Helstonia – Two Lawmen of the Old (Cornish) West – Part Two
On the basis of currently available information, one may only speculate as to the personal and professional relationship between James Fitzsimmons and John Wedlock. They were immediate colleagues for seven years. Fitzsimmons was the older by several years. Both were skilled tradesmen. Fitzsimmons had served in the British Army and, although no direct evidence has come to light, it is not impossible that Wedlock may also have had military experience; ex-servicemen being often favoured for police duties. Each man was paterfamilias to a largish family. The ups and downs of Fitzsimmons’s relationship with his employers may indicate a certain Irish mercuriality of temperament but his longevity of service, both in Truro and Helston argue that he was more steady and – while not necessarily a Total Abstainer – sober than not.
It is also difficult to guess what John Wedlock’s personal reaction would have been to the summary – and probably unjust – dismissal of his fellow-constable, and the heated and hectic civic atmosphere in which it took place. John Wedlock’s long and varied public service to Helston argues that he was able, reliable and versatile. A study of his multiple duties as detailed in the Minute Books of Helston Borough Council, and of the various criminal, public order and other cases in which he was involved, as reported in the local newspapers of the time give some idea of what was expected of him, and how he and his colleagues responded to those expectations: the whole giving at least a sketch of his role in the social and civic life of the town.
The earliest recorded appearance of John Wedlock found so far is the 1841 Census, listing him as a Shoemaker, aged 25, resident in Church Street, Helston, with his wife, Johanna, also aged 25, and their year-old son, William. The 1851 Census lists John Wedlock, aged 35, as a carpenter of Meneage Street. Living with him are his wife, listed now as Anna, and six children aged from fifteen down to William, two. Apart from the mystery of where the older children were in 1841, this would indicate that the William listed in 1841 did not survive childhood. Interestingly, the 1851 Census lists a Peter Wedlock, 61, of Meneage Street, Retired Shoemaker. From this it may be guessed that John Wedlock, at least initially, followed his father as a cordwainer but subsequently – and not for the last time – changed vocations. It is unclear if Peter Wedlock, the retired shoemaker of 1851 is the same Peter Wedlock listed as a Private Resident of Lady Street in Kelly’s Directory of 1856.
The first municipal mention of John Wedlock occurs in the annual Helston Borough accounts of November 1851 that record a payment to him of £4.3.3. Although no service is specified it can be supposed that carpentry might have been involved. As previously noted, Wedlock was appointed Borough Inspector of Nuisances in August 1866. It may be significant that this appointment came within months of his second marriage. From this time forward and for the next seven years and after, Wedlock appears to have been a kind of municipal Mr. Fixit-factotum for Helston. Having been made a part-time constable in November 1866, he was retained in January 1867 “…At present wages for another month or so long as the Mayor [Thomas H. Edwards] shall think proper.” On 15th March he was instructed to prepare a list of 20 men to form a Fire Brigade. In July he was asked to carry on for three months at present salary; retained again in November; reappointed for another quarter in January 1868; and re-sworn annually in November 1868 and 1869. There followed the reconsideration of Helston’s police arrangements in March and July 1870 that, as noted, eventually saw John Wedlock appointed to be full-time Surveyor & Inspector of Nuisances and Additional Policeman. At the annual meeting of November 1871 it was resolved: “That (during pleasure) John Wedlock be appointed Surveyor of Weights & Measures.” This appointment was renewed the following November, by which time the smallpox anxiety was becoming acute.
After the political cut-and-thrust coming in the wake of James Fitzsimmons’s dismissal and the 1873 municipal elections, John Wedlock was now sole full-time Policeman. William Pappin, Richard Gluyas, a saddler, and Richard Banfield, also a shoemaker, were part-time constables, with Banfield being also Gaoler. James Paull, following his dismissal, had been offered the post of Gaoler but declined. In the main most criminal activity in Helston was fairly picayune. Following are several typical cases from the early 1870s. In one 1872 example Francis Collins was charged with stealing shovels and other ironmongery from James Bond, blacksmith of Coinagehall Street and attempting to sell them to three men named Gay, Day and Bray.
