Chronology of 19th Century Policing in Brighton and Hove.

Brighton c1830 - Marine Parade and Chain Pier (opened 25 Nov 1823)
Martha Gunn
The Pavilion in James Rouse's The Beauties and Antiquities of the County of Sussex from 1825
Outside Mahomed's baths in 1818.
In Regency times, there were still no bathing costumes. Privacy was supplied by hiring a horse-drawn 'bathing machine' - the forerunner of the changing-room chalet and the beach hut.


By this time the sole function of the Whalebone Hundred Court (Court Leet) was to select and appoint the High Constable of Whalebone, a High Constable for Dean, eight subordinate constables (these were called Headboroughs) and a number of Parish Officers. These had a ‘quasi-judicial’ function, such as a Sealer of Leather, and an Aleconner.

According to Timothy Carder’s excellent ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF BRIGHTON (published
by East Sussex County Libraries):

The Hundred

Another important division of the county, from Saxon times until the  nineteenth century, was the ‘hundred’, said to be based originally upon areas containing 100 families.  Hundred courts were held at regular  intervals to dispense justice and to raise taxes, and all inhabitants were  required annually on Easter Tuesday to attend a ‘court-leet’ where certain appointments and bye-laws were made. In most instances the hundreds were composed of two or more parishes.


In 1086 Brighton was recorded as being in Welesmere Hundred with Ovingdean and Rottingdean; Falmer and Stanmer were in Falmer Hundred and Patcham and  Preston were included in Preston Hundred.  Under Edward I, the Hundred of ‘Whalesbone’, probably a corruption of the ‘Wellesbourne’ stream, was created including Brighton, Hove, Patcham and West Blatchington.


The abortive Brighton Police Bill. This bill sought to introduce a paid watching Force in Brighton and funded by a Police Rate. But if faced almost inevitable opposition from County Quarter  Sessions. As it was originally framed it would have created a largely autonomous Policing Authority, based in Brighton, but with implicit expansionary powers into East Sussex. Equally, the County Magistracy disliked the idea of losing income from the fees and fines which then would have gone to Brighton instead; the Bill was returned to the Brighton Vestry for amendment, but support for it seems then to have evaporated.


Brighton Commissioners enabled through a Local act to form a paid Force of Constables.


The first use of paid constables by Brighton Commissioners. (Night time only.)


Following two nights of disturbances in April, during which the Town hall was attacked (the original Town Hall.) Then the size of this night watching Force was tripled throughout the rest of that year. It was at this time that arrangements were made to arm the Constables with cutlasses. Their supervisors were armed with pistols.


A Special sub-committee to oversee the policing formed by Brighton Commissioners.


The Riot Act was read out in The Steine at Bonfire Celebrations: Soldiers were called out to disperse the crowds. The Headborough, Thomas Rowles was killed when he was bayoneted by a soldier as the crowds were being dispersed. 


The first Police rate that was levied on the Brighton ratepayers in order to pay for the Police.

In this year there were ‘paid’ Superintending Constables appointed to the Brighton Night Watch, and Constables were allocated to fixed beats for the first time.


A further Local Act of this year restated the Power of the Brighton Commissioners to form a paid police force, but transferred the responsibility for ‘poor rate’ (and therefore paying all the costs of Parish Constables) back to the Brighton Vestry.


Four ‘Special Watchmen’ were appointed by Brighton’s Commissioners (as salaried staff) to investigate crime following a recent increase in burglaries in the town. Then as a result of this and the increasing pressure from Brighton Vestry, to take on more of the policing responsibility in the town. A new Watch Committee was formed by the Town Commissioners.


The residents of Kemp Town started employing their own constables to protect their estate.


The Brunswick  Square and Terrace Act enabled the Brunswick commissioners to form their own paid Police Force, but it was restricted to the Brunswick Square estate and a short distance around and did not cover most of Hove Parish. The first two paid watchmen were appointed in April. Later the same year another watchman was taken on. They worked from a wooden watch boxes that were built at the northern and southern end of Brunswick Square and were supervised by the District Surveyor.

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