A policeman’s lot: Constable Thomas Cureton Atcherley (Part 1)

As a ‘bobby’ in Bloxwich (and later in Walsall town) at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, Police Constable Thomas Cureton Atcherley [] found himself up against drunks, gamblers, thieves, army deserters and other assorted miscreants, not to mention a house fire. Fortunately, his job had its lighter moments too.

When the 1881 census was taken, Thomas was living with his new wife Anne (née Griffiths) in the parish of her birth, Gwyddelwern in the county of Merionethshire, Wales. Thomas and Anne were both aged 21, and Thomas was – like the stepfather he had grown up with – a gamekeeper. He probably continued in that occupation for the five years or so that he and Anne remained in Gwyddelwern, during which time the couple’s first three children were born.

Sarah Anne, known as Annie, entered the world on 4 February 1882, and was followed by Edith on 13 October 1883. Next came a son, who was named after his father and so became the fourth Thomas Cureton Atcherley. His birth was registered in the first quarter of 1886 – and his death, at the age of two, was registered in the third quarter of 1888, at Walsall. What a sad start to this Atcherley family’s new life in Staffordshire.

It seems likely that Thomas Atcherley changed both location and job at around the same time. Quite how this came about we will probably never know, but Thomas was established as a Police Constable in August 1888. According to a newspaper report published on the 17th of that month, he took part in “the first annual athletic sports promoted by the Walsall Police Cricket Club” which was held the previous day. He came second, in the second heat of the sack race!

Thomas was not the only member of his family to take part in the third annual amateur athletic sports of 1890. This time it was reported that Police-constable Atcherley took second place in the water bucket race, while his daughter Sarah Ann Atcherley came third in the skipping match for girls. Thomas finally secured victory in one of the competitions held in 1891, taking first place in the egg and ladle race, but he did not progress beyond the third heat of that event the following year. These sporting fixtures were surprisingly popular, with between six and seven thousand people attending in 1890.

Staffordshire, Bloxwich All SaintsThomas and Anne Atcherley continued to add to their family after their move to Staffordshire. Charles Hedley Atcherley was born on 21 September 1889, and Florence Cureton Atcherley on 16 January 1893. These two, along with their older sisters Annie and Edith, were baptised together at Bloxwich All Saints (pictured right) on 14 March 1894. The baptism register recorded the dates of birth of all four children, and their address was given as Parker Street. The family had been enumerated at number 44 Parker Street when the census of 1891 was taken. They were still there on 10 July 1895 when Lilian Eunice Atcherley, the sixth and last of Thomas and Anne’s children, was baptised.

We have seen that Thomas Cureton Atcherley engaged in sporting activities in his early years as a police constable, but what did he do to combat crime? The earliest account I have so far found relating to P.C. Atcherley actually dealing with disorder dates from December 1893. It will probably come as no surprise that it was a case of drunkenness on a Saturday night. John Smith of 2 Blackenall Heath, and his wife, had both been “very disorderly”, and when Thomas arrested Mrs Smith, “the husband succeeded in rescuing the wife”.

Mr Smith was fined five shillings plus costs, with the alternative of serving 7 days in the local gaol. This seems to have been a typical punishment for such offences, although regular offenders could expect heavier penalties. In 1896, for example, when three men were convicted of drunkenness on the evidence of PCs Atcherley and Woolley, one (Amos Bull) who admitted three previous convictions in the same year was fined 20 shillings plus costs.

Not all of those arrested while under the influence of alcohol faced fines however. The following report dates from September 1895:

“Guilty to having had a glass of beer and two-penn’orth of whiskey over my husband going blind,” pleaded Eliza Perry (38), 3 court, 3 house, Alfred Street, Bloxwich, when charged with having been drunk and disorderly on Friday night in High Street, Bloxwich. Police-constable Atcherley (32) proved the offence, adding that prisoner’s husband wanted to lift her up and carry her home, but she declared she would be locked up. This, according to the officer, would scarcely have been a case of the blind leading the blind (drunk), because the husband’s sight had not then entirely gone.—The woman pleaded hard for forgiveness, and was placed on her good behaviour for eight weeks.

A year later, another liquor-related case brought humour to the Walsall Police Court:

Thomas East (43), potter, 121, Lichfield Street, Hanley, was charged with sleeping out. He was found Police-constable 25 (Atcherly) sleeping in a shed near Yield Fields Hall, Bloxwich, early on Saturday morning. The officer said that when he found prisoner he had nothing in his possession except a bottle of whiskey.—The Clerk (surprised): Do you call a bottle of whiskey nothing? (laughter, and collapse of officer).—On a promise to leave the town within an hour, prisoner was discharged.

Of course, dealing with drunkards was often far from funny. Moving another year forward, to September 1897, we find that PCs Atcherley and Cooke were called to a disturbance in Albert Street, Bloxwich at 10.40pm on the night of Saturday the 4th. They found William and Edward Smith, two colliers in their twenties, “stripped and ready to fight”. The would-be pugilists were “got into the house”, only to re-emerge at 11:05pm, at which point they were arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

PC Marston had arrived to provide assistance by this time, but was kicked several times by Edward Smith. According to the Walsall Advertiser: “Marston was compelled to draw his staff and strike Edward on the leg. Immediately the father, John Smith, dashed at him with a stick and struck him a blow across the jaw, loosening two of his teeth.”

Naturally, the bench took a dim view of this fighting family’s beastly behaviour. William Smith was fined 10 shillings and costs, or 14 days imprisonment, Edward Smith was ordered to pay 20 shillings and costs or serve 21 days, while their father John was “committed to gaol for two months with hard labour.”

