William Donaldson led a small police force in Dorking from 1838 to 1851. He had the title of superintendent and maintained a log of their activities, known as the Occurrence Book of which the volumes covering 1838 to 1849 survived. The Surrey Constabulary was formed in 1851, in the process of ensuring a police system throughout the country. Local policing often existed before then but it is rare that we have the detailed insight into its work which Superintendent Donaldson's Occurrence Book gives us, covering the eleven years from 12th November 1838 to 3rd April 1849, setting out the details of what he and his men did from day to day.

What we have is a transcript of the original Occurrence Book which was in the following three volumes, with the pages of the transcript in brackets:

12th November 1838 to 2nd May 1841 (1-51)
3rd May 1841 to 1st June 1845 (52-134)
2nd June 1845 to 3rd April 1849 (135-209)

In addition, the transcript has an index, not in the original, from pages 210 to 233. William Donaldson moved to the new Surrey force in 1851 so presumably there were other books from 1849 to 1851.

Two copies of this transcript have been found, in the Surrey History Centre (Document reference: Z/399/1) and the Society of Genealogists (Document reference: SR/L.163), although there may be others.

The former copy was given to the History Centre in 2003 by Mr. C.A. Willeard of Dartford, Kent. The accession note mentioned that the three original books were bought by Mr. Donaldson (? son of William) at some time from Mr. B. Ede, bookseller of Dorking; they passed into Mr.Willeard's family three generations ago and in 2003 he retained the originals.

The source used is therefore secondary and not original. The transcript has been taken at face value but its contents do indicate accuracy: errors and spelling mistakes are included, and a detailed and accurate index produced, covering names, shopkeepers, public and beer houses, trades, professions, magistrates and places mentioned.

The bracketed figures, e.g. (33), in this text are the page numbers in the transcript.

Organisation of the Force

The force consisted of three officers, initially Superintendent Donaldson, Police Constables No.1 William Brown, and No.2 Jonathan Lewin. This establishment did not alter, although the individuals did. They began work on 12th November 1838, when the Occurrence Book starts, although they were not sworn-in before a magistrate until November 15th. They got off to a good start and on the 15th arrested four people on suspicion of what was highway robbery, although there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

Their purpose was set out in the book's first entry on the 12th:

"On Tuesday forenoon the Boundaries were pointed out, and afterwards, as circumstances would allow, we patrolled in Company that we might show ourselves as much as possible, but we might make ourselves acquainted with our round and if possible to prevent offences and apprehend the offenders".

In today's management speak that could be their "mission statement". It looked as though all three patrolled together that day.

They were based in a Station House. Early on the superintendent mentioned that an evening had been so wet that "we could not be out and left the Station House to go home ..." (2). From1847 it was referred to as the Police Station or merely Station and this was probably a new building. The earlier Station House was in South Street, adjacent to the town's workhouse, and in c1840-41 a new workhouse was built off Horsham Road.

On 10th July 1845 there was a sale of building materials from the Old Workhouse, the Station House, Cage, and Mill House, all from South Street. The term "Station House" was still used in 1845 and this may have been the year of the change of which, surprisingly, nothing in mentioned in the Occurrence Book. Regular deliveries of coal, coke and oil, even steel pens, were received, obviously for heating and lighting the building.

The Cage was a lock-up for offenders awaiting appearance before a magistrate, remanded there for further enquiries, awaiting a hearing or just to "cool off". It was included in the 1845 sale, but prisoners continued to be held, of course, thereafter.

So, three tramps were arrested for begging on a Saturday in 1848 and were taken to a magistrate on Monday afternoon (198). A little while after on a Friday "in the morning I locked John Campbell up for stealing 2/- at the British School, to keep him till Monday." (199) However, there is never any mention where they were held. Given that there was a new police station it doubtless contained secure facilities to house prisoners after 1845.

Presumably the public went to the Station House or Police Station to report incidents, or to "give offenders in charge" (a frequently used expression), if officers could not be found when patrolling. So, entries by the superintendent said, "I was sent for...., I was called to take in charge...." and so on, but it was not always speedy. For example, the news of a burglar disturbed at 11 pm was not passed to the officers until 5 pm the following day. In one instance he was called by letter to Mickleham to search servants' quarters for a valuable ring.(92)

No mention of pay – how much, when and where paid - was included in the books. However, a report to the Quarter Sessions in 1849 mentioned that Dorking parish had spent £167.15s on its police force, a total exceeding all other Surrey parishes outside the Metropolitan Police area except Farnham. The book revealed nothing of their uniform, but they did carry a staff, handcuffs, a rattle (precursor of the whistle), a lantern (or 'lantron') bought from a local shop (102), perhaps fuelled from the oil delivered to the Station House, and a cutlass.

The superintendent wrote that at midnight PC Briggs dealt with a disturbance in East Street by three men.

"He had an up and down or two with Lovell who tore the Cutlass from the strap, drew it from the scabbard and flourished it over him, but at last gave it up".

Lovell was taken on a warrant before a justice who fined him 5/6.(172) In an interesting contrast an offender at the same hearing for stealing broccoli from a garden got three months hard labour.

The hours worked varied daily, but not by much: the superintendent worked all day and the two constables covered the late evenings and nights. The duties of each were often recorded and early on the superintendent wrote that none of them was prepared to go out in the night so that they could be out and visible in the day. But this clear policy was contradicted by the hours the constables worked, which put emphasis on evening and night patrols even though one would have thought the value of patrolling after midnight might be minimal. The following is typical of an early duty rota for the Dorking force (3-5):

  Superintendent PC No.1 PC No.2
Mon All day 9 pm-6 am 9 pm-6 am
Tue -do- -do- -do-
Wed -do- -do- -do-
Thur -do- 8 pm-5 am 8 pm-5 am
Fri -do- 9 pm-6 am 9 pm-6 am
Sat Morning & Evening 9 pm-6 am 9 pm-6 am
Sun Morning Morning & 9 pm-6 am 6 pm-3 am

For long periods duties were not given, but when again mentioned the original spread of manpower continued, with minor variations. Days off (called leave) were infrequent at first. One or two days each month was normal for all three, but no regular pattern could be detected, and after the first few weeks they were dropped altogether from the account and continuous work seemed the norm.

