Raising a Hue & Cry

We complain about the police all the time. As if their role was to apply a governmental rubber to all the ills we see around us – and those ills are usually, going by a radio programme I heard just before the recent UK general election – litter, noise and People Who Aren’t Like Us.*

As every British schoolchild should know, our first police force was instituted in 1749 when Henry Fielding founded the Bow Street Runners, although that was long after Edinburgh established its Town Guard in 1707 and the City of London hired its first official night watchmen in 1663. But all that was a fat lot of good to most of the country, especially in this particular rural backwater, three hundred miles from London and over a hundred from Edinburgh – which was, of course, in a different country until James VI/I ascended the throne in 1603 anyway.

Border territory copyright DMcIlmoyle

Border territory copyright DMcIlmoyle

Before that, law for ordinary folks had been kept by common agreement enacted via an elected constable and the ‘hue and cry’ system. It wasn’t complicated. If someone killed your pig, abducted your wife, stole a fork or murdered your aunt, you yelled very loudly and neighbours, friends and passers-by were all equally required to chase after the felon, apprehend him/her and hand them over to the constable, who would then turn him over to the justices for punishment.

Any historical dictionary will tell you that ‘hue and cry’ comes from the Anglo-Norman phrase, ‘hu e cri’ and from that, people can assume it was an introduction of the Norman Conquest. But there seems to be plenty of evidence that finding and turning in criminals was a legal responsibility in the pre-Norman version of the feudal system and in all truth, likely represents the way wrongdoing was managed for millennia.

The hue and cry system worked well until somewhere around the mid-14th century. This is probably connected to the de-population of the country following the first major Black Death, when perhaps as much as half of the population died in a few years. Villages disappeared, not only because they failed to function when half the agricultural labourers, the miller and the baker had died, but because those people who survived realised that their labour was now so valuable that they could flog their skills to the highest bidder… likely in the next village or two down the road. As a result, communities broke down and re-formed, and traditional communal obligations became looser.

Cumberland – the northern part of Cumbria – had an additional problem. From the reign of Edward I (1272-1307), long-standing poor relations between Scots and Cumbrians deteriorated into a pattern that would last for three hundred years. Carlisle had been tossed between kings for centuries – Edward I himself died at Burgh-by-Sands at the end of one campaign with the Scots – but as time went on the real problem was increasing poverty in areas around the borders. The land was thin, then as now, and the only real way to create value was to raise cattle. An ancient inheritance custom on the Scottish side also meant that land was divided equally amongst sons when a father died, so men had smaller and smaller patches of land on which to raise their cattle and their wealth, their families and their worth. So, as always happens when people can’t feed their own, people invented their own way to address the economic balance. And, as isn’t rare, the method they chose also functioned to get their young disaffected to focus their dissatisfaction on people outside their own community – it was, in a way, a morale-booster, awful though it sounds.

Naming this time The Era of the Border Reivers rather over-aggrandises a period when communities from one side or other of the border area would take a day’s ride towards a well-off household or community, with the aim of nicking stuff, be it livestock or church silver or whatever else came to hand. Penrith’s 13th century town seal – a brass medallion featuring a cross of St Andrew’s – is considered to be an early casualty, turning up 600 years later under a hedge at Brampton, outside Carlisle.

View from the East Fellside towards the Lake District

View from the East Fellside towards the Lake District

With all this additional aggravation from armed, horseback gangs, it’s easy to see why, at the time of attack, people would either a) hide in a hedge until the gang had ridden past or b) focus on walling up your valuables, human, animal and otherwise, in the nearest peel tower or defendable yard. People who had suffered loss at the hands of the reivers were allowed under special border law to launch counter-raids, as long as they were within six days and were heralded by people shouting in the old ‘hue and cry’ style and carrying a lighted torch; in theory this was to warn locals that they were on a legitimate return mission, rather than reiveing, but the difference was perhaps a moot point!

The reiver raids eased up with the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603, and with the decrease in general threat, people’s inclination to support the hue and cry for communal good declined. By 1657, the local court decreed that, ‘..every Tenant or other Inhabitant neglecting their duty or right in their several Turnes or ye Constable or any other p’son refusing to raise Hue and Cry after a felon, or to follow ye same shall be amercyed for every default 6/8’. People could now be fined for failing to help with communal policing.