Another case reported in the West Briton of 15th February 1872: “DRUNKENNESS AND FIGHTING – On Saturday John Richards of the Blue Anchor was summoned before magistrates under the following circumstances. Shortly after three o’clock on Sunday, the 4th inst. P.C. Wedlock found in defendant’s house, five men drinking. He put them out through the back door, but they were allowed to have a gallon of beer drawn to take with them, one of the party saying they would drink it at his house. It appeared that though they left the dwelling house, they remained on the premises drinking and about five o’clock the police were sent for to stop a fight which was going on between the party. When P.C. Pappin arrived he found one man drunk in the skittle alley, and another bruised and bleeding lying in a pit of the yard. The landlord, in defence, stated he was absent from home, and his wife was unwell, and he pleaded ignorance of the law. The Mayor said some person had been left in charge to supply beer in prohibited hours, and told Richards that he had not only broken the law by allowing drunkenness in his house, but by supplying liquor at all on the occasion. His Worship further said that the house had been often complained against, but as the defendant was new to the trade, the case was dismissed on his paying the costs.
“Two of the men found drunk named Pascoe and Barnet, were also summoned but they did not appear. Warrants were ordered for their apprehension and they were brought before magistrates and fined – Pascoe 5s and 19s 4d costs and Barnet 5s and 14s 4d costs.”
In other cases P.C. Wedlock charged a woman with picking a man’s pocket in the Prince’s Arms; a man from Perranuthnoe with selling fish unfit for sale; and another party for the unlawful disposal of night soil. Although not mentioned by name P.C. Wedlock would certainly have been one of the policemen reported as being unable to control a full-scale battle royal involving scores of miners that raged all over the town centre on Christmas night 1873. Two weeks later another incident occurred – this one quite redolent of the American Wild West.
The West Briton of 15th January 1874 carried this account: “A DANGEROUS DRUNKARD AT HELSTON – A man named Pooley, a butcher residing near Camborne was riding drunk through the streets of Helston for three hours on Wednesday night. He was armed with a pistol and was denouncing the police generally and Col. Gilbert’s name was freely used. About midnight he wanted liquor at the Blue Anchor Inn, but was refused admission when he fired against the house. At one o’clock he was found lying on a heap of stones near the tanyard, with his horse, which had been cruelly used, standing by his side. P.C. Wedlock then accompanied him to a friend’s house and he left the town the following morning complaining that his hat had been stolen.” [Colonel Walter Raleigh Gilbert, son of a renowned military hero, was the first Chief Constable of the Cornwall County Constabulary.]
As if he had not enough to occupy his time, in February 1874 Wedlock was declared Taker of Grazing [Tolls] of the Lower Green. This position was put out to tender by the Borough every year and Wedlock – who lived adjacent – paid £4 for the privilege. Having been re-sworn as usual in November 1874, Wedlock, under new legislation had his position as Inspector of Nuisances put under the newly constituted District Sanitary Authority, his salary for the post being £5 per annum. As well as being re-sworn in November 1875, Wedlock received from the Borough £3.15.0 over his other emoluments. At the January 1876 meeting the police were told to keep the pavements clear and omnibuses straight in Coinagehall Street, and to prosecute any violations. John Wedlock was also ordered to report on the prevalence of baby farming in the town. This instruction came in the immediate aftermath of the most dramatic criminal case in which John Wedlock was to be involved. In an altogether different league from the usual petty crimes, misdemeanours and public order disturbances, and even the drunken Camborne butcher, was the case first reported in the West Briton of 7th February 1876 under the headline: “The Alleged Infanticide at Helston – On Tuesday morning a magisterial enquiry concerning the death of the illegitimate child of Elizabeth Jane Mollard, late a servant at the Seven Stars Inn (and against whom a verdict of manslaughter was returned by the coroner’s jury) was held at the borough gaol, Messrs F.V. Hill, H. Roberts, T.H. Edwards, F. Penberthy and Capt. Daniell being present. The depositions were as follows:
“Mrs. Smith deposed – I am the wife of Wm. Prince Smith. We keep the Seven Stars in Helston, and came there on the 10th September last. We found the prisoner a servant there, and continued her as such. She is unmarried and her age 19 next May. I had no suspicion, but in consequence of what I heard I asked her several times if she were in the family way, but she always denied it. On the 25th January (last Tuesday), she complained of being poorly. I told her to go to bed, and thinking it was a cold, I gave her some brandy and water. This was about nine o’clock. About eleven I saw her in bed, when she said she was better. I heard no more that night. She rose next morning about seven, and did her work as usual; at nine o’clock she complained of being worse. I told her to go to bed and lie down a bit; she did so, and I took a cup of tea to her and told her to stay there until she felt better. I went up several times during that