Even on Christmas days all three worked and during the same hours too. At one time the superintendent was sick, reason unspecified, for a month. During this time magistrates and prisoners attended his home for remand hearings, while PC Briggs covered the days and PC Peters the nights. The Occurrence Book was maintained throughout in the same meticulous way, from information supplied by the constables one imagines.

Superintendent Donaldson remained in charge for the eleven years, but there were five constables in this time. PC Brown and PC Lewin, the first to serve, both left around 13th May 1839 when the superintendent said: "I received the clothing and accoutrements from the PCs" who were not mentioned thereafter.

The Superintendent worked alone for 18 months, typically all day and, say, 10 pm-1 am, until a new PC 2, Peters, is named on 1st February 1841 and he remained until 19th May 1844. From February 1841 there was no other constable until a PC Briggs started on 11the December 1842 and he remained throughout the book. PC Potter began work on 16th December 1844 and, although last mentioned on 5th November 1847, he probably was still there at the end of the book.

It is clear that no formal training was given. There may be some errors in these dates because the superintendent often omits any mention of the constables for months, even though they were still working.

The Committee

Superintendent Donaldson was required to produce a report to a Committee. It sat initially on the first Monday of each month in the Infant School Room and from July 1842 in the Vestry Room. Occasionally a month was missed, so in 1846 only four meetings took place, in 1847 three, and from May 1847 no further meetings of the Committee were recorded. Its powers composition and matters discussed (apart from hearing the report) were not evident. Presumably it provided the finance, buildings, uniform and equipment, set the establishment, fixed pay and called the superintendent to account for the efficiency of the force. Each time he wrote that he had produced his Report to the Committee and this report was probably the Occurrence Book itself, which he signed just before each meeting.

Whether the Committee had the power to direct operational matters was unclear. At his first Committee meeting (2) the Superintendent was instructed by Mr. Kerrick, an active magistrate and obviously a Committee member, to explain the cause of the disturbance in The Street on the morning of the 2nd, and to have the advice of the Magistrates how the police might act were the like to occur again.

This disturbance had not been mentioned in the book. This may indicate that the power to direct operational matters belonged to the Magistrates and not the Committee, a view supported by an entry when the Superintendent was investigating suspects for a stack fire (85):

"... I again went to the Old Dean for another two witnesses by order of the Magistrates".

Similarly, when it was reported that flour had been stolen,

"soon after on Mr. Brown's order [a justice], I apprehended the loser's servant for the theft"

(174); and again (104),

"on Mr. Barclay's orders I went to Westcott to apprehend William Dodd for highway robbery".

The Dorking force was obviously beyond the level of parish constables, so what was its status? Nothing has been found about its origins, but one possibility is that it was established under the Lighting & Watching Act, 1833. The Act could be adopted locally if enough property owners initiated the procedure which, if successful, enabled the levy of a rate to finance the appointment of police officers - the "watching" part of the Act. The Occurrence Book gives support to this idea at two points:

  1. The superintendent mentioned the arrest of a man at the White Lion "for stealing the key of a pair of handcuffs belonging to the Lighting and Watching" (165). No further details of the background were given, and he was "discharged with a good cautioning to be very careful for the future".
  2. The 1833 Act also allowed parish councils to become street lighting authorities, the "lighting" part of the title. Implementation of the Act in the town may explain why the superintendent recorded in detail the time the lamps in the streets were lit and extinguished, together with those not working – because it would have been part of his duties under the Act. Dorking was lit by gas lamps at this time and had its own gas works.

Area Patrolled & Other Police Officers

There is no evidence of routine work or patrolling outside Dorking nor in the nearby villages – which had their own parish constables, but occasional incidents were touched upon. For example, the superintendent mentioned (4) being called to nearby Holmwood to quell a disturbance by soldiers quartered in the Norfolk Arms, creating a great uproar and abusing the landlord "in a shameful manner and threatening to set fire to the House". He found all was quiet on arrival.

On another call at Holmwood he detained a man for stealing brushwood, and the magistrates hearing the offence directed that the offender be handed back to Mr. Joseph Fuller, who had made the arrest, for conveyance to Guildford prison for his months imprisonment. The superintendent passed a prisoner to the same Mr. Fuller for trial at Horsham for stealing a cow after the magistrate directed the jurisdiction was Mr. Fuller's. (17) The indications are that he may have been a parish constable in the Holmwood area.

Parish constables were certainly operating around Dorking. We hear of Mr. Taylor, the constable from Mickleham, Mr. Alloway from Holmwood, Mr. Page from Capel, Mr Haycock the Shere police officer who was making enquiries at Mickleham into sheep stealing, and a constable at Farnham. Mutual help and liaison was apparent between these constables and the Dorking force. When the superintendent had some difficult prisoners (76)

"I had to call Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Robertson to my assistance",

and later Mr. Winton as well. It is unlikely the town would have retained both parish constables and the new officers and these helpers may have been members of the public.

There was a system for exchanging information between law enforcement officers. So, the description of suspects for a gamekeeper's murder at Cobham was received in Dorking. Circulation was made, too, about a watch stolen by a Dorking prostitute and Guildford police having told the superintendent that a group in the town had disposed of it, he went there and assisted the Guildford inspector to make the arrests. The watch was recovered and the woman sent for trial where she received six months hard labour in Brixton.

In another case a suit of clothes was stolen in the town and the suspect went to London. "I then forwarded information to Whitechapel Police Station, as we suspected he was in that neighbourhood."

Only two days later the superintendent went before a Dorking justice with Sergeant Barker of the Metropolitan Police who had arrested the culprit, and he was committed for trial. (157)

A City of London policeman arrived with two youths arrested in London for breaking into a Dorking jeweller (which the superintendent had circulated), and they received six and nine months hard labour (168). Another City officer travelled to Dorking and sought help with enquiries he was making and arrested a local man (160).