By the nineteenth century, the days of the reivers had passed but we were still a distance from the newly-established ‘police’ in London and Edinburgh. The hue and cry was still technically in force but local inclination to engage had deteriorated to the extent that local parishes, rather than fining the populace for not helping, were now offering enormous financial rewards to get their help. In Holm Cultram in 1814, the following policy was drawn up and published in the Carlisle Journal:

‘Whereas divers felonies and other Misdemeanors have lately been committed within the Parish of Holm Cultram in the County of Cumberland, the offenders having frequently escaped Justice NOTICE IS THEREFORE GIVEN That for the prevention thereof an ASSOCIATION is entered into amongst the Inhabitants of the said Parish for the Prosecution of all future offenders and that the most effectual means will be used to discover all suspected persons and bring the delinquents to condign punishment. Signed the 4th day of December, 1812 by the Committee appointed by the said Association… it was resolved and agree that the following rewards should be paid by the Treasurer out of the public fund to any person of persons not being a Member of the Association who shall apprehend any person or persons guilty of the following offences against any Member of the Society on conviction of such offender or offenders.

For Murder, Burglary, Highway or Footpad Robbery, or privately stealing from any shop, warehouse &c., to the value of five shillings or more                                                                                     £10 10 0

Stealing any horse, mare, gelding or cow                                                £5 5 0

Burning houses, barns, sacks of corn, hay, straw or wood                      £10 10 0

Stealing calves, sheep, lambs or pigs                                                       £3 3 0

Stealing poultry                                                                                           £1 1 0

Stealing turnips or cabbages, grass or hay, corn or grain out of any field, yard or bar, threshed or unthrashed                                                                                                                                    £0 10 6

Breaking or stealing any gates stiles or any iron work belonging thereunto           £0 10 6

Stealing or damaging any waggon, cart, plough, harrows or other implements of husbandry

                                                                                                                                               £1 1 0

Breaking or stealing and hedges, posts or rails                                                                   £0 10 6

Stealing any timber or working tools                                                                                       £0 10 6

Robbing any Orchard or Garden                                                                                            £0 10 6

and for any other felonious act not before particularly mentioned such reward as the Committee shall think proper to allow.

Any accomplice making a discovery to conviction shall be entitled to the same reward and means used to obtain a pardon.

By order of the General Meeting, Joseph Steel & Son, Solicitors’ **

The terrifying thing about the Holm Cultram society’s policy is that it applies only to crimes against paid-up members. I don’t know who could afford to pay and who couldn’t, but it seems certain that Ordinary Joe and Average Jill could not expect their rights to be defended by this new group with their fancy newspaper notice and solicitor-drawn contract. I do wonder, though, whether implicit in this contract is the acknowledgement that those excluded knew exactly who the criminals would be, and knew they could band together to grab them and claim the (hefty) rewards. And perhaps that’s how they dealt with offences against them, too. I think it’s probably a good thing that the Cumberland and Westmorland Constabulary was established in 1856.

Hurrah for modern policing, and the rights to all for justice.

Copyright Diane McIlmoyle 21.05.15

*Of course, none of my readers think that because we’ve got brains and know what the police are really for!

** Spelling and punctuation is as the 19th century original. Fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell will know this!

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Back to the Future

Copyright DMcIlmoyle

Copyright DMcIlmoyle

Do you want to know where I’ve been since September? Well, somewhere in the early ’70s. The days when a spacehopper was a legitimate form of perambulation – until you got your first chopper. Back when tank tops were Fair Isle sweaters without sleeves, Angel Delight was the height of sophistication and all bread was white. That’s right, I’ve had s*d all internet connection.

For the benefit of those of you outside the UK, we have a weird telephony heritage. For much of the 20th century, our hard lines were held in a duopoly between BT, who had virtually all of them, and Mercury, who for some strange reason had a monopoly on service for the city of Kingston-upon-Hull. The market’s been a theoretical free-for-all since the ’90s but in practice, if you live in a rural area, you’ve got one choice and that choice is the original provider.

