Civil Unrest at Smallthorne
Disorder on the streets and residents complaining of inadequate policing both appear to be issues of current concern. However, anxiety about these two topics stretches back over 150 years. Originally parish constables were responsible for keeping law and order within their own jurisdiction. These were eventually replaced during the early 19th century by police officers from a newly-formed county force, each with a designated area to patrol.
With the rapid growth of population, and the development of new communities, by the middle of the 19th century it was felt that these officers were too thinly spread to be efficient. The resources for providing policing had failed to keep pace with the communities they were supposed to protect. Because of this, inhabitants that felt their communities were at risk submitted petitions, or ‘memorials’ to the Chief Constable of Staffordshire.
One such memorial from the Tunstall Local Board of Health requested additional constables to be stationed within the Tunstall district from 1856 as ‘the current provision is quite insufficient for the effective discharge of their duties.’ Similarly, the residents of ‘the modern village of Smallthorne’, with a population of 1,400 inhabitants described as being almost entirely the working classes comprising of colliers, potters and agricultural labourers, also submitted a memorial to the Chief Constable. Their petition went into great detail as to why they should have their own police officer:
We regret to say that great disorder prevails in and about Smallthorne to the annoyance and inconvenience of the peaceable inhabitants and that the constable stationed at Norton is quite incompetent to observe or correct these disorders.
Much of the annoyance we complain of proceeds from a number of rude boys from 14 to 17 years of age by whom a good deal of wanton injury is done in throwing stones at the windows and doors of houses and otherwise damaging property, in obstructing the footpath and insulting persons as they pass along. This is more particularly the case on the Sabbath Day when they are seen playing at games in the street or on the footpath and insulting persons going to or returning from church or chapel.
To such lengths has this state of things arrived that many of the inhabitants are deterred from going to a place of worship on the Sabbath evening from fear of being insulted or in order to protect their houses and property from depredations.
One fact which occurred a few weeks ago may be instanced when a number of disorderly boys assembled together marched like a company of soldiers along the road and demolished about sixty squares of glass in various dwelling houses on a Sunday afternoon in broad daylight within a few yards of the church and a Dissenters chapel where Divine Service was at the time being conducted. This however is only one instance of many equally disgraceful which might be mentioned.
Smallthorne seems to be a resort of the lowest characters from the neighbouring pottery towns and other parts where may be seen on the Sabbath day groups of men in their working clothes loitering about, some with dogs, some with fighting cocks, and others getting into the fields procuring liquor and becoming intoxicated where some will be found lying in a state of insensibility and others reeling about the street.
Your memorialists believe these disgusting scenes and outrageous proceedings may be attributed to the want of a Police Station at Smallthorne, the present police arrangement being inadequate to the wants of the village. The police from the Norton station visit Smallthorne occasionally but are of little service as they are watched till they retire when every kind of disorder begins and is carried on unrestrained. What is indispensably necessary to the peace and security of the inhabitants of Smallthorne is a resident police. We therefore respectfully request you will either remove one of the constables now resident at Norton to Smallthorne or appoint an additional one to this village.
In 1892 a police house was built in the end terrace at 138 Ford Green Road which also contained two cells. No doubt policing Smallthorne advanced further during the 20th century. However, the moral here is that anyone interested in current affairs can often find comparative models by looking into local history.