The way information was circulated emerged from the superintendent's description of enquiries he made into the theft of a pocket book containing a good deal of money in Dorking. He took the owner through the local public houses to find those he suspected, but without success. "I then forwarded information to several places by the post" (164). Two days later he was sent news that two of the stolen notes had been changed at a public house in The Borough, London, and had been stopped by the Bank of England.

The superintendent took the victim to London, saw the landlord in the Borough and the couple then visited a number of coffee shops, and night houses frequented by thieves to see if either could recognise anyone they had seen in Dorking, all without success, although it must have been an experience for the victim. They returned to Dorking the next day.

The circulation of information system obviously worked well. A criminal with the alias "Civil John" was arrested in Dorking in possession of the stock of a clothier at Ripley three days after the crime had been committed. (185). One morning the superintendent had information from Farnham about a watch thief, arrested him soon after and took him to the Farnham constable in the afternoon.

The postal system was the backbone of the circulations [Dorking had its own Post Office]. Travel by the officers was by coach to other towns, and carts were presumably used for conveying any prisoners.


It is difficult to assess the Dorking force's standards with certainty because the writer was unlikely to disclose warts and all. But it is clear that, small though it was, the force was not the corrupt, drunken watchman and parish constables often thought of as predecessors of modern forces. We may infer from the book that standards were maintained. It was, after all, not a ramshackle organisation. The force was structured, with an establishment of officers who worked set hours and patrols, had a Station House and lock-up, a supervisor answerable to a Committee and this book was kept as a record of work done, probably produced at the monthly meetings.

But aside from these organisational elements, which might not detect wrongs, encouragement can be found in more personal matters. So, the superintendent wrote (5-6) on 27th December:

"[I] was very angry, nay enraged, to find PC No.2 Jonathan Lewin had conducted himself very improperly by calling at a number of places for his Christmas box. A lady said she had not complained because she had "always been accustomed to give to the Watch", but thought the superintendent would like to know what the constable had got. " I, as soon as I saw him afterwards, remonstrated with him and explained to him the impropriety of such conduct particularly as we have been so very short of time here, and that he ought to have asked my advice before doing such a thing which, if he had, I would instantly have stopt".

The force closely monitored public and beer houses in the town, of which more later. There was no indication this led to corruption or drunkenness by officers, although he did mention one occasion when meeting his constables after 11 pm who

"I found had been drinking, although not to make them incapable of doing their duty..."

and it was left there. The superintendent's "all day" duties obviously did mean just that. He was satisfied with his officers' standard and included a line in the book at intervals for each officer that "in visiting him I have always found him attentive to his duty".

Standards are set by the officer in charge. Dorking was wise in the choice of Superintendent Donaldson. Before appointment to the town he had three years experience in the Metropolitan Police Force and brought professional standards with him. Even the term Occurrence Book originated in the Metropolitan Force.

29 of the first 70 officers appointed to the new Surrey force in 1851 were sacked in the first year, and of the rest only five reached pensionable service. The superintendent was one of those retained and he was an Inspector, a positive indication of his high personal standards which he would have expected others to adopt. Four years after joining Surrey he was murdered on duty when taking the leading role in quelling a riot at Haslemere, the most extreme example of the qualities and leadership which would have been evident at Dorking.

Judicial System

What do the books tell us of the judicial system in Dorking between 1838 and 1849?


Arrests were made on the officers' initiative, of course, but as the public's confidence in the new force grew offenders were increasingly delivered to the officers. Such phrases as "...was given in charge for assault" (23), and a baker gave a tramp in charge for stealing biscuits (23) are frequent. Whether this meant offenders were physically taken to the officers is open to doubt, but the force was giving a service, responding to its public on offences brought to their attention, and not just acting on their own initiative.

Once an arrest was made, by whatever means, officers took the offender to one, sometimes two, local magistrates who perhaps had some "on call" arrangement – ten magistrates are named in the book. Often this was at Mr. Hart's office in the town (which seemed a base for the justices), sometimes a room in the Workhouse, usually for offences there, in a local public house – a Mr. Barclay of Bury Hill often sat at the Red Lion - or at a magistrate's home, eg, at Wooton Hatch, or Leith Hill Place.

Some of these initial hearings are surprising. The superintendent took two chimney sweeps for theft to the justice "Mr. Crawford as he came off the Horsham coach. He at once discharged them" (40). After the arrest of a tramp for getting a meal and drink without paying "I had him before Mr. Kerrick as he was passing the Cage, who discharged him "as it was but a debt", and the same justice discharged a prisoner at the Cage door because the complainant refused to attend. If it was impossible to get to a justice immediately the offender was kept in custody, and the Cage was used – for male or female, young or old, drunk or sober.

Magistrates and Higher Courts

These single or two justices, wherever they sat, could deal with the offenders in a number of ways, as described in the book:

  1. To find the case proved and impose punishment, with a wide discretion. Usually a fine was sufficient, sometimes with imprisonment, hard labour or the treadmill (usually at Guildford) in default – by no means a light punishment. Often the offender was discharged "with a good cautioning". Examples of punishment are frequent in the books:
    • So, attempted housebreaking, 3 months hard labour, 14 days for begging, stealing turnips 13/6 or 14 days hard labour, street fighting, fined 7/6. There were examples of a flexible approach. When three young men were tried for stealing a hat by snatching it from the victim's head the justice told them they had better buy him a new one in three weeks or he would deal with the charge again.
    • The presiding justice would often have it both ways:
    • In one instance he discharged a prisoner for theft because of no evidence, "but at the same time telling him he had no doubt but that he had taken them" (63). A justice discharging a woman for lack of evidence on a theft charge "cautioned her well, and told her that they had not the least doubt but that she had stolen it. (107)
    • A John Percival was arrested "for making a great noise at the end of Ram Alley, and disturbing the whole neighbourhood". The superintendent wrote that the magistrates "cautioned him well and ordered me to keep my eye on him and if ever he did the like again to bring him before him and he would bind him over to keep the peace and send him to prison for twelve months." Was this an implied threat or some form of suspended sentence?
    • In some cases the justices seemed to be making their own rules: The superintendent went to London and arrested Henry Wells on a warrant for assaulting a young girl, Charlotte Wells, at Capel, and was returned to Dorking before a magistrate "who gave me leave to allow them to compromise the matter if I could. I then went with him to Capel to see Mr. Nash who, after a little persuasion, did compromise with him, Mr. Wells paying him £20 and paying all expenses". (166)
  2. To find there was insufficient evidence, or there was no offence and discharge the person - a not guilty or no case to answer finding. This was a valuable safeguard when the force may not have been very skilled in the law, even though it was often accompanied by a severe reprimand.
  3. To put the case back for further enquiries, with the offender kept in the Cage meanwhile presumably.
  4. To send the case to a Magistrates'Court, always referred to in the book as the Bench. It is not always clear why they did so. It may have been for the more difficult cases, and perhaps the victim had a say in this. One of two squabbling neighbours accused the other of assault and damage to property. The complainant persisted that there had been a threat to her life, the case was sent to the Bench and the assailant was fined and bound by a £10 security for 12 months.
    • Dorking, Reigate and Horsham Benches were mentioned, and doubtless each court had a jurisdiction. The Dorking Bench on at least one occasion sat in the Red Lion. (105) Bail was mentioned once: the Bench committed an accused for trial (possessing money from a highway robbery), but he was admitted to bail, himself in £50 and two sureties of £50 each (105)
  5. To send the case for trial at a higher court, the Quarter Sessions (always called the Sessions) or Assizes. The Assizes were usually for the serious cases, but a tramp was also sent there for stealing biscuits from a baker. Sessions are named at Reigate, Kingston, Guildford and London, Assizes at Kingston and Croydon. Grand Juries are mentioned at Kingston and London Sessions.
    • Events moved quickly, compared with today. A committal for trial at the sessions could result in a finding and punishment within seven days, and three weeks seemed lax. In one case (42) a committal from Dorking for trial was dealt with at Kingston Sessions on the same day!

An additional avenue for process was revealed in the book: the right of individuals, not just the wealthy, to obtain their own arrest or search warrants from a magistrate. It would then be delivered to a police officer to execute, or the complainant would be accompanied by an officer in its execution.

So, a rag-and-bone boy – obviously not rich – had his purse stolen (60) and suspected a man Mayhew. He

"got a search warrant to have Mayhew's house searched and the warrant was put into my hand to execute",

which the superintendent did together with the boy and his mother. Money was found and Mrs. Mayhew was committed for trial but acquitted.

In another case, the superintendent arrested a man for theft, but the owner was not at home. He released the prisoner to her home, and commented that the owner could get a warrant for her if he wanted (81). Such procedures amounted to an early form of private prosecution although the superintendent could use these provisions himself to get both arrest and search warrants.


The magistrates' punishments were usually harsh by modern standards. At one end of the scale were simple discharges, often accompanied with a caution too. Fines were the norm, sometimes with a week or more to pay, and imprisonment of 14 days or so in default. For theft the Bench would customarily impose imprisonment, nine months hard labour or a month on the treadmill.

Some standard punishments, or perhaps just custom, were apparent. Poaching merited three months hard labour at Guildford, with a requirement at the end to find sureties for good behaviour or, if not found, to serve an additional six months hard labour. For begging it was 14 days hard labour, irrespective of age and sex. In one case a beggar before the justice had 17/4 on him. He was given 14 days hard labour at Guildford "and his money (was) to pay the expense of his conveyance, and his keep as far as it would go".(192)

Higher court punishments were not so clear, because they were less common in the book. Six months imprisonment seems to be the lowest, usually with hard labour, but often longer. Two instances of transportation imposed by the Sessions were mentioned. The first was of seven years for stealing trousers from a parcel (69); the second for two men, Bivan and Sayers, for stealing a "lamb's head and pluck" from Mr. Master's shop. Sayers got 7 years transportation "beyond the seas" and Bivan14 years (158). Why these harsh punishments were handed down is not revealed.

Prisons, or Houses of Correction, are mentioned at Guildford (frequently, for imprisonment, hard labour and the treadmill), Kingston, Brixton and Horsemongers Lane, London.

Young people tended to get "well cautioned" and discharged for a first offence, but were less fortunate on repeat appearances. For stealing apples, for example, two were fined £1.18/6 and one had 14 days imprisonment in default. (98) Three boys caught breaking windows and begging were sentenced to a months hard labour at Guildford (141), and another three brought before a justice by PC Briggs for breaking gas lamps got two months hard labour each. (149) Three boys arrested for lodging in a wagon kept in a cart shed all got three months hard labour. And these were children.

The superintendent introduced a note of humanity (for the time) for boys arrested for trampling growing wheat and locked up in the Cage. One "I allowed to go home with his mother about 10 o'clock at night, as he was so young and as his mother is so subject to fits." (95).

Whipping was a judicial punishment. A prisoner from Dorking tried at Guildford Sessions for theft from his employer was "sentenced to two months at Brixton, and at the end of that time to be whept" (95). Two other examples were for stealing bread in a shop, and for theft, 14 days "and to be whipt" (164, 184).

There is an intriguing reference to the stocks. It involved a man before the justice on arrest for being drunk and insulting people. He fined him 5/- for the drunkenness "and ordered me to put him into the Cage until he paid it, but as we can only put one in the stocks in default of payment, I allowed him to go by promising to bring it to me". (138)

Informal Justice

Aside from the judicial system, the book contained examples of justice administered informally by the force. An example is that of a youngster, William Beadle, caught scrumping pears.(19) The owner declined to prosecute,

"but merely wanted that I should frighten him. I then led him all around the town with me, after taking him to and threatening to put him in The Cage, and on passing Mr. Hart's office [where a magistrate was based] I took him in before Mr. Hart, who cautioned him well and told him what would be the consequence if ever he was taken again. I then allowed him to go home with his father".

