By 1833, the cotton spinning company of W G & J Strutt employed 2,000 people in its Belper mills. With so much invested in the town, it also ran its own mini police force in the shape of half a dozen nightwatchmen. As well as checking the water levels and the new-fangled gas lighting, the nightwatchmen also silently patrolled the town to apprehend any ne’er-do-wells. Saturday nights were a particularly busy time for the watchmen as the people of Belper let off steam after a week of hard work.
The Nightwatchmen’s reports
The nightwatchmen recorded Belper's nightly disturbances in their notebooks. These were then handed in to the Head Clerk in Strutt's Counting House who put all the information into this book of weekly reports. The book now give us a unique insight in the daily lives of the ordinary people who lived there. In the small town of Belper, the nightwatchmen were friends and neighbours of the people they encountered on their patrols, which means they recorded their names and where they lived in their reports.
For instance, on 28 June 1835 nightwatchman Samuel Taylor reported “at 10 a disturbance at Long Row with John Bridges (Tailor), Thomas Whittingham, John Greaterick and John Aulton (from Cow Hill) all fighting together. Occasioned by Bridges going after Whittingham's daughter of which her Father did not approve. The Mother of Bridges received a very severe blow from Whittingham by which her eyes were blackened.”
Bringing the Nightwatchmen home
This book of reports from 1833 to 1836 has been missing for decades, but has now resurfaced and is up for sale for £3000. We want to buy it and bring it back to Derbyshire, where it can be well looked after and made freely available for everyone to look at and enjoy at Derbyshire Record Office. There will be so much more to discover, once the watchmen's reports are where they belong.
It would be a tragedy if this unique insight in Derbyshire history disappeared into private hands again, so donate now to bring the nightwatchmen home.