STORYPOINT 8: CRIME & PUNISHMENT
Opened in 1847, the police station included accommodation for the constables and superintendent as well as a small number of cells with an attached jail yard. The Royal Cornwall Gazette reports that there was a passageway linking the station with the courts above so that criminals could be led from one to the other without the need to leave the building.
The police station was moved to Trafalgar Square around a decade later because the number of cells was already too small; they were eventually removed in a wider 1925 remodelling.
Photo by Pip Hayler Photography
Crime and punishment
Punishments seem harsh to us today – and they were even dished out to children.
Consulting the charge books from the period shows the lucky got off with a fine. The drunk and disorderly who did not live in Truro often got off with a fine and an agreement to leave the town. Regular crimes included destitution and begging, wandering abroad, prostitution, fighting and stealing or receiving stolen goods.
The most common punishment was hard labour at the House of Correction. For prostitution it was usually 21 days, other crimes attracted varying sentences depending on the leniency of the judge.
Even children didn’t escape punishment – in 1850 eleven-year-old Samuel Rice was charged on suspicion of stealing four oranges from the market house. He was found guilty and sentenced to 14 days in the House of Correction.
Transportation to Australia was occasionally given as punishment, too – in 1846 Redruth labourer James Lampshire, aged 19, was charged for stealing a black mare, and 54-year-old brush maker Michael Allen on suspicion of receiving a quantity of brushes he knew to be stolen. Both were transported for 10 years.
The stocks, which stood outside the previous jail on Boscawen Street were also put to use, usually in cases where the public had been wronged. They would have acted as a very visual reminder to others of the punishments due to petty criminals. In January 1860 Richard Menherriot was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and angering the residents of Charles Street in the early hours of a Sunday morning. He was given a fine but, as he was unable to pay within a week was sentenced to six hours in the stocks.
A history of making our own rules
From 1153, a royal charter gave the people of Truro the right to their own borough court. They were also granted the right to hang thieves. They used to do this at the entrance to the town by Compringey Hill. Here you would once have found an iron cage, known as a gibbet, where the bodies of criminals were left for months as food for the birds to deter others from committing offences.
“A rotten human carcase suspended there at the town’s limits would occasionally remind the ill-intentioned that he was entering a town with its own jurisdiction.” – H. L. Douch – The Book of Truro (1977)
Elizabeth I granted a further charter in 1589, declaring Truro as a free borough. From this time wrongdoers could be apprehended by ‘hue & cry’ where the people would make such a commotion that the offenders could be caught and taken to the court.
Stannary law, governing the mining industry, existed in Truro until 1838.