Only the legendary clip round the ear was missed! In a more simple example, "I put five tramps out of the town after they had stolen two half quarter loaves".(200)

Two troublesome youngsters, George Dibbles, aged 11, and Edward Randall, aged 9, came to the superintendent's attention. He had had information that, although young, they were persistent metal thieves in the town. At Biddle's house PC Brown recovered a bag of stolen metal from the loft, and both were brought before a magistrate who remanded them to the Bench the following day (in the Cage?). The court reprimanded Randall and fined Dibble 18/3, to be paid that night or he would go for a month on the treadmill at Guildford – he was aged 11. The money was paid.(11-12) The Dibbles were a particularly troublesome family in the town.

Three weeks later the same pair were stealing brass door furniture from Back Lane, but the owner would not prosecute, preferring that they be frightened instead. The superintendent found Randall, the younger one, who denied any knowledge of the offence, only to be told that if he gave up the metal that would be that, but if not he would be locked up until the goods were found. Randall said Dibbles had told him where it was hidden, the metal was recovered and no further action was taken.

A number of boys were found trespassing and bathing in a brook, and all but one (Cooper by name) ran off when the superintendent approached. He

"supposing he had a right to be there stood still, naked as he was. I then gave him a caning and threatened to put him in the Cage all night, but for fear of that as soon as he got his shirt on he ran off. I then bundled up the rest of his clothes and took them home with me".

What happened to the clothes or to the boy when he got home is left unsaid.(76)

No hint emerges that the Dorking people objected to this behaviour. Highlighting such examples, incompatible with modern practice as they are, should not obscure the fact that in hundreds of crimes and incidents in the books the procedures of arrest, taking the case to a justice and abiding by the outcome were the norm for these officers.

And the public themselves were not adverse to reaching informal outcomes. The superintendent was called to the Ram Inn by Mr.Cook "to take a man in charge who he thought had a fowl in his possession belonging to him. But before I got there he had taken it from him and had knocked him down two or three times, and at least made it up by the fowl being paid for".(31)

The Work of the Officers

The overall impression from the eleven years in the Occurrence Book is of constant patrolling. The superintendent worked every day and all day, his officers the evenings and nights. We cannot know how much time was actually walking their area, as opposed to inside the Station House, but with the superintendent about from morning to night it may well have been most of the time.

There is a great disparity between the amount of incidents and arrests dealt with by the superintendent and by his two officers, which were few. The hours the constables worked – continual late and night turns – may have reduced their ability to become involved, but it is hard to see why they did not do so in the late evenings from 8 or 9 pm onwards in the town.

More likely was it that the superintendent was experienced and the others were not. He did not omit them from the record intentionally, and mentions, for example, Constable Peters at 2.30 am having

"discovered a fire raging in Mr. Cheeseman's stackyard on the Lordships, and instantly gave the alarm by springing his rattle and calling for assistance". (85)

A few days later there was another night fire in Mr. Bravery's mill. But it was the superintendent who carried on the enquiries into these suspect fires, even though we have seen that he was happy with his officers' standards.

The exception to this generalisation was PC Briggs. After serving about a year he began to make arrests for simple offences, for example begging, vagrancy, assaults, disturbing the peace, damage, thefts, following them through to appearances at both the Bench and Sessions. PC Potter appeared once in the arrests, of a man for damage and being on enclosed premises.

The two hundred pages of the book therefore detail the work mainly of Superintendent Donaldson. There is a succession of visits to licensed premises and beer shops, dealing with minor disturbances to Dorking's peace by fighting, assaults, drunkenness, rowdy inns, domestic disputes and quarrelling neighbours. All were interwoven with his administrative functions of reporting to the Committee, taking his arrested offenders to the justices, attending before the Bench and the Sessions to give evidence and liaison with the parish constables of the villages around the town and further away.

Many of these tasks would be mirrored in modern policing, but William Donaldson's days were spent in a very different world. It was a world where poverty was apparent in near everything he had to do: vagrancy, tramps, children chimney sweeps, prostitution, children stealing turnips from sheep to eat, travel by horse-drawn coach, the workhouse and neglected children, All this was set against a background of a bustling town, parish constables in the villages, prison with hard labour, the treadmill, transportation and gas lamps.

Poverty motivated most crime. The theft of food – a leg of mutton from a shop display, two chickens from the Queen's Head and apples, pears, cabbages and turnips from gardens and potatoes for a plot – was the most obvious. The frequent poaching offences, and fishing in private waters had the same end. Clothing was stolen from shops and clothes lines, bedding from the Rose & Crown and all manner of property from the local citizens.

He was a busy man. His workload was evidence of the emerging idea that the justice system – police and courts – could deal with these problems so that retaliating or taking the law into own hands could be avoided. As people saw what the Dorking officers could do from 1838 onwards one hopes that confidence in them grew. Although individuals had the ability to obtain their own arrest warrants, the increasing examples throughout the book of offenders being "given in charge" was a healthy sign.

Each one of the 231 pages in the book has examples of the work done, perhaps a thousand or so incidents and 800 people coming to notice. What can be highlighted is but a small sample.

Public House and Beer Houses

The town had twenty-three public and beer houses (including the House of Commons and the House of Lords), a large number for a small town. They were supervised daily, and detailed information was given of the visits made. For example, how many customers were present, male or female, what they were doing, whether smoking, drinking, singing, dancing, if music heard, or all quiet - as he puts it "all prety rigular".

Hours were controlled (by the magistrates?), and he cautioned landlords that their hour was 9 pm "instead of 10 pm as they would wish to have it." The Ram was particularly irregular and rarely quiet. Each Sunday morning patrols visited the houses during Divine Service "and cautioned the landlords" to have quiet during what was obviously regarded as a sensitive time.

