Old Gaol Cottage, Cerne Abbas, England

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History



In 1858, a draft agreement was drawn up by the Dorset Police authority to acquire the land and build a police station with cells and a courthouse. Construction started in 1859. This listed, Grade II, Victorian building made of knapped flint and chalk-block 14” thick walls is important for the architectural design with use of chequer-work.

10 Long Street ground floor consisted of reception area or constables’ office where the current lounge is today. Over the fireplace, the famous cattails and burch limbs were displayed that were used to punish the prisoners. Next to the fireplace is the current doorway which lead to the sergeants quarters (8 Long Street) and across from it was a door leading to the Court House (12 Long Street). The three cells were located where the kitchen and dining room is now. The individual cells had a wooden bed and wooden pillow with a chamber pot. The cell door was a solid door with a small sliding window to allow the meals to pass through. Since there was no kitchen at the police station, all meals were prepared next door in the sergeants’ quarters. Each cell had a high window with bars that are still visible today. There were air passages for each cell that is visible on the outer walls. The cells were quite dark. Oil lighting was used until 1936 when electricity was first used in the village. The present windows in the dining & kitchen area were all solid walls during the days the cells were in use. The hallway had a door to the courtroom at the first landing of the steps to move prisoners for their day in court. The courtyard behind the building was the prisoner’s walk and birching area. The first floor was used for the constables living quarters for him and his family. The front room was the living room with two bedrooms in the back of the building. No kitchen or bathroom in those days.

Over the outside door was the Police Station sign that still remains though the lettering was taken down in 1954 along with the blue light fixture.

The County Police Act of 1839 enabled the Justice of the Peace in Quarter Sessions to appoint constables for an area such as Cerne Abbas. It was found necessary to have a police station as the town had grown in size and population.

Here are some examples from the Court Records that provides a unique in sight to the history of the Police Station and Court House.

It was on Wednesday May 30 th 1860 that the Petty sessions court first was held in the new Justice room in connection with the County Police Station. The magistrates being J. J. Farquharson Esq., and the Rev. C. W. Bingham knew this was a change for the better from the small low room at the New Inn, where the sessions have been held for many years. From the beginning, petty session were held on the lst Tuesday in the month at 11 AM. The main crimes were horse and sheep stealing, game and rabbit poaching, public house brawls, wayfarers causing trouble, and boys breaking windows and stealing apples. The most serious crimes were sent on to Dorchester Quarter sessions.

In the case of suspected outbreaks of swine fever, the police were sent to investigate. Inspector Ricketts, Commanding Officer of the Cerne Division, seems to have spent a sizable part of his career trailing around the county viewing dead pigs.

In those days, sentences were quite harsh when handed out by the magistrates. In June 1887, Harry Rendall was given 14 days hard labor for stealing two tame rabbits and Henry Bartlett received 7 days hard labor for not sending his children to Cerne School. Two Dorchester lads, Frank Hutchings and John Tooley, charged with stealing a missionary box containing about one pound. They were found guilty and sentenced to receive eight strokes of the birch. The birch was retained as an instrument of punishment until fairly recent times.

On Monday, January 20 th 1902, the good constable PC No. 73, Alfred Frederick Pride discovered William Waygood of Pulham drunk in charge of two horses and a wagon on the highway. Constable Pride took charge of the horses and wagon and drove them home to Pulham.

Over most of those years, the police station has a complement of one sergeant and seven constables with many of them living in the village. When this station was first formed, every man had to do his duty on foot. In 1890, Alfred Hazzard was the superintendent of police for the Cerne division. Which entitled him to a set of harness, bridle, saddle and a four-wheel cart. He had to provide his own horse. The stable for the police station still stands behind number 8 Long Street and is now converted into a cottage. The horse and cart was used as transportation until 1920. Bicycles were also used in 1894 and each constable had to satisfy the Inspector Simpson at Cerne Division that he was a good rider to avoid the machine getting out of control. By 1930, Cerne constabulary was beginning to have motorcycles and the fist motorcars were introduced on the roads in 1935.

The police authority decided to abolish Cerne Abbas Petty Session Court on November 24 th 1938. In January 1954, the police headquarters were transferred to a newly built property on the high land just off Acreman Street at the Hook’s Corner end, Sydling road corner. The police station on Long Street was sold to Mr. E. Curtis on February 1954 for 1,200 pounds.

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