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Collector returns 19th Century Parish Constable’s Staff to Constantine Museum

A New Year surprise awaited volunteers on their return to the Constantine Museum following festivities, a new object wrapped in brown paper had arrived by post from Suffolk. The Museum team were delighted to find that the parcel contained a Constantine Parish Constable’s staff dated 1849 with the initials HRHVR – Her Royal Highness Victoria Regina.

Jennie Parshall, Jackie Hessing and Don Garman

Oswald Simpson, a retired antiques dealer, living in Elmsett, Suffolk had decided to repatriate his collection of police constabulary memorabilia and by visiting his local post office tracked down the contact details of Constantine’s Parish Council Chair, Paul Carter. He phoned Trengilly Farm who then put him in contact with the Museum. The staff had been in the ownership of Mr Simpson for forty years, unfortunately he cannot remember where he purchased it, but it was likely to be an auction in East Anglia. One wonders about its journey from Constantine.

Boroughs such as Falmouth and Helston formed police constabularies in the 1830s but until the formation of the Cornwall Constabulary in 1857, rural communities continued with Parish Constables who were elected annually by the Vestry. They were unpaid and received no uniform just the staff, which at this time was more of a badge of office than a weapon. Often, they were hung at the house door to mark the residence of the holder. The role of the Parish Constable was considerable and apart from apprehending criminals, locking them up (where was the Constantine lock up?) and ensuring they attended the Magistrates Court, they were expected to punish drunks, fathers of bastard children, prostitutes, poachers and hedge damagers and to place vagabonds and beggars in the stocks for three days and then whip them out of the parish. Other tasks included collecting tithes and any national taxes, monitoring trading standards, catching rats and organising accommodation for visiting military! It is not surprising that this was not a popular appointment and those elected who had funds might well pay some else to carry out the many tasks.

Chair of the Museum Management Committee, Jackie Hessing said “We would like to thank Mr Simpson for returning this object to the parish as it illustrates the means of keeping the peace long before a police forced was established in Cornwall and benefited the parish.”

The Museum team are keen to identify the owner and will be seeking access to the Vestry Minutes of 1849. 

The staff will be on permanent display to the public once the Museum reopens following winter closure on February 17th.

Contact: Don Garman Collection Coordinator, Constantine Museum

01326 250604