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Constable Accounts and Records, Parish

Nature of Source

Records from the parish constable. The position originated from the manorial courts and later became a fixture of the parish structure following the demise of the manorial system of governance. The constable was voted in by the parish ratepayers from amongst fellow ratepayers under the auspices of the parish vestry. Although by the early 17th century, the manor court had ceased to exercise control over the appointment of the constable, it was not until The Parish Constables Act, 1842 that the powers were formally and officially transferred to the parish and the local magistrates.

The development of county police forces began with the 1839 County Police Act and from 1856 all counties and many boroughs were obliged to establish a police force. As county police forces were developed during the 19th century so the role of the parish constable became redundant.

There were two Constable posts, one was the High Constable and the other the Petty Constable. The High Constable's jurisdiction covered the entire administrative area known as the Hundred and acted as the assistant to the county Lieutenant. He had a special responsibility for raising the muster when ordered by the Crown.

The Petty Constable operated at the parish level serving a one-year unpaid term. The duties were varied and included the collection of taxes and rates, arresting suspects, catching escaped prisoners, dealing with church non-attendance, evicting vagrants from the parish, compiling juror lists, overseeing the parish militia and many others. Much of his work was written up in the constable accounts which were kept in the parish chest.

Where Found

Period Covered

1300 - 1856

Genealogical Value

Names, addresses, family relationships, nature of felon accused of.

Further References

Kent, Joan. The English Village Constable 1580-1642: A Social and Administrative Study: Oxford University Press, 1986 Buy Now on Amazon
Sharpe, James Anthony. Crime in Early Modern England: 1550-1750: Longman, 1984  Buy Now on Amazon
Tate, William Edward. The Parish Chest: Phillimore, 1983 (Limited preview available from Google Books)  Buy Now on Amazon
Thompson, K.M. (ed). Short Guides to Records, Second Series: Guides 25-48: The Historical Association, 1997 (Includes a section on Constables' Accounts)  Buy Now on Amazon

Websites (Old Police Cells Museum: Police History) (Devon and Cornwall Constabulary: The Era of the Parish Constables) (The Parish Constable in Georgian times)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A]) (Constables' Accounts of Manchester 1612-1647 & 1743-1776)
(Warwickshire Parish Poor Law, 1546-1904: Constables' accounts in association with Warwickshire County Record Office) (Warwickshire, Miscellaneous Parish Records including constable records in association with Warwickshire County Record Office)