers. In the 18th and early 19th century the administration of law and order was under their jurisdiction; their remit included punishing petty crime, licensing alehouses, and regulating fairs and markets as well as weights and measures. At the Petty Assises in small towns and villages, they tried offences like poaching, assaults, abandonment of spouses and families, bastardy, vagrancy, wilful damage, petty theft and other misdemeanours. Crimes such as murder, aggravated assault, bigamy and arson were tried in superior courts.
- From paintings by G Shepherd, 1821 and 1829, of Town Hall showing the stocks
- West Berks Association poster advertising reward of £6 for finding the thief who stiole seven turkies from Anville Farm, Dec 1835
- The stocks at Leverton, c1920. It is said that these stocks were brought from London in the 1890s.
The West Berks Association:
In 1835, an organisation was formed in Hungerford "for the protection of property and the Prosecution of Felons". This was the "West Berks Association". The book of Rules and Regulations (kindly given by the Tubb family in 2015) is held in the HHA Archives.
Follow this for more information on the West Berks Association.
The West Berkshire Assicaiton held its last Annual Meeting on 29 Nov 1844, although there is an indistinct record af an aborted meeting (because of low attendance) on 18 Apr 1848.
Perhaps the newly formed police force had reduced the need for such a group.
The Police Service:
In 1829, Sir Robert Peel's Metropolitan Police Act brought an organised police force to London, and "Peelers" and "Bobbies" came to patrol the streets. The County Police Act of 1839 empowered Justices of the Peace to establish a paid constabulary for each county. By 1839 many rural large towns also had police forces. The police station in Park Street was built in 1864.
In Hungerford the commoners court carried the greatest responsibility for local misdemeanours.
The "Three Weeken" Court, which had jurisdiction for debts up to Forty Shillings and operated by distraint, was held in the Hall. It was discontinued in 1799, but the hall was still used for the Petty Sessional Court and the Hocktide Court of the Manor and the Courts Leet of Hungerford and Sanden Fee.
The Constable was, ipso facto, coroner of the borough, right up until 1931, when legislation required all coroners to be practising lawyers or doctors.
- BRO - Catalogue of Hungerford Borough Records in BRO