Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Police, Peel, Murder and Drayton Bassett

What is now home to the theme park of Drayton Manor was, as the name implies, a large estate. It lies largely within the boundaries of Drayton Bassett. This village uses the name of the family who held this manor for centuries until, through marriage, it passed to the Peels who built the estate. The most famous member of the Peel family is Sir Robert. As MP for Tamworth he delivered what amounted to the first pre-election manifesto. He spoke from the window of the town hall, addressing the crowd gathered below who probably never realised just what they were witnessing.

Even today the name of Sir Robert Peel is more likely to be associated with two other landmark events. Scholars of political history will undoubtedly point to the long-running debate over the Corn Laws which dominated his political career, although most will remember him as the founder of the modern police force. The latter is only partially true. While he did establish the Metropolitan Police Force in London in 1829, the thousand-strong force known as ‘Bobbies’ because of the association with Sir Robert, there had been a professional body to police the capital for some eighty years.

This earlier force were the Bow Street Runners, formed by author Henry Fielding in 1749, they originally numbered just six officers. Yet the name is something of a misnomer as they never ran and considered the term ‘Runners’ derogatory, nor indeed did they patrol a beat. These men were an arm of the courts, hence Bow Street, and arrests were solely as officers acting on behalf of the judiciary. They were disbanded in 1839, ten years after the formation of Peel’s force and eighteen years before legislation meant cities throughout the land had to introduce their own professional police force.

Parliament would have done well to ensure the significant drop in crime in London was mirrored across the land much earlier. Especially considering events of August 15th 1844 in Drayton Bassett. At the time the villagers were dependent upon the Peel estate for a living, be it directly in the service of the family or as tenant farmers. Fifteen years after the first ‘Bobbies’ were seen in London, the term ‘Peelers’ was more likely to be used by the criminal fraternity, the villagers were horrified when they learned of the murder of William Sudbury by William Walker. Perhaps the village ‘Bobbie’ will have been sufficient deterrent to prevent a quarrel escalating to such a degree.

Years later and our story returns to Market Street, Tamworth. The image below shows the town hall where that first manifesto was delivered, the event marked by placing the statue of Sir Robert Peel below the window. The unknown photographer’s position is some twenty yards or so in front of two buildings facing one another on the end of this ancient street. That to the left is now home to a Wilkinson’s store, yet previously had been a Berni Inn named the Peel Arms, named after Tamworth’s most famous son. Opposite we still find the Castle Hotel. One public bar here was renamed after the Peel Arms had closed and chose to adopt another supposed reference to the father of modern policing. However, as we have seen, the name of the Bow Street Runner is incorrect as it had no connection with Peel.

Whilst they should be congratulated in at least attempting to find an original name, and producing an attractive and relevant sign to accompany same, sadly my research when producing books on place names has shown such errors are commonplace and avoidable.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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