morning and she always said she was better. I asked her if she would have a doctor, but she refused. After speaking to my husband he sent for a doctor and Mr. Haswell came about twelve o’clock. My husband and he went upstairs, but I believe did not see her; the door was locked. The window was fastened. The doctor was sent for a second time about three o’clock. Then he saw and examined her. He charged her with having a child, which she denied repeatedly. She appeared to know perfectly what she said. The doctor attended to her and went downstairs, and I stood in the doorway and asked her several times where the baby was, and she told me it was in her trunk. I then called the doctor, and after I told him what she said, we went to the trunk and found a parcel wrapped in a skirt. I handed it to the doctor, and he took it into the next room. On Monday last I went to clear out the room; an old clock case was in the corner. I took a candle and searched it. After removing some stockings, I noticed something at the bottom like a lump; I then sent for P.C. Wedlock. While in my service she has been very steady and industrious, and correct in every respect.
“John Wedlock said – I am police constable of this borough. I was sent for about four o’clock on Wednesday the 26th to come to the Seven Stars Inn. I went upstairs and found Dr. Haswell in the prisoner’s bedroom. I knew her before, and told her to be careful what she said. The doctor said there was a child born. He asked her if it was born alive, and she said, “Yes, that it breathed after it was born.” The doctor said the child was in the next room. I went with him and he gave it into my possession. The doctor said some parts were missing. I then got a candle and went into the room and searched, and found an under-jaw under the bed. The remains have since been buried yesterday, the 31st ult. I took a candle and went into the room where I first saw the prisoner. I went to a clock-case, and underneath found a child’s tongue, which I took to Dr. Haswell. I applied to the mayor on Wednesday, the 26th, and on my information a warrant of apprehension was issued.
“Narcis Richard Haswell – I am a duly qualified medical practitioner residing in Helston. I was spoken to by the landlord of the Seven Stars Inn on the morning of the 26th January, at half-past nine, and in consequence of which I called about twelve. I went to the prisoner’s bedroom door, but could get no admittance. I spoke to her from outside; she replied she was better and did not require to see a medical man. I was sent for again at three the same day, and then saw her. I asked her some questions and having my suspicions I made an examination, and found the placenta and half the funis, which I removed, and did what was necessary. I said, here is the afterbirth, where is the child? When she repeatedly denied she had a child, and said she did not know what I meant. Suspecting foul play, I sent for P.C. Wedlock, but before he came she confessed to her mistress that she had been confined. The child was in a trunk. Mrs. Smith opened the trunk and handed a parcel to me. When Wedlock came I went with him into the next room and unrolled it; in it was the body of a fully developed male child. I examined it and found the mouth was torn and the lower jaw gone. I told Wedlock to look for it, and he found it under the bed. I placed it in position and found it was the missing jaw. On the 27th, at the inquest of the coroner, I made a post-mortem examination of the body of a newly-born male infant. It weighed seven pounds; its external appearance was full and free from bruises. There was a torn wound through the right cheek, from the corner of the mouth, two inches upwards and backwards toward the right ear, three inches downwards and forward, and more than half way under the chin. The lower jaw was removed; tongue, windpipe, and portion of the gullet gone. The carotid and jugular veins and their membranes on both sides of the neck were gone. I found the organs of the chest healthy; found the lungs with free lungs crepitous throughout the whole extent, which freely floated when placed in the water. Heart healthy; right and left auricles and ventricles were quite empty of blood or clot, and no effusions on the chest. Opened the abdomen; found all the organs sound and healthy. I then opened the head and found a large clot of blood under the scalp and over the right parietal bone, extending to the occupit. There was a fracture two inches each way, extending from the apex downwards and backwards, through both plates to the coronal suture. There was dislocation of the right elbow joint, fracture of the right hip, and a complete severance of the articulation of the left knee joint. When examining the prisoner I did not ask her if the child had been born alive; but she said of her own accord that it had breathed repeatedly, but not cried. Judging from the state of the heart and fully inflated lungs, I am of the opinion that the child was born alive. It is not possible it could have breathed to that extent during birth, nor could the whole of the injuries have been inflicted on it during self-delivery, but some of them might have been. It is possible that the child might have bled to death, but I cannot say what was the cause. I have the tongue and appendages of a newly-born child, delivered to me by P.C. Wedlock, and assuming them to belong to the prisoner’s child, there are still some parts missing. P.C. Wedlock said he had never observed anything wrong in her behaviour.
