Bonfire Boys: Special Constables

In 1846, things had gotten out of hand. The following year, the authorities decided to crack down on the rowdy Bonfire Boys. They ordered residents of the town to be sworn in as Special Constables, to help keep the peace. Were people keen on the idea? Not much!

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The Magistrates assembled at eleven o’clock this morning for the purpose of swearing in a large number of Special Constables, in order to preserve the peace of the town on the approaching 5th of November.

The swearing-in attracted a great number of persons to the court, which was much crowded.

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Mr. Saxby, chemist, presented a memorial from the inhabitants of Lewes, expressing a hope that the Magistrates would change their determination and direct the summonses to be withdrawn.

The Earl of Chichester:  How many have been summoned?
Mr. Kell [the clerk of the court]:  170, my lord.
The Earl of Chichester:  How many have signed the memorial?
Mr. Saxby:  108 signatures.
The Earl of Chichester: Did every person at the meeting sign it?
Mr. Saxby:  With one single exception.

“And that’s me,” observed some person in the court.

The Earl of Chichester then said the course pointed out by law was a very plain one. Every one who refused to be sworn in was liable to a penalty of five pounds. He was sorry to find that there was a reluctance to come forward in support of the law. He hoped he should not hear any more of that reluctance, because if he did, the Magistrates’ duty was plain, and they would not fail to act upon it.

There was a manifestation of displeasure in the court, and the Earl of Chichester ordered the man who had caused the interruption to be turned out, but he could not be found.

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The Magistrates then proceeded to swear in the persons who had been summoned. Many of them claimed exemption on grounds which produced no little amusement.

John Bates claimed exemption on the ground that he was a beer-shop keeper; but the Magistrates would not excuse him.

Benjamin Batchelor Bateman had a bad finger. The Magistrates told him to produce a certificate. He did so, and was excused.

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Mr. John Gibbs said that his house was situated in a part of the town where more fireworks were let off than at any other place. He had an afflicted wife and six children to protect, and how was he to do it if he were called away?

The Earl of Chichester:  Your house will be taken good care of.
Mr. Gibbs:  Suppose I am ordered to any other part of the town. Shall I be obliged to leave my house?
The Earl of Chichester: You will be under orders, and the Magistrates have decided that you ought to serve. Are you willing?
Mr. Gibbs (sullenly): I am.

Mr. Kell then proceeded to administer the oath.

Mr. Kell (reading): I do swear.
Mr. Gibbs:  Do swear.
Mr. Kell: That I will well and truly serve.
Mr. Gibbs. Well and truly serve. (laughter)
Mr. Kell: Our sovereign Lady the Queen.
Mr. Gibbs: Lady the Queen. (renewed laughter)

The Earl of Chichester (with warmth):  This will not do, Mr. Gibbs; you must repeat the words properly. Mr. Kell, begin again, they are not repeating the words.
Mr. Kell: I do swear.
Mr. Gibbs:  Well, I DO swear. (loud laughter)
The Earl of Chichester: Mr. Gibbs, you must treat the Court with proper respect.
Mr. Gibbs: I will, my lord.

Mr. Kell read the oath to them, which was anything but audibly repeated.

William North, Samuel Medhurst and John Steers refused to take the oath, and were each fined five pounds.

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Next: The 5th of November 1847


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