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BURRINGTON - THE DEVON CONSTABULARY

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There has been a police presence in Burrington for many years. Even in the years before the formation of the Devon Constabulary in the 1850s, a volunteer policeman, nominated annually by each parish, was issued with a truncheon as his badge of office - a truncheon which he generally hung outside his cottage to show his authority.

When the Devon Constabulary came into being, it gradually took over the police forces that had been formed in the Boroughs - places like Great Torrington, Barnstaple and Bideford had made their own arrangements for keeping law and order within their boundaries. Some Borough Forces were efficient - some were not but all of them failed to provide an adequate police presence  in the small villages outside their boundaries. It took time, but gradually, the Constabulary absorbed the Borough Police and trained men who went out to the villages and lived among the people there. All over Devon, there are cottages, many of them thatched like this one, which once proudly displayed the "Devon Constabulary" sign on their walls or gates or above their front doors.

 
Burrington Constabulary

South View and the Devon Constabulary in Burrington c. 1904

 

Looking round Burrington, one might be forgiven for wondering why such a wide-spread police presence was required in so peaceful a place. A magistrate called Baldwin Fulford has left behind a set of notes on the cases he heard in the area which throw a blinding light on what village life in Devon was like in the 19th century. In case after case, he dealt with poor and hungry people who, in spite of draconian sentences, stole anything and everything from one another - wheat, barley, turnips, cabbages, even animals . His notes record what the witnesses said and the key witness was generally the village policeman. The fate of Samuel Horvid of Sandford, charged with stealing a sheep from Abraham Bere who farmed at North Creedy in the parish of Sandford, was sealed by the local constable whose forensic evidence consisted of the sheep's head which was being cooked for supper when he visited Horvid to talk to him about the accusation. Samuel pleaded  hunger but was nonetheless sentenced to 7 years hard labour.

In more modern times, the local police constable played a key part in the control of diseases such as Foot and Mouth. By keeping an ear to the ground, he was able to inform the Authorities quickly when an outbreak began and to make an immediate start to the  isolation and disinfectation procedures.

At the time when the photograph above was taken, Burrington's Constable was Walter Saunders. He was a Somerset man, born in Bishop's Lydeard and in 1902, when his name appears in Kelly's Directory for Burrington, he was 28 years old. He came to Burrington directly from London where he had been a Constable in Y Division of the Metropolitan Police but we don't yet know for how long he remained in the village.

 

 
 
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