These visits had purpose, aside from showing the uniform. Superintendent Donaldson records going before the Bench to prove information against three beer shops and one public house, but does not record why, and all were convicted and fined, three of them forfeiting their licences. On another occasion Mr. Boxshall, a beer house owner, was fined by the Bench "for keeping unregular hours" and fined 40/- with costs.

Attention was of course given to other matters whilst patrolling. Incidents of noisy or drunken behaviour, fighting, checking the security of premises for open windows, unlocked doors and cellar openings, were all recorded.

Minor Crimes

They were common, and many of them were detected in this small town where local knowledge was all, and often the complainant could name the offender. Burglaries, theft of metals such as pipes and door fitting, or lead from roofs and food stolen from shops and gardens, vagrancy offences, sleeping rough and begging were common, with an occasional army deserter. Most offences resulted in the offender's arrest and conveyance before a justice.

Assaults and damage were frequent, often associated with drink, fighting in the street near pubs (fined 7/6), assault on a householder and damage to her house (fined 5/-), begging (14 days hard labour) and gypsy fortune tellers (discharged and cautioned). Drunkenness was common, and fuelled many fights and assaults. Some offenders were taken to a justice, some locked up and allowed to go when sober. Two young women were found incapable after something had been put in their drinks, but this could not be proved and they were released by the Justice "with a good cautioning".

Some interesting stories emerged. The two constables heard a woman cry "murder" near the town church at midnight (7). She was found in West Street and said her brother had beaten her. The officers soon found the man nearby but he said he had only met her that evening and that she had stolen his watch which he found hidden underneath her arm. He said he "gave her a good punch in the ear". They searched for her, but she had "scampered off".

This was not the only late night cry of murder heard. The superintendent and PC Briggs, patrolling at midnight in Cape Place, heard screaming and a cry of 'murder'. They found the screaming woman and Henry Percival "coming out at her door with a knife in one hand and a poker in the other". She accused him of cutting her hand and both were arrested for "creating so much disturbance"; she had a "good cautioning to be very careful for the future" and he was fined £1, or go in Kingston prison for a month in default.(165).

Domestic, family and neighbour disputes were often mentioned as in another instance when a Mrs Burrows gave a neighbour in charge "for laying her son's head open with a pail". The Justice ordered the assailant to pay 3/-, and cautioned her well.

Cases of men neglecting their families were recorded, arrested on warrant issued, one imagines, by the poor law authorities who were maintaining them. Hard labour of three months or 30 days in the Guildford House of Correction was usual which would, of course, mean the families continued to be maintained, most likely in the town's workhouse.

Undetected crimes were carefully recorded in the book, but nothing mentioned of enquiries done. These were low level crimes – thefts, entering premises, stealing clothing, metal thefts, a donation box from the National School and throughout August fruit and vegetable thefts from gardens reached a peak.

Some unusual offences are mentioned. The superintendent had information that a Richard Trimby had issued counterfeit coins – half a crown, and a shilling – by asking for change in shops. He found him inside a limekiln at Dorking chalk pits. A justice committed him for trial at London Sessions were he got, remarkably, only 21 days solitary confinement because he was recommended for mercy, but it is not said why. In an odd coining offence a traveller was arrested for "obtaining four pence for a half farthing" (121), which obviously needed a gullible victim.

Prostitution, perhaps here another indication of poverty, is mentioned several times. The superintendent was told that an old pensioner had been robbed of a £10 note, four sovereigns and some silver "by a prostitute that he went to bed with at the Black Horse." (65), but he found that both he and the women and gone off and could not be found.

Another instance was when John Songhurst gave in charge Caroline Ashcroft, a prostitute, for picking his pocket of 2/- at the Bee Hive but the justice had to discharge her because Songhurst did not appear. (79)

Elsewhere in the book prostitutes were picking pockets, creating a disturbance with obscene language and robbing a young man of his watch in the Rose & Crown yard on Christmas Day. A prostitute relieved a man of his purse in Black Horse Passage, and Jemima Steer, arrested for drunk and disorderly in South Street, was described as a prostitute.

An incomprehensible incident is described about a strange delivery.

"I had a man named Thomas Young given in charge by Mr Friend for being drunk and having been sent to him in a box for which a shilling for carriage was charged, and paid before he knew what it contained. In the forenoon I went before a magistrate with 'Jack-in-the-Box' as he called himself"

who he was discharged with a good reprimand. Quite what the charge was is not stated!

Edward Randall was arrested for having deserted from his apprenticeship. Information about this had been received from the Marine Society's Office, and the superintendent took Edward to their office in London in the evening and afterwards delivered him to his Master on board a ship.

Serious Crime

Occasional serious matters occur among the hundreds of minor offences, of which the following are examples.

A Mr. Bravery was shot at when returning to Dorking from Horsham. (25) He told the superintendent that the offenders were Miles and Webb, and he locked them up while enquiries were made. No motive was given. The next day he took Mr. Bravery to the spot, with the suspects' boots as well, searching for footprints. Some were found at the spot but were too indistinct to match. A justice remanded them in custody and six days later three magistrates sitting at the Red Lion committed them for trial, instructing the superintendent to take all three to London that afternoon on the 4 o'clock coach. He spent the following two days at the Sessions, but annoyingly gave no result. He returned on the third day by the noon coach, and was back in Dorking patrolling that afternoon and evening.

The superintendent tried to match boots to footprints on other occasions, without success, and common-sense investigation methods were seen elsewhere too. For example, he saw hay which had been taken from land piled ready, he thought, to steal. He maintained a watch but before doing so put a note inside the hay to add strength to the evidence.

There was one manslaughter charge in the book. (50) After two drunks fought each other and one died "on the spot", the second, James Sayers, was arrested and kept in the Cage until the Coroner's Inquest. That took place three days later, recorded a verdict of manslaughter and he was committed on the Coroner's warrant for trial. Since he was arrested for poaching not long after he was obviously acquitted.