“The magistrates were unanimously of the opinion that there was a prima facie case of murder, and committed the prisoner to take her trial for that offence and the next assizes at Bodmin.
“The prisoner is short and stout, and has a very determined look. She manifested little feeling during the proceedings, and did not seem to comprehend the gravity of her situation.”
The Helston Infanticide, not surprisingly, was a sensation at the time. The public imagination was spurred by the grisly forensic details into a frenzy coloured with some vindictiveness. Between the inquest and the trial of the accused there appeared an eighteen stanza doggerel broadside entitled “A Servant Girl Charged with MURDERING A CHILD At Helston.” The damage done to the unfortunate infant was dimly mirrored in the atrocities inflicted on English prosody by this “poem”. But there were, apparently, some cooler heads, among who, it may be suspected, was John Wedlock. Without direct evidence it is impossible to know exactly what his personal reaction to the case would have been. However, several points are suggestive. Firstly, Wedlock seems to have been humane and flexible in his policing; witness his leniency in merely warning off the illegal drinkers in the Blue Anchor incident, and his calmness in dealing with Pooley, the pissed-up pistol-packing equestrian. There is also the apparent alacrity with which he put Miss Mollard under caution. It should also be remembered that Wedlock, a family man, had a stepdaughter who was much the same age as the wretched servant girl. And he would have had his own opinion of the accused formed by his previous knowledge of her. In any case, various people seem to have had second thoughts about the matter. Elizabeth Jane Mollard appeared at the Bodmin Spring Assizes, charged with the capital offence of murder, as well as manslaughter and concealment. There was considerable surprise when the Q.C. leading for the prosecution told the court that the Crown would not be pursuing the charges of murder and manslaughter and they were thus withdrawn. The Crown did feel that the charge of concealment was justified. The jury duly found the prisoner guilty of that charge. The judges passed sentence on the accused of one month’s imprisonment and commended the jury for the wisdom and humanity of their verdict. Indeed, the outcome does argue a degree of empathy and enlightenment.
What evidence, or reconsideration of existing evidence, led to this decision is difficult to say, although it seems probable a judgement was made that this rather pathetic-sounding young woman had botched an attempt at self-delivery and accidentally killed her child. To what degree John Wedlock was involved in this decision and the process leading up to it is a matter of pure speculation – he was not, after all, a detective officer – although he certainly would have been aware of such on-going investigations (almost certainly undertaken by the County police, if not Scotland Yard) as took place. Whatever else his involvement shows, it is evident that he was a man who could keep his head and go about his duty in even the most shockingly lurid and disturbing circumstances.
Having been ordered on the day after the tragic discovery of the dead child at the Seven Stars to report on the number of baby farms in the town, Wedlock informed the Council that there were three houses in the town kept for baby farming. He was asked to provide further particulars.
The physician, N.R. Haswell, who attended to Miss Mollard and performed what must have been an unusually distressing autopsy, lived in Meneage Street and served at one time or another as Helston Borough Medical Officer. He died in 1910, aged 69, and is buried in the Town Cemetery.
