Glossop Heritage Trust

The Old Court Leets and The Constables.

This article is transcribed from ones written by Robert Hamnett which were originally published in the Glossop Advertiser in May 1913.

The Court Leet is an ancient court dating from Anglo-Saxon times and is still held in many places, Glossop being one of them, but the institution of County Courts with consequent loss of much of the Court Leet's authority and jurisdiction, has gradually led to most of the latter being abandoned. Formerly the Lord of the Manor held Court Leets twice a year, at which the Constable or Headborough, the keeper of the stocks and pillory, the pound keeper, and other parochial officers were elected.

At the opening of the Court Leet the Lord of the Manor read the ancient address to those summoned to the Leet. The following is an old address:-
"And I must tell you that these Leets and law days are very ancient laws, and they were the first laws that were used here in England; and they were ordained for two causes, the one was that the King might understand by his Steward upon the view of such persons as appeared before him how many men there were within the precincts of every law day to do service in his wars if need should require, for we must understand that at that time all Leets and law days were in the King's hand.
And at this day no man can keep a law day, but either by the King's special grant or else by title or which first began by the King's grant. And the cause was for the administration of Justice to the inhabitants within the precincts of every Leet or law day, for before the beginning of those Leets or law days there was no law user, no, nor no justice ministered, but all before the King himself; and wheresoever he was there was the law held and justice ministered, and in no place else.
And then by reason of the great number of suitors which resorted to the Court for law and justice, oftentimes sickness and diseases were brought thither, which did endanger the King's person; and also by reason of the multitude of suits which were there depending, it was long ere matters could be heard and determined, and very troublesome and chargeable to suitors to repair so far and stay so long for justice. For remedy thereof, this realm was then divided into counties, and so into hundreds, ridings, laths, leets, and wapentakes, which are all one in effect, though they may differ in name according to the custom of every county.
And there is no man living within the realm but he is resident and abiding within the precinct of some one of these, and there he ought to appear twice every year, if he be not otherwise privileged by his place or office; and if any wrong be done unto any man under the value of forty shillings, then he ought to have redress, and not elsewhere."

At this Court disputes between tenants of the Manor were settled; the Court had power to deal with false measures, selling bad meat, smoky chimneys, privies in offensive condition, tippling in ale houses, bawdy houses, defects in bridges and highways, destroyers of ancient boundaries, bakers, brewers, curriers, treasure troves, eaves droppers, destroyers of game, hedge breakers, neglecters of hue and cry, inn holders, millers, night walkers, common nuisances, want of pillory and stocks, and common pounds, scolds, shoemakers, searchers of leather, stoned horses of two years old put on the common, victuallers, constables neglecting watch and ward, weights and measures, and many others by particular statutes.
The Court could fine, but not imprison.

The following accounts of Glossop Court Leets are from the Manchester Guardian:-

Wednesday, 30th September, 1829:
The Court Baron of his Grace the Duke of Norfolk for the Manor and Barony of Glossop was held this day at the Norfolk Arms, before Thomas Ellison, Esq., the steward, for the appointment of the officers of the Court for the ensuing year.

April, 1834:
After the business of the Court Leet was concluded 50 to 60 gentlemen had dinner with Thomas Ellison, the steward to Lord of the Manor, at the Norfolk Arms Inn. Mr. Oates, landlord.

Saturday, October, 10th, 1849:
The usual Michaelmas Court Leet, under his Grace the Duke of Norfolk, Michael Ellison, Esq., of Sheffield, being steward, took place on Wednesday last, the 7th inst. The usual forms were observed of swearing in a jury, of which John Kershaw, Esq., of the Hurst, was the foreman, but there was no business of public importance. These Courts are fast verging to desuetude, their powers being superseded by the more summary processes of our County Courts. Mr. Manson, the new vicar, was present. Eighty were present, including all the elite of the neighbourhood, to meet him.


The office of Head or Chief Constable dates from 1285, the time of Edward I, and is the office of the chief conservator of the peace in the county. Petty constable is the conservator of the peace in the hamlet or village, chief constable the head of the police in a city or borough. The village constables duties were many, and it was a most responsible office; if there was no one willing to undertake the duty, then it was compulsory upon those who occupied the land, and who had to take the office in rotation. The Constable had to execute all warrants issued by a Justice of the Peace, convey to the stocks anyone committing a breach of the peace, and keep him there until he could convey him to gaol or safer custody. The prisoner was liable to pay all of his and the Constables expenses; if he had no money, distraint was made upon his goods; if he had no goods, then the Overseers had to find the Constable's expenses out of the Poor Rates. The Constable had to make a return of his expenses every three months, which had to be approved of at a meeting of ratepayers. If they did not approve of them, the Constable could apply to a Justice of the Peace for confirmation. The Constable was responsible for the building, repairing and surveying of bridges, and many other duties.