There was one allegation of murder. Ellen Lee, a young woman, was arrested at Walton-on-the-Hill on suspicion of murder, "the body of a new born male child having been found in the floodgate hole at Mr. George Dewdney's Mill". The superintendent and Ellen went to the Coroner's inquest at the Punch Bowl the following day and the Coroner ordered she be taken before a justice the day after for concealment of birth and be committed for trial since no evidence had been found of a live birth. She appeared at Kingston Assizes a considerable time later and was acquitted.(159)

Robberies, or muggings, were occasional. The superintendent told how a drunken man complained he had been bundled into a field and robbed of all his cash, comb, pocket knife and tobacco box. He was put in the Cage to sober up while the superintendent looked for the three men, finding them in the Rose & Crown. One, Attree, had most of the property on him and the victim later identified all three. The superintendent went to the scene, where the victim's dog still waited, and tried his footprint matching technique, again without success. All three were committed to the London Sessions by a justice, and seven days later were each sentenced to 12 months hard labour.

The Workhouse and Poverty

The workhouse featured prominently in the book. It was a place for the destitute and the sick of the town (its infirmary was the only 'hospital' available), and the police also used it. The workhouse was, in all its severity, the welfare system, its workload the area's poor. The Workhouse Log on 31st January 1839 records a total of 130 souls therein, and in the 1841 census 93 people were housed – Dorking had a population of under 5,000 – and around 1841-2 a new Union Workhouse was built to take 250. The workload was obviously not diminishing and the book has many examples of its role.

The mentally ill: A deranged woman in the Bull's Head threatened to drink acid. She was taken to a justice who remanded her to be seen by a doctor: if he said she could look after herself "let her go about her business", if not she must be taken to the workhouse on the doctor's certificate until her friends were written to. (103) It was usual for a local doctor to be called and he would order the workhouse detention "to be cared for".

A woman was threatening to drown herself in a brook. The superintendent found her

"lying beside a footpath almost in a state of nudity having nothing on but her chemise, and the rest of her cloths lying scattered around her ..."

She was dressed by some women and sent on a cart to the workhouse until her husband came from Croydon for her (61).

Destitute children: Three destitute children were found begging by singing hymns at doors in West Street. The superintendent traced their father nearby in the Rose & Crown and took all four to the Cage, but got the children into the workhouse just for the night. The next day all four appeared before a justice who discharged them on the promise they would leave Dorking immediately.

Destitute adults were always arrested, as in a case of a man found sitting on the pavement at 10 pm and taken to the Cage "for lodging in the open and having no visible means of subsistence". For this he was given 14 days hard labour (138).

The fearsome institution that the workhouse was created a great deal of work for the police. The inmates, most of whom had gone there only because they were destitute and starving, were forced to work, breaking stones and the like, or to work a mill (the treadmill). Institution clothes were used if their own had to be destroyed.

The book has numerous entries recording the Governor delivering inmates in charge to the police for workhouse offences. These included tearing up their own clothes to get better ones, refusing to work in the workhouse, or work on the pump, breaking windows in the wards (including a ward used to house the 'cadgers'), stealing institution clothes, and absconding. In one case an inmate stripped off his clothes and walked around naked rather than go dressed in sacks.

Sometimes this behaviour was because of a mental condition, but often its aim was to get into prison. It says a great deal about the place that they preferred the hell of prison's forced labour to conditions in the workhouse. The offenders often presented in groups for refusing to work or creating disorder – four, five, seven, even ten at a time – perhaps after some provocation had precipitated the unrest.

Given the numbers, these incidents were more mutiny than disruption. The justice hearing those offences usually sat at the workhouse, (where there was a Strong Room in which both the police and workhouse officers locked prisoners). For breaking the workhouse rules anyone could expect 14, 21 days or a months hard labour at Guildford or Kingston prisons, and three months for stealing clothing. Even children received this treatment – two months imprisonment for absconding with workhouse clothes.

But it seems that not everyone feared the institution. A gas lamp was broken outside the police station by an Irish woman with three children, after the superintendent had refused to give them an order for a night's lodging in the Union Workhouse. His refusal was because they had been in twice before, had afterwards to be removed by force and "then would not go away until they had 2/- given to them". He took all four before a magistrate. The woman and two children were given 14 days hard labour at Guildford and "the youngest child he ordered me to take to the Union until their time is up".(207)

The workhouse was a consequence of poverty, and Superintendent Donaldson gave vivid examples of the desperation of the poor. Five boys refused to leave a house in the town unless they were given a night's lodgings. They ran off when he approached but refused to leave the town and he "was forced (for the protection of property) to give them a night's lodgings in the Cage". Next morning one had deliberately torn his clothes, "as they wanted to go to prison, but I got him rigged out in a fresh garb and then got assistance and drove them across the Lordships as they said when I first saw them that they were going to London".(151)

The following day a man and five boys stole bread from a shop, in front of the superintendent in order that he should arrest them. One said "I wish they would Transport me as I would then be better". The justice reprimanded them, ignoring the eldest's plea to go to prison.(151)

Noticeable in the latter years of the book are the frequent cases of breaking windows, often by tramps. The suspicion that this was to get arrested, and so be fed, is confirmed by several instances. Two tramps broke a gas lamp "because I would not given them a night's lodgings", and the next day a justice gave them 14 days hard labour (201). Three women tramps broke the lamp outside the police station "on purpose to get sent to Prison".(208)

The superintendent was called to the workhouse to help eject two tramps who had been tearing their own clothes. When he arrived they went

"without trouble as they thought that I was going to take them before a magistrate, and they would go to prison".

Once they realised this was not so, they refused to leave the town and began begging openly, with a crowd around, and he was forced to arrest them, each one receiving one month hard labour.(119)

The superintendent was not immune from sympathetic feelings. He saw three destitute men steal a loaf and watched while they divided the spoils. They were arrested but the shopkeeper refused to provide evidence. He took them to the workhouse for a night's lodgings, and next day escorted them from the building and saw them leave Dorking.(155)

Stealing today is mostly to support or acquire a life style; the people the superintendent saw stole food, clothing and money to survive.