Disorderly behaviour does not necessarily require alcohol as a catalyst. Boys will be boys, and so it has ever been. One of the cases heard at Walsall Police Court on Monday 9 August 1897, by Messrs. W. H. Brookes, J. Moseley, G. Gill and J. F. Crump, was reported as follows:

John Spinks, John Thomas Athersmith, Henry Clark, and Thomas Hodson, all of Ryecroft, were summoned for damaging potatoes, to the amount of 4s., the property of Joseph Adams, of Harden.—Police-constable Atcherley saw the youths pulling up the potatoes and pelting one another with them.—The lads admitted being in the field.—Captain Brookes said they deserved a good thrashing.—Fined 1s. each and 4s. damage and costs, or three days each in the borough gaol.

Gambling was another vice which Victorian society clamped down on in the courts. In July 1896 “Police-constable 25 (Atcherley)” saw three men playing cards for money “on the canal footpath in Broad Lane, Bloxwich.” The men ran away when they realised ‘the game was up’, leaving some of their cards behind, but they were later summoned to appear before the Police Court. The trio, Robert Fereday (aged 21) of Bellfield Row, William Millington (20) of Victoria Street and Francis Hough (18) of Elmore Road were fined five shillings apiece plus costs, or seven days ‘inside’.

Those Bloxwich residents and visitors who found themselves on the wrong side of the law may not have fully appreciated PC Atcherley’s dedication to duty. Others had cause to be very grateful though, including a mother and two children who quite possibly owed Thomas their lives.

In the early hours of Tuesday 17 July 1894 (a little before 1.00am in fact), Thomas was on duty in Clarendon Street in Bloxwich. Noticing a bright light in the back kitchen window of 109 New Street, he went to investigate. On reaching the window Thomas could hear the crackling of burning wood – a table and other furniture in the kitchen were on fire.

The lady of the house, Mrs Wilkes, had left a lighted paraffin lamp on the kitchen table for her husband, Frank, who was out. The lamp had exploded, setting fire to the tablecloth, and the flames had spread from there. Fortunately Thomas was able to rouse Mrs Wilkes and her children, who had been oblivious to the blaze. The fire was then extinguished and a potential tragedy averted.

To be continued.

Picture credits. Bloxwich All Saints: From an image by “ChrisTheDude”, taken from Wikimedia Commons and adapted, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence. Whisky: Image cropped from an illustration on page 137 of A Modern Christmas Carol, published 1898; taken from the British Library Flickr Photostream – no known copyright restrictions.


[1] 1881 Census of England and Wales. Piece 5538, folio 10, page 14.
[2] Marriage of Thomas Atcherley and Anne Griffiths registered at Ruthin, March quarter 1881; volume 11b, page 339.
[3] North Wales BMD shows Thomas Atcherly and Anne Griffiths, civil marriage at Ruthin (ref RUTHIN/06/57).
[4] Birth of Sarah Anne Atcherley registered at Corwen, March quarter 1882; volume 11b, page 366.
[5] Birth of Edith Atcherley registered at Corwen, December quarter 1883; volume 11b, page 306.
[6] Birth of Thomas Cureton Atcherley registered at Corwen, March quarter 1886; volume 11b, page 331.
[7] Death of Thomas Cureton Atcherley registered at Walsall, September quarter 1888; volume 6b, page 330; age given as 2.
[8] Birmingham Daily Post, issue 9405, 17 Aug 1888. Walsall Police Sports.
[9] Birmingham Daily Post, 5 Aug 1890, page 5. Walsall Police Athletic Sports.
[10] Birmingham Daily Post, 4 Aug 1891, page 7. Walsall Police Athletic Sports.
[11] Birmingham Daily Post, issue 10644, 2 Aug 1892. Walsall Police Athletic Sports.
[12] Birth of Charles Hedley Atcherley registered at Walsall, December quarter 1889; volume 6b, page 659.
[13] Birth of Florence Atchelery [= Atcherley] registered at Walsall, March quarter 1893; volume 6b, page 732.
[14] Bloxwich All Saints, Staffordshire, baptism register covering 1894: entries for Sarah Ann Atcherley, Edith Atcherley, Charles Hedley Atcherley, and Florence Atcherley. Copy viewed at Stafford Record Office.
[15] 1891 Census of England and Wales. Piece 2248, folio 91, page 25.
[16] Birth of Lilian Eunice Atcherley registered at Walsall, September quarter 1895; volume 6b, page 725.
[17] Bloxwich All Saints, Staffordshire, baptism register covering 1895: entry for Lilian Eunice Atcherley. Copy viewed at Stafford Record Office.
[18] Walsall Advertiser, 23 Dec 1893, page 8. Drunkenness.
[19] Walsall Advertiser, 14 Sep 1895, page 8. The Blind Carrying the Blind.
[20] Walsall Advertiser, 3 Oct 1896, page 5. A Bottle Full of Nothing.
[21] Walsall Advertiser, 11 Sep 1897, page 8. Ruffianism at Bloxwich.
[22] Walsall Advertiser, 14 Aug 1897, page 5. Murphies for Missiles.
[23] Walsall Advertiser, 25 Jul 1896, page 8. Card Playing at Bloxwich.
[24] Walsall Advertiser, 25 Jul 1896, page 8. Card Playing at Bloxwich.
[25] Birmingham Daily Post, issue 11257, 18 Jul 1894. Fire.
[26] Lichfield Mercury, 20 Jul 1894, page 6. Fire.
[27] Walsall Advertiser, 21 Jul 1894, page 4. The Dangers of Paraffin Lamps.