The formation of the Lancashire Constabulary was met with resistance from some of the residents of Colne. In April 1840 it was reported that “the detachment of the constabulary force into that town and neighbourhood met with very great resistance from the lawless population of the district” and they had been subjected to “every species of annoyance and insult”.
Stones and mud were also thrown at the superintendent and sixteen policemen stationed here and a serious disturbance in the town occurred resulting in Superintendent MacLeod being struck from behind with a large stone and his arm broken as well as other constables being assaulted. The military was dispatched from Burnley and remained in the town for a short while.
By August 1840, civil unrest had flared up again resulting in windows being smashed and a large angry mob armed with bludgeons and staves clashing with the police again. The crowd was dispersed when police reinforcements and the military from Burnley arrived on the scene. An unnatural peace settled on the town over the weekend but trouble was in the air by Monday special constables were sworn in by magistrate from the town. As night fell, a large crowd grew armed with weapons including railings from the newly built Christ Church, Laneshawbridge. The mob and police clashed in Clayton Street and, during the fierce fighting, one of the special constables, Joseph Halstead, was bludgeoned to death with a metal railing.
Although it was very dark on the night, Richard Boothman was arrested for murder and two others James Wilkinson and Thomas Riley for accessory to murder. Richard was found guilty of the murder; although he continued to protest his innocence. He was sentenced to death, later commuted to transportation to Van Dieman’s Island (Tazmania). Although he became a successful businessman, he never returned to the town. A memorial plaque to commemorate Joseph Halstead can be found in Colne Cemetary today.
Blog by Nelson Community History Library
Read more in the Annals and Stories of Colne
Read more at the British Library 19th Century newspapers
A footnote on Policing
“In 1835 the Municipal Corporation Act had obliged boroughs with large populations to organise their own police forces. Towns such as Preston and Lancaster had formed their own small police forces, and in Manchester the fear of public disorder and rioting was behind the campaign in Manchester to set up a new effective police force. Initially it adopted an aggressive policy of breaking up street gatherings, moving people on, and closing beer shops. So there were a high number of arrests, but gradually a more ‘softly softly’ approach improved relations between the public and the police.
And in 1839 the time was now ripe for Lancashire’s magistrates to appoint 500 constables for the county. The Chief Constable of the new Lancashire Police force was Captain John Woodford of Preston. The first uniform comprised a dark green dress coat, with white trousers for fine days, and dark green for other times.
In July 1840, the force comprised 460 men, from Chief Constable down to sergeants and different classes of constable.
By the end of 1841, 660 men, average age 26, had been appointed as constables. A year later, 257 of these had resigned, and 330 had been dismissed, including 146 for drunkenness. But at this time a new chief constable, a man called Robert Bruce, was appointed, and discipline became much improved.”
From Policing in Lancashire 1839-1989 by Bob Dobson