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A brief history of the special constabulary

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The earliest recorded deployment of Special Constables in Bedfordshire was on the 6 December 1830. Rioting had broken out in Kent because of civil unrest, and gradually spread across the south of England and East Anglia reaching Bedfordshire in late November.

The Vicar of Shillington, the Reverend John Hull who was also a Justice of the Peace, swore in 212 men from his village each of whom were supplied with two foot long staves, in order to be prepared for any eventuality. A riot broke out at Stotfold on 2 December and continued over the ensuing days.

Four days later, with the rioting continuing, Reverend Hull successfully deployed his formidable force of Special Constables and order was eventually restored.

The next recorded deployment of Special Constables took place during May 1835. On 11 May a Relieving Officer entered the village of Lidlington and was met by a violent mob. As he entered the village of Millbrook the following day a similar incident took place.

As a consequence of the disorder the local Justices swore in 96 Special Constables to locate and arrest the Lidlington ringleaders which proved to be an unpopular move among the general population, and a large crowd gathered and secured the release of the arrested men. Order was not restored until a force of twenty Metropolitan Police Constables arrived some time later.

During 1856 the railway was being constructed across the north of the county. Some Special Constables were employed to police this work but these men were nothing to do with the recently formed County Constabulary, instead they were funded by the railway company.

Apart from the references by Chief Constable Stevens prior to the outbreak of the First World War, the only other extant recorded references to Special Constables before 1914 all appear in the Bedford Borough Watch Committee Minutes between 1842 and 1909.

During WW1 all three Bedfordshire Forces recruited Special Constables although Bedford did not start that process until early 1915. Recruitment continued during the interwar years but the outbreak of WW2 brought extremely rapid expansion of numbers, the County Constabulary alone having in excess of 1,500 men by the spring of 1940.

Following the cessation of hostilities in 1945, a fall in numbers was not immediate either locally or nationally but the late 1940’s did see the start of a gradual decline. The all time low in Bedfordshire was in 1990 when there just 125 men and women enrolled.

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