Nostalgia: Looking back at a Wray policeman

Wray historian David Kenyon looks back at the village policeman who tackled drunkeness and brawls but was not liked by everybody.

Wednesday, 13th December 2017, 11:54 am
Updated Wednesday, 13th December 2017, 1:00 pm
Drawing by David Hartnup of Thistle House by moonlight, formally the Crown and Thistle public house. It is situated at The Cross, Main Street, Wray. Around 1860, teh Crown and Thistle was purchased by the Reverand W Ripley with the intention of closing it for the sale of alcohol. He wished to curb what he believed to be the excessive drinking habits of Wray's inhabitants. The Reverent Ripley also opened a reading room for the village next door to the former public house. This was in use between 1861 and 1882. Picture by Bentham Imaging, Jon Brook.

The lot of a policeman is not a happy one.

This is the story of William Bull.

He served in the Lancaster Constabulary in the middle years of the 19th century in the small village of Wray.

PC 407 William Bull, 1806-1899, was policeman in Wray for 18 years. He was a sergenat for the last 12 years.

By that period Wray had a population of around 800.

It had developed into a prosperous industrial community engaged in hatting, clog making, nail making, swill basket making, coal mining, quarrying and work in the village silk mill, where more than 100 people were employed.

It was during these prosperous times that drunkeness became a problem.

Wray became notorious for riotous living.

PC 407 William Bull, 1806-1899, was policeman in Wray for 18 years. He was a sergenat for the last 12 years.

Willaim Bull was born in 1806 at St Alkmunds near Shrewsbury.

He had been a butcher but at 17 years of age, enlisted in the 53rd Regiment of Foot. He served abroad from 1829 until 1840.

He married on April 29 1844 at Newry in Ireland.

Having served for 21 years and 12 days, he left the army on November 11 1845 with a good character and a pension of one shilling per day.

After leaving the army, circa 1849, William joined the police force.

He came to Wray where he remained for 18 years until 1867.

He was a sergeant for the last 12 years and, judging by the reports in the local newspapers, he tried to instil some of the discipline he had experienced in the army to this hard drinking and ill disciplined village.

On one occasion, he was left for dead in the street after a fracas with some of the villagers.

The ringleader was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.

We now list some of the court cases that police constable Bull was involved with.

These are taken from editions of the Lancaster Gazette between 1851 and 1854:

“Mary Ann Brown, of Wray, a middle aged woman, whose florid ‘frontis piece’ (face) proclaimed her an ardent lover of creature comforts, was charged by PC Bull with being drunk in Wray, on September 2.

“Disorderly she certainly was not, being so far overcome as to be unable to make any attempt at locomotion and was lying prostate on the ground when discovered by the officer.

“She was unable to walk and PC Bull had to secure the services of a man and a cart to take away the load, but when he got her home, the husband would not take her in and he was compelled to leave her with a neighbour.

“She pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined in the penalty of 5s and costs.

“PC Bull applied to the magistrates for the sum of six pence, which he had paid to the man for carting away the female but was informed that no allowance could be made for cartage but that he might make the charge in his incidental expenses.”

A disorderly:

“A charge was proferred by PC Bull against Thomas Middleton of Wray for being drunk and disorderly during the previous week.

“It was stated that the young man could not leave his work, but he attended by proxy.

“His proxy admitted the charge as detailed by Officer Bull.

“The magistrates enquired if the proxy was willing to pay the expenses which the foolishness of his principal had incurred and answering in the affirmative, the defendant was fined in the penalty of 5s and costs of 4s-6p.”

Negligent driving

“Robert Stephenson of Wray was charged with riding on a timber wagon and having no person to guide the horses. He pleaded guilty but said he could not walk, being quite foot-sore.

“He was cautioned and upon payment of the costs, the information was withdrawn.

“Robert Marsden of Bentham was charged with neglecting two carts and horses that were under his care.

“He was at such distance from them that it was impossible he could have any control over them. He pleaded guilty and the case was disposed of in the same manner as the previous one.”

Caution to publican:

“Jane Ripley of Wray was charged with having her house open for the sale of liquors at a quarter past twelve on the morning of Sunday the 12th instant.

“She stated that the clock had stopped at eleven. She had no idea that it was any later. The constable was asked the character of the house and he replied that it was very bad; whereupon Mrs Ripley exclaimed, “Oh dear, Mr Bull, how can you say so? The house is a very regular house and I could not keep it better if I was to try ever so.”

The following extract is taken from March 18 1854 edition of the Lancaster Gazette:

Policeman accused of assault:

“The case was heard at the Judges Lodgings, Lancaster. Magistrates present: E Dawson Esq, Chairman J H Chippendall, W Ford and B P Gregson Esq.

“William Bull, police constable at Wray, was charged with having, on February 28, at Wray, assaulted Richard Wilkinson.

“Mr Clark appeared for the complainant and Mr Sharp for the defendant.

“Mr Clark said he came to complain of an assault committed in the village of Wray, a village which had acquired a celebrity seldom heard of in any district for their assaults and drunkeness even amongst the highest swelled the calendar to an amazing extent.

“The case he had to bring before them was a very simple one, but very disgraceful to the policeman and for which he hoped if the charge was proved, they would punish him as he deserved.

“The first witness to be called was Jane Ripley, who was the landlady of the Crown and Thistle public house in Wray.

“Jane Ripley, who stated that owing to the great noise in the ‘big parlour’ she feared there would be some disturbance and went for Bull but saw nothing of the subsequent proceedings.

“On cross-examination, Mrs Ripley said she had been fined twice and was told that is she did not fetch the police when there was any disturbance, she would not lose her licence.

“Richard Edmondson, who lived near High Bentham, went to Ripley’s and found Wilkinson and Moorby on top of his brother and on begging them to be quiet, Wilkinson up with his fist and burst witness’s nose.

“Richard Herst, a collier, stated Bull and Wilkison got to scuffling and fell down, Bull uppermost, then Wilkinson threw Bull down after that, then Bull seized his staff and hit him on the side.

“He struck more than once but I don’t know where he hit him.

“After a short consultation, the Bench decided that the conduct of PC Bull had been in contravention of the act, which expressly enacts that no policeman can take cognisance of any assault of which he is not eye witness and inflicted a fine of 1/-d with £1.14 - 0d costs to be paid in a week or in default 14 days in the House of Correction.

“The Chairman said the Bench were unanimously of the opinion that they must convict and he regretted that the defendant should have used more force than was necessary.

“On the other hand, Wray was distinguished for its bad conduct and it would be more to their credit to conduct themselves in a proper manner.”

*Sergeant Bull was, however, appreciated by the more law abiding citizens of Wray, as can be seen by the following letter printed in the Lancaster Gazette:

“To all lovers of peace and all who wish to see the laws of our land honoured and respected will admit that Police SGT Bull, since he was located in Wray, has done more than any other man to secure that end.

“He has laboured with all his abilities to suppress the prevailing vice of drunkeness and preserve the public peace from the nightly brawls of drunken rabble and despite the efforts of a certain clique to remove him from this district, we hope the good sense of the ruling powers will influence them to let him remain here for we speak advisedly when we say that if any less stringent officer was placed in our village, it would be a premium for every species of blackguardism that ever infected the village of Wray in days that we trust are forever passed away.”