The suspected infanticide was by no means John Wedlock’s first or last experience of the Seven Stars Inn. In June 1872 he had summoned the then-landlord, Zachariah Williams, for keeping his house open for the sale of beer during divine service on a Sunday. Again, Wedlock seems to have begun with a warning during a first visit to the house, but finding the same men there later in the day, much the worse for liquor, he charged the landlord. Mr. Williams, it was reported, “…made a long rambling statement in his defence which the Mayor (Mr. Rogers) said no person of common sense would believe, and the Mayor said the magistrates were determined to put down Sunday drinking. Fined 10s, including costs.”
A bare four months after the case of the dead baby, the following appeared in the West Briton: “ASSAULTING A POLICEMAN – At Helston borough sessions… George Jeffrey, labourer, was charged with assaulting P.C. Wedlock… It appears that despite an extension of hours until 1:00am due to the previous day’s Whitsun Fair, the defendant was still drinking at 1:15 when P.C. Wedlock attempted to clear the House. On the pavement outside [The Seven Stars] …defendant struck him [Wedlock] three times in the face and his wife caught him by the throat and nearly strangled him. Jeffrey’s behaviour seems to have been an aberration as “…the Mayor said the offence was a serious one, but in consideration of the defendant’s good character, the fine would be mitigated to 10s and costs 21s.”
And, in case P.C. Wedlock was still finding that 1876 hadn’t provided sufficient challenges the West Briton of September 18th printed this report: “VIOLENT ASSAULT – At Helston, on Friday, Thomas Nicholas of Prospidnick, was brought before Mr. F.V. Hill (Mayor) and Capt. Daniell, charged with two assaults on Wednesday night, after the wrestling. [a wrestling tournament had been held on Helston Downs earlier that day] The accused and others were at the Red Lion Inn. Nicholas was quarrelsome and violent, and although he has only one hand, having lost the other in a mine in America, the maimed limb with an iron tip proved a dangerous weapon. A tramp named William Gunn, who gets his living by whistling, was knocked down and had his lip severely cut. P.C. Wedlock was called to the rescue, was attacked and he too was soon on the ground; but with assistance he managed to lock up Nicholas for the night. The prisoner was fined 50s in each case, with 15s costs, or a month’s imprisonment.
Attempting to strangle or otherwise assault P.C. Wedlock seems to have been a favourite outdoor sport in Helston, witness this report that appeared in the West Briton in April 1878: “HELSTON POLICE – On Saturday Henry Simmons of Torleven, Sithney, was summoned for being drunk and riotous and assaulting P.C. Wedlock and tearing his clothes on the 6th inst. Defendant did not appear. Mr. Snell of the Red Lion Inn said Simmons came to his house and had some drink; he became very violent and assaulted persons present and smashed some glasses and jugs. He was got out after considerable trouble. He then went down Coinagehall Street, tried to injure several persons, and when spoken to by P.C. Wedlock he caught him by the throat and, but for the timely assistance of bystanders, would have throttled him. He was fined £5 including costs, or two months imprisonment, for the assault on the police officer and £1 and costs, one month’s imprisonment for being drunk and riotous.”
These excitements aside, the records seem to indicate that things in Helston, as far as – the now 60 year-old – P.C. Wedlock was concerned, were not overly hectic. He had been duly re-sworn in November 1876, and again the following year, each year’s accounts recording his £5 per annum as Inspector of Nuisances. In February 1880 Wedlock was appointed “Inspector or Officer of the said Local Authority [Helston] to require every dealer in Petroleum (as defined by the Petroleum Acts of 1874 & 1878) to show him every or any place and all or any Vessels in which any Petroleum is kept and give him a sample of such Petroleum on payment of the value of such samples.”
