(Alston’s Police Station is now a house but when this article was written in 2003, it was still serving its original purpose.)
For some time in the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, the law on Alston Moor was upheld by two Parish Constables, one in Alston and one in Garrigill, backed up by Justices of the Peace for the County and, ‘The Alston Moor Society for the Prosecution of Felons’. Furthermore there was a jail.
In 1915, members of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society were given a guided walk around Alston by Mr. William Thompson. On their route was, “the prison with its barrel-vaulted roof, to which Mr. Thompson gave an age of rather more than two centuries”. The jail was in what is now the Catholic Church / Methodist Chapel in Kings Arms Lane. The group then proceeded to the Salvin Schools, and on to the Butts.
This situation lasted until almost the middle of the nineteenth century when, as a result of an Act of Parliament in 1843, for “The Appointment and Payment of Parish Constables” (Statute 5 & 6, Chapter 109), a petition “for the Consideration of Provision of a new Lock-up House in the Parish of Alston-with -Garrigill”, dated 24th July 1847, was addressed to the Clerk of the Peace for the County of Cumberland, to be discussed by the Justices at the Quarter Sessions.
The Alston petition is one of several that have survived from different towns of Cumberland, including Workington and Maryport. Alston’s petition was signed by five J.P.’s, Rev. Hugh Salvin (chairman), CWG Howard, Thomas Wilson, W. Marshall and Wm. Thorpe.
Rapid action must have been taken locally, for tenders were submitted in advance of the County’s decision for the construction of the new Lockup, one being from a Mr. Leonard Madgen, an Alston builder. At the Christmas Quarter session, held on the 4th January 1848, the Magistrates resolved, amongst other matters, that in their opinion, Lockup Houses should be erected at Alston, Workington, and Maryport. Administrative Rules and Regulations were recommended at the same time, as well as Dietary Table for offenders, similar to that already in use and approved at Cockermouth Lock-up House.
The diet for male and female prisoners during their stay before trial was; Breakfast – one pint of milk porridge; Dinner – one pound weight of bread; Supper - one pint of milk porridge.
Among the recommendations for the building design were that there should be “apartments for the Keeper as nearly contiguous to the Prison-rooms as possible”. The police lived with their work in those days.
The first stone was laid on 12th June 1848, the builders were William Armstrong and Sons. The Lockup was open by 4th May 1850, the new constable having arrived a few days before. The next day one of the cells was already occupied, not by some notorious desperado, but, according to an Alston resident of the time, “About one o’clock in the morning a travelling tinker was put into the Lockup, being the first admitted to that Elegent Edifice”. In 1851, George Martin, aged 37, born in Whitehaven, was Lockup Keeper and lived with his wife and three children at “Lockup House, Townhead”.
The Lockups were not prisons but simply holding cells for, “persons not yet committed for trial”, prior to conveyance to Carlisle. Those arrested were held in the cells for not more than forty-eight hours. The name “Lockup” itself didn’t last for much longer, the building is named as a ‘Police Station’ on the 1st Edition O.S. map of 1859.
Between February and July 1857, quotations were received for the insurance of lockups. A list of seven Cumberland Lockups was given, together with the value of each one in round figures. In this, Alston was valued at £700. By 17th May 1862, in a list of fifteen Divisional Stations and Strong Rooms in Cumberland, Alston appeared as a “Sub-Divisional Station”, with three cells and accommodation for one Inspector, and the value was £825.10s.11d. At that time Nicholas Brown was Superintendent of Police in Alston.
The Alston Moor Association for the Prosecution of Felons was still in existence with 127 members, however the Alston Herald of 19th December 1874 reported from a meeting that it was, “very rarely called upon to exercise its functions”. One of these functions was to raise funds to offer rewards for the apprehension of criminals and to help victims of crime.
Moving into the twentieth century, a day-book shows how police duties extended beyond maintaining the peace. For example, during a week in March 1927, the police bought samples of milk from Bruntleysike and Fairhill Farms, and a bag of icing sugar from Thomas Pickering, grocer at Townhead, to be sent to the County Analyst to be tested for purity under the Food and Drugs Act.
Also, something that will bring a shudder to many was that during the same week, PC 91 Rundle had been posting notices around Alston Moor regarding the Boiling of Animal Foodstuffs in connection with the Foot and Mouth Disease.
An arguably more pleasant task was carried out on Saturday 12th, when Sergeant Woodcock inspected several pubs and found them to be “correct”.
History moves on, and recently (writing in 2003) a piece of the original furniture from one of the cells was removed – a very solid wooden bed, complete with built-on wooden pillow. In spite of its solidity, the bed had been bolted securely to the floor. This bed is now on display at ‘The Hub’ Museum, where, rumour has it, B & B is available.
It is three years (again, writing in 2003) since the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Police Station. We should have made some acknowledgement of this, but of course we were all wrapped up in that other thing – what was it now? Ah, yes the Millenium.