The above photo shows the police station which was opened in the High Street in 1860. It is not our intention to write a detailed history of the Police in Thornbury, although we know that the Gloucestershire Constabulary was only the second County Police Force to be established and dates from the appointment of Chief Constable Anthony Lefroy on 9th December 1839. Thornbury was one of the thirty towns and villages to which police officers were then posted. In November 1840 the Home Office approved the appointment of the first Police Sergeants in the county and 38 were appointed. At this time Police Superintendents were also appointed and one was posted to Sodbury to superintend the Sodbury, Thornbury and Marshfield District.
In researching other aspects of Thornbury life, we have come across some interesting information relating to the force in Thornbury:
First, an outline of what we know about the various police stations in the Town from the time of the 1841 census:
1841 – this places the police station in the area near the junction of St John Street and St Mary Street, near where the Mumtaz (formerly the Plough) now stands. The 1840 Tithe Survey shows this part of the town was the location of several ‘public’ buildings such as the Workhouse and a Schoolhouse. We don’t know exactly where the police station was located as most of these buildings were demolished before any detailed maps were made of the area. One building was left which later became known as 2 St John Street and this building later became known as The Courthouse although we have found nothing yet to confirm that there was a Court held there. The other buildings were replaced by Trayhurns the butchers, the Plough Inn and more recently by Quaker Court.
At the time of the 1841 Census, Daniel Harrison was the police sergeant and he lived there with his wife, Charlotte and son, Eli. There were also three police constables there: Edwin Riddiford, John Harrison and John Osman. It is interesting to note that five other people were listed as being there on census night – these included John Thomas aged 14, George James aged 10 and James Curtis aged 13. The census enumerator had written against these three young people that they were Vagrant and Prisoners, but this description was crossed through. The other two were William Limbrick aged 45 and James Limbrick aged 25, both of whom were noted as Agricultural Labourers and a ‘ditto’ mark which we assume meant that they too were ‘Prisoners’.
The record of Police Superintendents in Gloucestershire on line shows that police constable Edwin Riddiford (who was at the station in the 1841 census) rose very quickly through the ranks as he was promoted to Police Sergeant in August 1842 and in July 1850 he became Police Superintendent in Gloucester.
1851 – by this time the police station appears to have moved to Pullins Green, the house which later became 11 Pullins Green, better known these days as a Chinese Take Away and Fish and Chip Shop. The 1859 rate book actually refers to the property as ‘The Police Station”. Ron Lewis who lived there much later remembers a small ‘barred window’ which he felt could easily have belonged to a cell.
In the 1851 census the house was occupied by William Taylor, a police sergeant, aged 32 from Sulgrave, Northamptonshire. Living with him were his wife, Hannah, aged 37 from Oxfordshire and their children: Thomas aged 8, William J. aged 5, Cornelius aged 3, and Ann H. aged 1. They also had two lodgers living with them, Benjamin Holloway, a police constable aged 33, and John Newman aged 25. The two constables and all the children were born in various places showing that the policemen had very mobile careers!
On 19th March 1859 a Bristol Mercury newspaper reported that the Gloucester Quarter Session discussed ‘the miserable state which the Thornbury Magistrates were in with respect to the police station and petty session court and which they had no room in which to hold their meetings in except at a public house‘. There was a reference to a site being considered which was too dear and required further negotiation. Henry Howard, the Lord of the Manor, was willing to sell a property, comprising of the Town Hall and the cottage adjoining ‘if the Chairman thought it suitable, at a price which an impartial person might put on it’. It is interesting to note that the property being offered was the old Market Hall, which we understand was used as a ‘police station’ in earlier times and still has a cell which can be viewed from within Wildings Store.
A week later a report was published indicating that they had found and purchased a suitable building in Castle Street. We have no further reference to this site and they seem to have quickly changed their minds and gone for the site in the middle of the High Street. This had previously been an inn called ‘The Tavern’, but this had been bought by the Rolph family and converted into a town residence. The notice on the right asking for builders interested in tendering for the work to convert the house into the police station and courthouse appeared on 10th September 1859. The police accounts in Gloucester Records Office show the purchase price was £750.
Another report appeared on 19th November 1859 indicating that Mr Burchell of Thornbury was making rapid progress and the works were ‘expected to be completed in about two months and will, we have no doubt, form a great improvement to the High Street’. When the Sessional Court opened in March 1860, the report said ‘The bench is so situated as to enable the magistrates to command the entire area without being themselves subject to inconvenient collision. The space for the gentlemen of the law and the public is ample…. the press has been provided for in a comfortable corner, from which all that passes may be well seen and heard, and a desk which makes the record of the same an easy task’. The police accounts show that Daniel Burchell was paid £525 for the work done in 1859, 1860 and up to Easter 1861.
In the 1861 census David Rawle was the Sergeant of Police living there with his wife and five children and two police constables: Daniel Page and Reuben Rodman.