Not all of John Wedlock’s duties were grim, onerous or mundane. The following newspaper report dates from June 10th 1880: “The Borough bounds were gone over and renewed on Wednesday the 2nd inst, by P.C. Wedlock and Constable Richard Banfield. The circuit is a distance of several miles, which formerly was perambulated by several officials and a number of youths, who carried the hal-an-tow drum with them and beat it well, the company giving lusty hurrahs at each bound, stone or pit. If a pit, it was cleared out with a shovel; if a stone bearing the (H.B.) borough initial letters, a sod of grass was cut and placed thereon, and the onward march proceeded with. Arriving on the Helston Downs beer and buns were freely distributed among the party. Afterwards, on entering the top of the town, the policeman in charge threw out a ball, when the ancient practice of hurling the ball through the streets (each street contending for mastery) was indulged in. Much of this has now disappeared. At noon on Wednesday P.C. Wedlock distributed a quantity of buns, and threw out the ball, which a number of youths enjoyed themselves with for some time.”
Later the same year, following a dispute over wages owed, John Wedlock was instructed to call upon Henry Goldsworthy to return the tools of the Borough which he holds and in default the Town Clerk was authorized to take proceedings against him. November 1880 saw Wedlock again re-sworn as both Borough Constable and Inspector of Nuisances, his emoluments being unchanged.
1881 – the year of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in far off Tombstone, Arizona, involving Wyatt Earp, his brothers, Doc Holliday, the Clanton gang and others – also kept John Wedlock busy. In February petroleum licences were granted, Wedlock continuing as Inspector. Later the same month he was instructed “…not to allow cattle to be rested on Cattle Market days at the bottom of Bowling Green Steps and that owners are compelled to obey the Notices and this spot to be inspected by the Surveyor and kept clean.” The following month Wedlock was told to inspect a Public Lane leading from the house of Thomas Taylor to ascertain if a nuisance existed. It is probable that the Thomas Taylor alluded to was then Headmaster of the National School in Church Street. He was also a sometime Helston Borough Councillor and a prominent Freemason. His house was at No. 5 Church Street and the “Public Lane” running along one side of it led to the Ellis & Co. brewery then near the end of its nearly 90 year existence. On April 27th Wedlock was told to “…inspect with two Councillors the kennel in front of the Horse & Jockey and to improve same.” Also in 1881 Wedlock had another run-in with the Seven Stars when he summoned the landlord, Henry Guest (who had filed for bankruptcy the previous year) “…for keeping his house open for the sale of intoxicating liquors during prohibited hours.” In this case, however, the magistrates agreed with the defence that the police had failed to prove their case and dismissed the summons.
A more serious incident beginning at the Seven Stars took place later the same year when four drunken stonemasons assaulted Mrs. Guest, smashed up the premises and then proceeded to run riot through the town. On this occasion the ubiquitous P.C. Wedlock was not on the scene leaving only the 70 year-old part-time Constable William Pappin to cope. He was not equal to quelling four vigorous drunken hooligans single-handedly. Eventually the gang were over-powered by numerous citizens in Meneage Street, three being locked up and the fourth escaping. Two of the four, having an arm’s-length’s-worth of previous form, were sentenced to two months hard labour.
All this activity may have led Wedlock to neglect his own household as the day after the kennel inspection order he was to repair the dilapidated state of his [rented] home in Lower Green in accordance with the Covenants of [Eva’s] lease.
Wedlock was again re-sworn in November 1881 (no raise in pay), and in January 1882 – mindful perhaps of his long service and the fact that he was now well past 60 – the Council resolved that in future he would be granted one Sunday in three off-duty. It was also decided that a need existed for two additional constables and that they be appointed on Tuesday next at a Special Meeting. (This meeting was deferred pending the posting of Notices offering the new posts.) It was also resolved that the Borough Constables be furnished with a distinguishing badge to wear on duty. The same meeting ordered Thomas Williams and others to repair John Wedlock’s (and others’) wall with a view to bringing ejectment in case of default.
