A policeman’s lot is not a happy one


At half past two in the morning of Thursday 11 November 1852 police constable Crittal (239D) was on his beat on the Harrow Road. Two men were wandering drunkenly along the road in  front of him and talking loudly. The policeman followed them and this must have irritated the men who turned and challenged him.

‘If you follow me I’ll give you something for yourself’, one cried out. He then turned and ran toward the bobby, drew a knife and attacked him. The constable fell to the ground with cry of ‘I’m stabbed’.

Fortunately for him (but not for the two men) another policeman was close by. PC Emery (257D) had heard the commotion in the street and arrived in time to see the attack launched. He closed on the pair and affected an arrest with the wounded man’s assistance.

The men were brought before the Marylebone Police court in the morning. One was named John Welsh and the other, who stabbed the officer, was John Doherty. Both men were described in court as ‘labourers’ which doesn’t always mean that much in the historical record as it can simply mean casual workers with no particular trade.

The magistrate asked some questions of PC Emery as to the events of the night and the condition of the injured officer.

‘Did you see any weapon in the hand of either of the prisoners?’ ‘I did not sir’. ‘Was the officer, Crittal, bleeding?’ ‘He was bleeding sir, , most profusely from the face. I saw the blog streaming down fast’.

A knife had been found nearby and handed in and one of the station’s inspectors suggested it had been thrown away by one of the men. The blue was produced in court; a ‘large clasp knife’, the blade still smeared the policeman’s blood. Inspector Hannant also brought along a surgeon’s certificate detailing Crittal’s injury and explaining his absence from court that morning.

Given that the evidence pointed towards Doherty as the attacker the justice remanded him for further examination (to await the constable’s recovery so he could testify against him). Welsh was released without charge.

In 1852 the Metropolitan Police force was just 23 years old. Police service was attractive to working-class men because it offered (unlike labouring for example) a regular wage. Police could be entitled to a pension but this was discretionary until 1919 (after a turbulent police strike over conditions) and policing was a dangerous occupation. The police were unpopular in working-class communities, deemed busybodies and class traitors, they were often shunned and not infrequently attacked. Until 1865 they wore tall stovepipe hats, not the modern helmets we are familiar with, and were armed with a simple wooden truncheon and rattle (no whistle just yet).

Hopefully PC Crittal fully recovered from his injury but I imagine he bore the scares for the rest of his life.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, November 11, 1852]

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