Minor disorders were frequent. Most were among noisy groups, fighting in the street, one instance of dog fighting (for gambling?) or arguments near the pubs, all dealt with by the superintendent moving them on, disrupting the groups and arresting if necessary. Squabbling neighbours, arguing families and spouses were common too. It is no surprise that drink was involved in most incidents.

At one point in the book Superintendent Donaldson reveals that he saw his role as ensuring that the greater public good prevailed over the individual's behaviour when the two were in conflict.

"As I was passing Mr.King's shops there was a good number of people standing on the footpath on both sides of the Street opposite Mr. Attley's, rather noisy and insulting a person that was passing on horse-back. As soon as I got near them I requested them to go away off the footpath, which most of them did, except one that was very obstinate and the worse for liquor. He refused to go, I then pushed him twice which caused a great uproar amongst those who consider their freedom intruded upon by not being allowed to stand where they like and do as they think proper. A number got very insolent and was some time before they cleared off".(33)

He revealed his irritation with the justices only once. A prisoner brought to the Bench for drunk and disorderly, a persistent offender, was fined 5/-: "had he been dealt with as he ought he would have been bound over to keep the peace for 12 months."

Railway building had an effect on the town and its policing from 1848 onwards. Drunkenness, disorder and begging by navvies were particularly noticeable, and a "ganger on the line" was mentioned. Homeless and destitute Irish women and their children, perhaps travelling the country with the navvies, created work for the force and put a strain on the police and poor law resources of Dorking.(195 onwards) This disorder of the travelling railway builders was, in hindsight, poignant given that it was those same disorders elsewhere that would lead to the superintendent's death seven years after he wrote of this.

The level of disorder was fairly constant through the year. Christmas Eve and New Year were no worse and, in fact, were not mentioned by name at all. Nothing changed on those days: the public houses opened throughout, patrolling and the same hours of duty were maintained by the policemen in the day and night as if they were normal days. No increase in street troubles was apparent in the books at these times. The same applied to Saturdays and to Shrove Tuesday, a day which was notorious in Dorking later in the century for disorder, near riots, around street football.

Public Attitude

How were the police officers received? This particular organisation had only started in 1838, but by and large they went about their work in the first eleven years unheeded. One assumes the law-abiding population would accept their function, and perhaps the presence of the officers, although few in number, encouraged people to channel their complaints and allegations through this service and not use unlawful means to resolve disputes.

But not everybody thought like this. In reading these examples one has to remember the superintendent was on duty alone most of the time. If there were other officers about he could not summon them easily, and he had to rely on his own resourcefulness.

  1. Two men arrested for assault were being marched off to the Cage.(15) A crowd followed, obviously intending to release the prisoners and one of them was also arrested for attempted rescue. The magistrate clearly did not view this as serious and fined all three 3/-.
  2. The superintendent was breaking up a group of fighting men, when the main culprit "laid hold of me at the same time being surrounded by his own companions, after scuffling about for some time I was obliged to let him go as his father came and took him with him".(41) A week later he had to be bled on account of the bruise he received.
  3. "I had one of my ribs split assisting the Constable of Capel with a man that he had up for assaulting Mr. Anderson. I had my staff broken through the middle while using it against him".(43)
  4. A short entry records that a shoemaker was taken to the justice for "being drunk and assaulting me in the execution of my duty on the Ball night" – fined 12/-.(45)
  5. Two navvies were arrested for "creating a disturbance in West Street and assaulting PC Briggs by throwing a great flint at him".(204) They were bound over to keep the peace.
  6. PC Briggs arrested a William Percival and took him to the justices for assaulting him in the discharge of his duty. He was discharged with a good reprimand.
  7. He gave a lengthy description of a disturbance to which he was summoned at the Queen's Head at 1.0 am, involving a very drunken landlord who demanded, while he tried to break down a door, that a guest be evicted. Meanwhile a great crowd of onlookers had gathered outside. The superintendent refused to evict the guest, causing the landlord to complain that "it was very hard that he should be paying to support me and not have my assistance when he wanted it", a cry still heard today. The superintendent left to the sound of the rowing landlord and his wife carrying on the night.(38)

Six assaults on police officers, though regrettable, would not seem excessive over eleven years, given the harsh circumstances of the times.

The superintendent had a shock when the Station House itself was the subject of crime.(41-2). Two vagrants arrested for rough sleeping had their neck cloths and knives removed at the Station House before being locked in the Cage. The next day he went for their property before they were handcuffed but found that everything had gone and the back door of the Station House had been forced. He learned that a workhouse boy had been seen near the Station House, he was traced, searched and the property found on him. The boy, James Bartlett, was committed for trial at Kingston Sessions where, the same afternoon, he pleaded guilty, but his sentence was not given.

The entries in the book end abruptly on 3rd April 1849, although there presumably was another volume up to the formation of the Surrey Constabulary on 1st January 1851. The account had embraced a decade of change for the town: a new workhouse and police station were built, the railways arrived and the new police organisation superseded the old.

We are greatly indebted to Superintendent William Donaldson for the Occurrence Book which he bequeathed to the future, and to the writer who prepared the transcript. We are indebted, too, for the rare opportunity it gives us to see the life of a mid 19th century town at close quarters, to see the struggle of these officers and justices to deter crime and bring order among a population that was itself struggling to survive.

William Donaldson

Superintendent William Donaldson was born in Alloa, Scotland, in 1807. In 1835 he married Janet (or Jane) Clement in the town. At some time he moved to London where around 1835 he joined the Metropolitan police and from 1838 to 1851 he was at Dorking in charge of their police officers.

In 1851 he enrolled into the newly formed Surrey Constabulary and was stationed at Chobham. Only a month later he went to Leatherhead (where he and Janet are shown living at Bridge Street in the 1841 census), on 21st January 1853 to Horley and on 20th November 1854 to Haslemere. There he was murdered on 29th July 1855 while dealing with a serious disturbance in the town centre. [further details surrounding Donaldson's death can be found in Part I.]

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