The website that details the History of Policing in the Forest of Dean gives us more information about the history of David Rawle. It seems that David Rawle was born in Challacombe in Devon in 1822. It seems that he joined the police force on 2nd September 1850 and became a constable in 1852. By 1855 he became a Police Sergeant in 1855. Soon after the 1861 census, in 1862, David Rawle was promoted to Police Superintendent. The 1871 census he was living in Fishponds in the Police station. He was superannuated in 1881 and retired to Wickham House in Fishponds. His probate record shows that he died there on 17th March 1902.
In 1871 Emanuel Arthur was the police sergeant who was sharing the accommodation with police constable John Vick and his family. There was one prisoner in the cells – an acrobat, William Eli Barrett aged 54 from Tormarton. Emanuel had married Louisa Randell in Bibury on October 25th 1860. The certificate of their marriage shows that he was already a widower when he married. He applied for the post of Relieving Officer on 12th May 1865 but was not successful. Louisa died in Thornbury in 1867 aged only 39. She was buried in Thornbury on 26th May 1867.
Emanuel Arthur retired to live in Crossways Lane where he was living in the 1881 census. He died in Walcot in Bath in February 1889.
In 1881 Thomas Eyles was the Police Sergeant living with his wife and a policeman, William Green. Read more about Thomas Eyles
In 1891 Robert Clark was Police Sergeant living with his wife and 5 children and a police constable, Walter W Coates. By 1901 Robert had retired and was living at The Knapp near Thornbury.
In 1901 the police sergeant was Charles H Davies who was living there with his wife and 3 children and police constable, Victor Stanton. The Western Daily Press reported that Charles Davies retired from the police force in September 1907. Click here to read more about Charles and see his photo
In 1911 the police sergeant was James Vaughan from Bredon in Worcestershire, then aged 48 who was living with his wife Annie aged 50 who was from Berkeley. They had had six children one of whom had died. Four of the remaining children were living with them at the police station. Ann Hobby, Annie’s widowed mother, was living with them. Two police constables were boarding with them : Joseph Knight aged 32 and Thomas Pugler aged 23. The 1901 census shows that James had transferred from Chipping Sodbury.
Apart from an odd murder now and again (which you read about on our Crime page), Thornbury doesn’t appear to have had many problems for the Police to attend to. Most of the crimes were associated with drunkenness, petty thieving and domestic violence. We have selected below a couple of reports of the sorts of things which kept the Police busy. More will be added as we we find them:
On 4th August 1881 the Bristol Mercury reported that Thomas Pearce, a lad of 12 years age was charged with damaging growing wheat, the property of James Ford. P.C. Pledger stated that he was concealed watching the allotment field at Thornbury and saw the defendant come up the path and knock off the heads of the wheat with a stick he had in his hand. Fined 1 shilling without costs.
On 22nd February 1892 the Bristol Mercury reported that Luke Dixon, a gypsy residing at Crossways was brought up in custody charged with stealing 24lb of hay value 10d., the property of Thomas Anstey. From the evidence George Horseman ‘s suspicions were aroused on going to to feed his master’s cattle by seeing hay littered about the rick. Two policemen, P.S. Clark and P.C. Coates were called in and followed the trail of hay to the premises of Luke Dixon. Sergeant Clark went to the stable and saw some hay in the manger which on comparison with the sample he had in his pocket, corresponded exactly. Luke was fined £2, there being other convictions recorded against him.
On 29th March 1894 the Bristol Mercury reported that Charles Felton was fined 1 shilling with costs of 6 shillings and 6d for driving a wheelbarrow on the footpath in Castle Street.
On 27th October 1898 the Bristol Mercury reported that Frederick Rugman aged 11 and Alfred Jefferies aged 10 were charged with stealing apples and walnuts valued at 6d, the property of Hon. R. Rodney. The Chairman of the Court said it was a foolish practice of boys, but their parents must not be made to suffer, and they were ordered each defendant to have six strokes with a birch rod to be administered by P.S. Clark in the presence of their parents.
On 30th July 1921 the Gazette reported on the Town Council’s concern about the increased traffic congestion in Thornbury. It was suggested by Councillor George Bernard Symes and seconded by Alfred Riddiford ‘That the divisional superintendent of police be asked to arrange for a constable to be stationed on The Plain at Thornbury for point duty’. It was pointed out that there was considerable traffic at this dangerous corner. The motion was agreed to.
The photograph above left shows the side view of the Police Station on the corner of Silver Street and High Street. The photograph shows the famous steps up to the court room above the Police Station. These were used for important announcements such as the death of a monarch. Because they led to the court room and in a sense to summary justice they also gave rise locally to a threat to naughty children from their parents “I’ll send you up the steps!”
The property continued to be used as a Police Station and Court House for over 120 years. A new police station was built in Rock Street in 1973 and the Police moved from their High Street premises in November of that year. The Court House continued at 35 High Street until it closed about 1986 and moved to Yate. The building in the High Street was left unoccupied for several years. In April 1992 the Town Council acquired the property and moved there in 1994.
The photo on the right shows the Rock Street Police Station. This was closed in 2011 leaving the Town without a police station. The old building was demolished in 2015 and replaced by a complex of apartments for retired people.