On 27th April 1882 the two new part-time constables were appointed. One was William Cocking. The second was none other than Bob Fitzsimmons’s older brother, William, a carpenter, then about 35 years old and married to his brother James’s widow, the former Margaret Eddy. Whether those of the Fitzsimmons family who had remained behind when the others went to New Zealand had forgiven the Council for their father’s treatment, or simply because William wanted the £3 per annum the position paid is unclear but he stayed in the post for the next six years. At the same meeting John Wedlock resigned as Inspector of Nuisances. This was accepted and the Council resolved that a new sewage system was required for the town. It was also resolved that P.C. Wedlock be granted a fortnightly holiday from his duties as a Policeman of the Borough between 8th May next and Whitsun next. He was granted his full salary until October. William Oats was appointed Inspector of Nuisances at a salary of £30 per annum. In July of the same year it was ordered that the Borough (part-time) constables take it in turn to relieve the Police Officer [Wedlock] every third Sunday without remuneration.
Bill Fitzsimmons seems to have been a fairly strict policeman. William Winn in his memoir relates that he was known to carry a stick that he applied freely to the legs of any naughty children he might encounter. In 1883 there occurred an incident involving both P.C.s Wedlock and Fitzsimmons. The newspaper report read: “A CRUEL HUSBAND – Alfred Gilbert, the landlord of the New Inn, was charged before magistrates at Helston Guildhall on Tuesday, with ill-treating his wife. The complainant was too ill to attend the court on Monday, and on Tuesday her appearance indicated that she was seriously ill. She said that for a long time she had lived in bodily fear of her husband who frequently drank to excess. When “not in liquor” he behaved properly and did not attempt to injure her; but she was always afraid, and when he drank he threatened to take her life and had attempted it. About three weeks since he was intoxicated and in bed, and he sent her down during the night three times for drink. Because she would not go a fourth time he attempted to strangle her. She had frequently sent for a constable to protect her. On Saturday night he turned her out into the yard, and she remained in the stable only partly dressed until four o’clock in the, morning when he let her in. She could not escape from the house because the door was fastened. On Sunday morning she sent for Constable Fitzsimmons and asked him to take her husband in charge, as he was threatening to kill her. Fitzsimmons sent for P.C. Wedlock, and before he returned her husband assaulted her and beat her head against the wall, rendering her senseless. She asked for a magisterial order to live apart from her husband. – The Mayor told the prisoner that he had been guilty of the most brutal conduct towards his wife. His plea of being intoxicated was no excuse at all. He would be imprisoned for one month with hard labour, and the Bench ordered a judicial separation, prisoner to allow his wife 10s per week.”
The early 1880s seems to have seen an epidemic of Church Street publicans beating their wives. A year later John Harvey, landlord of the Red Lion Inn was charged with assaulting his wife but as she did not appear he was discharged.
In November 1882 John Wedlock was again re-sworn, along with the part-time constables Gluyas, Banfield, Fitzsimmons and Cocking. The veteran William Pappin was appointed Sergeant-at-Arms. Early in the New Year the constables were ordered to take it in turns to convey prisoners to Bodmin, Banfield to be last. At the November 1883 Meeting all were again re-sworn and Wedlock was granted £2 for boots.
Helston’s police arrangements seem to have trundled on in the even tenor of their ways for the next few years. John Wedlock’s only reported new duty being to call at the homes of the members of the various Council Committees and remind them of their meetings. However, 1888 saw the passage of a new Local Government Act that would bring an era to an end.
In November 1888 John Wedlock and the other constables were re-sworn “…for so long as they should hold the said office during the ensuing year.” Here, at last, was the long-delayed amalgamation of the Helston Borough Police into the Cornwall County Constabulary. This took place in 1889, having been facilitated by the new legislation. the Royal Cornwall Gazette of 4th April 1889 carried this item under the heading “A Lost Privilege – It looked strange on Monday to see a member of the county force patrolling the streets instead of the septuangenarian official with his old fashioned high hat, who required the aid of a stick to assist him in his perambulations.” This is obviously P.C. Wedlock, although, as with Bill Fitzsimmons, the stick may have had uses additional to that of a mere aid to perambulation. In the new circumstances the Council looked to see what would be done with its former constables. In January it was agreed that Wedlock was to get a new overcoat. In July William Pappin was voted £5 gratuity and his pay for the year.