Celtic head from Netherby, at Tullie House. Copyright D McIlmoyl

This is how I feel about this subject.

Ofcom tell me that the national average broadband speed is 17.8Mbit/s but ‘superfast’ broadband is now reaching an average 47Mbit/s. I was getting 0.18 Mbit/s most of the time, with a corresponding upload speed of 0.06, if it was uploading at all.

This meant that I struggled to upload posts onto WordPress and, after Windows 8.0 removed the ability to easily downsave pictures to a small file size, it was impossible to upload photographs.

Cumbrians being Cumbrians, we haven’t been sitting on our hands. Alston, the highest town in Britain, has had its own network for years. The Eden Valley has a wireless mast system which works fantastically well for those within line of sight of the mast. There are other similar schemes. The local council also reckons it’s rolling out superfast fibre broadband with the assistance of the aforementioned former monopoly, but at the moment *coughs* it rather looks like those townies who already got a decent connection have now got a superfast connection, and those of us who always struggled are forever being told ‘in the next six months’. Allegedly.

So, I’ve entered the Space Age. The neighbours now think I work for MI6, or have a *really, really big* Sky TV package… but I have broadband! A cracking 24Mbit/s delivered from a satellite in geostationary orbit 22,000 miles over my head. And I can now post on WordPress.

Copyright DMcIlmoyle

Copyright DMcIlmoyle

I’ve had a few ideas for posts in the last seven months. In no particular order:

Coel Hen, the legendary ancestor of the Men of the North

The gargoyles of Carlisle cathedral

The significance of the saltire (shape) on early medieval finds

Why are so many ancient sites called ‘Maiden Castle’ (including Mayburgh Henge. Sic)? And the Maiden Way?

The Maiden Way, silver and Roman forts

Rhieinmelth, the last princess

The Viking burials at Cumwhitton

Holloways, lanes and the myth of the ocean highway

The origins of the west Cumbrian shipping industry

When Workington was at the height of all things new

Holed garden stones as apotropaia – folklore or Victorian fancy?

Sky gods, tarns and axes

Belatucadros, Penrith’s bloodthirsty god (allegedly!)

Hueteris – who he?

The Brigantes and the Carvetii – so much legend and so little fact

The ‘deer people’

Gospatric

The catastrophic flood of Skinburness

Lake monsters!

Countess Ossalinsky

Spillers’ fields

Castle Hewen

Llynfarch

Morfydd

David I, a Scottish King in Carlisle

Mme D’Estrange and Anne Clifford

Warriners, Lickbarrows and Kellets

Carlisle’s single ducking

Jenny Greenteeth

Hazel and rowan

Kings of the North Pennines

Copyright Diane McIlmoyle 28.04.15

Happy Lammas/Lughnasadh!

I’ve spent so much time trying to wade through the bituminous treacle that is Penrith today (there’s a big music festival here and it’s absolutely hair-raisingly bonkers on the roads) that I’ve got to 4pm before realising it’s August 1st.

August 1st is associated with the ‘celtic’ mythological figure of Lugus (British), or Lugh (Irish), or Lleu (Welsh). And I hope all Cumbrians and lovers of Cumbria know that Carlisle was named after Lugus/Lugh/Lleu. Oh yes, really.

Read my original post on Carlisle’s ancient name here: https://esmeraldamac.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/carlisles-ancient-british-heritage-luguwalos/

I hope today’s torrential downpour in Lugus’s Cumbrian city is not an indication of how he feels about his citizens today…

Happy Lammas/Lughnasadh!

What would you like to see on Esmeralda’s? Survey Time!

Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History & Folklore has been running since October 2010, since when I’ve written over a hundred posts. I write about whatever pops into my mind on the day I sit in front of the computer, so it’s been a wild and varied list of subjects taking in everything from serious, little-known Cumbrian history to boggles and faeries to fabulous Cumbrian objects buried in the vaults of The British Museum.

There have been times when posts haven’t quite worked. There’s been just one instance when I took Continue reading