The history of Clophill, Bedfordshire, UK
Including historical descriptions, maps and statistical analysis.
The Bedford Gaol Register records the offences and punishments of its inmates over the period 1801-1901. The punishments seem very severe by today's standards.
When John Howard became High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1773 he was shocked to discover the condition of prisoners at Bedford Gaol, which had become his responsibility. This started a life-time obsession with visiting and recording the conditions in gaols throughout the UK and continental Europe.
The statue of John Howard in St. Paul's Square, Bedford, was built in 1894 despite his insistence that he didn't want any memorials after his death in 1790.
Before the establishment of the Bedfordshire Constabulary in 1840 villages like Clophill had a Parish Constable who was appointed each year by the Parish Overseers. It was an unpaid post with a wide range of responsibilities. As well as the apprehension of offenders and taking them before the magistrates, the Constable had to organise the Militia Muster, act as the Coroner's Officer, organise watches and searches, supervising beggars, vagrants and others in distress passing through the parish, organise the survey of those liable for tax and collect it. An arduous job with penalties for failing to execute the duties properly.
With the lack of a proper constabulary, it was down to individuals to prosecute offenders. This could be expensive so, in an attempt to prosecute more criminals, Associations for the Prosecution of Felons were set up. Potential prosecutors banded together in order to insure individual members against the financial burdens of going to court including the costs of hiring lawyers. Silsoe and Ampthill Association for Prosecuting Felons' first meeting was at the George Inn, Silsoe, on Friday 3rd October 1823. Gentlemen residing within eight miles of Silsoe or Ampthill could become members. Twelve people from Clophill joined, including the Rector who was obviously keen to see criminals brought to justice.
On the edge of The Green is the Lockup and Pound. "The Cage, standing in the grounds of the Flying Horse, was rebuilt in 1857 at the cost of £4 by order of Captain Moore, a magistrate, who lived at Maulden Cottage" (Mary Phillips - The Clophill Story)Criminals would be held in the lockup until charged and fined or transferred to the prison in Bedford. Stray animals were put in the pound where their owners had to pay a fine to get them back. There is a record in the 1814 Quarter Sessions Rolls of a "breach of the peace in the said parish of Clophill; for that the said James Odell did, with force and violence, break open the pound there, where his ass was impounded for trespass. Sentence: 10 Days in the gaol and fined one shilling".
The present Bedford Prison Bedford prison was officially opened on 18th June 1801. The Bedford & Luton Archives & Records Office holds the Bedfordshire Gaol Register for the period 1801 - 1901 which gives the details of the criminals, along with their crime and punishment, detained at the prison. There are 275 Clophill residents listed.
The story of Robert Appleby and William Peat, who were sentenced to be transported, is given in full here.
Newspaper reports of court cases can be read here.