By January 1890 John Wedlock was over 70 years-old and had been employed by the Borough of Helston for 24 years. A studio photo-portrait taken on the occasion of his retirement shows him in his full-buttoned tunic, an up-turned hat resting at his elbow. He is white-haired with moustaches running into full Gladstonian side-whiskers; as archetypal a venerable late Victorian as one could wish. His expression shows a man of fairly formidable presence; used to the exercise of authority. He has a questioning eye but not one overly jaundiced by his experiences. He may have become redundant as a police constable but he doesn’t look ready for a sedentary retirement. It seems the Council also didn’t think him ready to be put entirely out to pasture just yet. Perhaps by way of offering him a sinecure after his years of service – the Council had for years resisted the idea of instituting any formal superannuation scheme for the Borough constables – or just because they were so used to having him around, John Wedlock was appointed “Mayor’s Servant & Town Beadle of the Borough at a salary of £6 per annum, duties to be decided by the General Purposes Committee.” In November 1890 he was also appointed Sergeant-at-Mace, along with Richard Gluyas. In December his duties were detailed as follows: “To act as Town Sergeant when required and as Beadle of the Market to prevent and report all cases of smoking or other nuisances in Meat Market. To attend Cattle Markets and Fairs to prevent muzzling of calves and see to the proper arrangement of cattle and horses brought for sale. To distribute all Circulars and Notices of Council when necessary and open and close the Guildhall when required.”
John Wedlock’s last appearance in the civic annals of Helston – exactly 40 years after his first – occurs in November 1891, when he was re-sworn as Sergeant-at-Mace. Richard Gluyas was also to continue at his present salary and was asked to assist John Wedlock.
John Wedlock died on 9th September 1895 at St. John’s Road, Helston. His age was given as 79 years; profession as Police Pensioner; and cause of death as Paralysis, certified by W. Wearne MRCS. William Hawke was present at the death. The Registrar was Robert Cade.
P.C. Wedlock’s former colleague, James Fitzsimmons, outlived him by nearly three years, dying at Timaru, New Zealand on 28th August 1898, aged 88, some seventeen months after his youngest son defeated James J. Corbett at Carson City, Nevada to win the World Heavyweight Championship.
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POLICE IN VICTORIAN BRITAIN
Apart from their individual vicissitudes as Borough Constables both James Fitzsimmons and John Wedlock are interesting as representative figures in the evolution of British law enforcement. Both men were of a generation to whom the notion of full-time, professional police – especially in provincial areas – was a comparatively novel phenomenon. The introduction by Robert Peel of the Metropolitan Police in 1829 had been regarded as a reform of almost revolutionary proportions. Political figures – both radical and reactionary, although for very different reasons – thought the whole idea inimical to the ancient liberties of the Subject. Inside and outside the Metropolis, city, borough, town and parish councils saw subsequent legislation requiring the re-ordering of police arrangements to be often unnecessary, expensive and certainly an infringement of their traditional powers and prerogatives. The gradual and often piecemeal introduction of full-time professional constabularies at county level often left jurisdictional anomalies such as existed in Helston by virtue of its status as an independent borough, founded by Royal Charter.
Fitzsimmons and Wedlock represent, in a way, bridging figures between a developing professional police and the old systems of Day and Night Watch stretching back to tythingmen, the “Charlies” of the Restoration period and the type of rural constables satirized by Shakespeare in characters such as Dogberry and Elbow. Their advantages lay in their local knowledge and connections, and the nugatory wages for which they could be recruited – the posts were often held by the aged, the infirm and, sometimes, the mentally deficient. Their faults were often the other sides of the same coins: too much local familiarity, physical and mental incapacity and a lack of professionalism only to be expected from the chronically underpaid. John Wedlock especially seems to have been an exception to the generally low level of ability and efficiency; which perhaps explains why he was kept in office for so many years – his personal reliability and versatility also contributing to Helston Council’s enduring reluctance to amalgamate the Borough Police with the Cornwall County Constabulary. A sanguine, dilatory and parsimonious municipality’s version of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”