Every able bodied householder is liable to be sworn in as a Special Constable. For several years past the custom of appointing Special Constables has been in abeyance. Special Constables' staffs can be seen in many houses, tied with ribbon and decorating the wall of a room. In late years they were generally purchased by the friends of the person appointed, and often were presented at a little supper held at the favourite hostelry of the recipient, but the ordinary staffs were provided out of the poor rates, and from an old minute book used in 1843 we have the cost given: "A motion was made and seconded that 15s. be deducted from Joseph Higginbottom's bill, being a charge for ten new constables staves, and he be referred to John Hadfield, of Cowbrook, the Head Borough."

By law these staves should be returned at the termination of the office, but that the staves were kept as mementoes of their period of office appears from the following resolution, passed at a Vestry Meeting on 20th March, 1840:- "Ordered that the Head Constable, John Kershaw, procure necessary truncheons and handcuffs for the use of all the Head Borough's and assistant constables who are not provided therewith - that he keeps an account of same and a list of the names of the officers to whom they are delivered, and upon the determination of their legal term of service collect in the same for the purpose of delivering them into the hands of their successors in office when appointed in the Duke of Norfolk's Court Leet."

4th October, 1841:- Head Boroughs (Constables). The following were nominated and submitted to the magistrates for approval.
Head Borough for Glossop - Samuel Shepley, leather cutter. His assistant constables were; James Sheppard, Howard Town; Edward Ford, Rose Green; James Cooper, Rough Town.
The Head Borough for Padfield was Joseph Bramhall, Waterside; assistant, John Barber, Padfield.
Head Borough for Hadfield was Joseph Woodcock, Brookfield; assistants, William Bradbury, Waterside; Thomas Nield, Hadfield. Benjamin Platt was assistant constable for Dinting.
The Head Borough for Whitfield, Chunal and Simmondley was Joseph Oates: assistants, Thomas Fielding and James Jackson.
Head Borough for Charlesworth, Joseph Board; assistants, John Booth, cotton band maker, Holehouse; John Wilde, and Samuel Shaw, Long Lane.
Quite a small army of amateurs.
At the same meeting the following were appointed pound keepers: James Dewsnap for Glossop, Reuben Warhurst for Padfield, George Rothwell for Hadfield, Jonathan Heys for Whitfield, Chunal and Simmondley, and Abraham Goodwin for Charlesworth.

So long as Glossop was an agricultural district, the police system was quite sufficient to keep order, but with the advent of strangers from the towns and the consequent increase of crime, the voluntary system broke down, and eventually a public meeting was held on the 9th March, 1853, and it was decided to have paid constables. The roughs resented this, and on the 6th May, at the Fair, the new police were severely ill-treated by them. The new police did not give entire satisfaction to many, and on the 8th March, 1855, a public meeting was held to discuss the question of doing away with paid policemen. A poll was demanded, which resulted in 927 voting for their retention, and only 39 against.

Samuel Kershaw was the first Borough Chief Constable, being appointed on the 17th April, 1867, and resigned on on 30th April, 1870, on being appointed the Chief Constable of Southport. The next one was William Beard, appointed on the 10th May, 1870, and discharged on the 19th June, 1873. The next was Henry Hilton, appointed 11th August, 1873, and resigned 17th January, 1875 on being appointed Chief Constable of Huddersfield. The next was William Henry Hodgson, appointed 18th January, 1875, who died 20th January, 1899. His son, John Gregory Hodgson, was appointed on the 6th February, 1899, and still retains the office.

From an old list preserved at the Workhouse we find from an account who served the Office of Constable since the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and one:-
1702 Henry Booth, of Charlesworth.
1703 Thomas Hadfield, of Hadfield.
1704 Samuel Wagstaffe, of Dinting.
1705 Wm. Higginbottom, Ludworth Houses.
1706 William Chatterton.
1707 John Morton, Lees Hall.
1708 Samuel Robinson, Milltown.
1709 Samuel Bray, Mouselow
1710 John Bennett, Chunal.
1711 John Ratclyffe, Arnecroft.
1712 Booth Waterhouse, Simmondley.
1713 Thomas Rowley for Smithy Land.
1714 Samuel Hybbert, of Millbrow.
1715 William Harrison, of Simmondley Hall.
1716 Daniel Nield, Mouselow.
1717 John Hollingworth in Ludworth.
1718 Jonathan Henshaw, Ludworth.
1719 Robert France, Glossop.
1720 John Creswick, Padfield.
1721 James Shaw, Stirrup.
1722 John Dewsnap, Glossop
1723 William Shepley, of Cold Harbour.
1724 John Bancroft in Ludworth.
1725 Armfield, tenement in Charlesworth.
1726 Beeley, tenement in Charlesworth.
1727 John Shepley, of Charlesworth.
1728 John Ratclyffe, of Arnecroft. The remaining part of the list is missing.

Other records provide these names of Constables:-
1689 William Newsome
1823 John Wood.
1827 Thomas Wilkins.

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Page last updated: 8 March 2019.
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