The Introduction of the Police - Principal Officers in Charge of the Peace - Some Notable Events

It was in the year 1857, following upon the Sir Robert Peel Act of 1856 to establish county police forces, that Armadale was favoured with its first "Bobby" or "Peeler", as the guardians of the peace were nicknamed after the statesman whose name was so closely associated with the bill.  The first man in blue was Thomas Wood.  Previous to this innovation the duty of bringing law-breakers to justice devolved upon some prominent citizen, who was chosen by election, and was known as baton-man, by reason of the fact that his insignia of office was a large baton or staff, with a V.R. under a crown painted on it, and the letters "Linlithgow County," and, as has already been briefly mentioned, this office was held by Thomas Forsyth, "the village blacksmith."

Police-Constable Wood, after a short and uneventful service, was transferred to another district, his place being filled by Police-Constable William Robertson, from Bathgate.  Mr. Robertson's first experience of Armadale was the threatened attack by the shearers and the way he was able to "general” the inhabitants at that trying crisis and save bloodshed gained for him the credit of being a tactician.

The police station was established in a small building of one storey, formerly built on the same site as the present office, by John Russell, a joiner, in the year 1795.  The house was of the but-and-ben order - that is, a room to the left and one to the right of the door.  The room to the left was occupied by the policeman and his wife and family, and the one to the right was converted into two cells for prisoners and the office.  Mr. Robertson being single-handed, had a way of his own to induce those whom he desired to accommodate with a night's free lodgings to enter his castle.  Two incidents will illustrate this.

One of the first business houses to be built on the north side of East Main Street was an up-to-date draper and clothier's shop, with large windows that were closed at night by heavy shutters fastened by bolts at each side.  In the village there lived a man who could not allow an opportunity for pilfering to slip, and as the draper had one of his windows at the New Year season dressed with beautiful and costly silk handkerchiefs and scarves, this individual saw a fine opportunity for annexing a few of them by passing a wire, with a small hook at the end of it, through the bolt-hole, and pulling the silk material through.  To accomplish this, he prepared the wire, and showed his small boy how it was to be worked, and then set him off to his task, while he (the father) was keeping a look-out for the police.  All worked well outside, but from the inside the draper observed what was going on, and promptly caught the boy as he was about to make off with his haul, and sent for the police.  The police arrived, and conveyed the lad to the police station, where he questioned him to such an extent that he told how his father had "put him up to the job."  Mr. Robertson was satisfied from the boy's story that the father was guilty of criminal proceedings, so he straightway went in search of the erring parent.  Coming up with him, he addressed him in this way:- "Man, John, I'm awfu' vexed for that laddie o' yours; he's got himsel' intae a bit scrape, an' he's like to break his wee heart. The best thing you can dae is to come an tak' him hame, and gur him promise no to dae the like again."

Moved by such sympathetic words, John said he would "tak' a stap alang," and threatened all sorts of punishments on the young scoundrel for bringing himself into disgrace.  Entering the office on the understanding that he was to bring home his wayward boy, judge of his anger when he was pushed into the other empty cell, and the door locked on him.  Giving vent to his rage, the now imprisoned father set to kicking the cell door with his heavily-nailed boots, taking short rests now and again to renew the attack with increased vigour.

Seeing, or fearing, that there was going to be no peace to sleep that night, Mr. Robertson, at a quiet moment, went into the office, and in a tender voice asked John if he was sleeping, and learning that he was wide awake, Mr. Robertson entered into a series of instructions how John was to proceed the next day at Court if he desired to get off clear.  "I'll gie ye a drap watter in the morning to wash yoursel', an' I'll gie ye a clean collar to put on," he said, "for I've aye noticed that oor Shirra is awfu' easy on respectable-looking folk like yersel'.  Is yer buits dirty?  Gie them tae me, an' I'll get the wife tae polish them and hae them ready for ye in the morning."

John seemed moved by this little speech, and hastily threw off his boots, with the hope of appearing before the Sheriff next morning in a highly respectable condition.

Taking the boots in his left hand and the cell door in his right, Mr. Robertson stood gazing at John for a second, and then he said:- "John, ye hae kickit up a braw noise wi' they" (looking at the heavy boots), "and noo I've a guid mind tae rattle them aff yer lugs; but it'll a' tell against ye the morn, an' if ye wull kick, ye can kick the taes aff yersel' noo if ye like. Ye'll no' disturb me."

Next morning John and his son duly appeared before the Sheriff at Linlithgow, when the father pleaded guilty and was sent to prison, and the boy sent home with an admonition.

On another occasion two men were fighting at the toll, and a. crowd had gathered round them.  The police, at his office about 50 yards off, could hear the noise they were making, and, stealing quietly up to the spot, he found the coats of the pugilists lying on the ground, and, unobserved, he carried them along to the office.  Soon the pugilists were looking for their clothes, but unable to get them.  P.C. Robertson came slowly along to the Cross, apparently taking no notice of the men, and soon gained their confidence, and was told about someone having stolen their coats.

"Eh! noo, is that no awfu' wark?" said Mr. Robertson, in a tone of surprise. "A laddie brocht them into the office, an' said he fand them, the rascal, if I had him, playing a joke on me like that!  Awa' alang, an' ye'll get them lying yonder."

The men went to get their coats, followed by the police; but they did not return before they had passed the bar and paid a fine.

P.C. William Robertson was transferred to Blackburn, and Alexander Douglas, a Crimean veteran, succeeded him.  Armadale at that time was beginning to earn some notoriety through the wildness of the young men who were flocking from all quarters to the newly-opened mines, where work was plentiful and wages high.  A second policeman became necessary to keep order.  Their interference was resented by the hooligans of that day, and during Constables Douglas and Gordon's tenure of office the conflicts between them and the rougher element were frequent, and it was no uncommon thing, on getting up on a Sunday morning, to hear that the police constables had got a terrible killing some time during the night.

The Thistle Lodge of Ancient Free Gardeners had been established in 1860, and as one of the rules of that society provided that no person of a party spirit could be admitted, this gave great offence to the Orange fraternity, who were excluded, and as a result of this many were the fights between the young men of both factions.  As the Orangemen were, in nearly every case, the aggressors, and often in the hands of the police, the guardians of the peace were held in ill-favour by them, and every opportunity was taken to handle them roughly.

On one occasion a number of young Orangemen set upon a young man named Thomas M'Cracken, who was an enthusiastic Free Gardener.  The time and place chosen for the melee was a dark Saturday night behind Rennie's Land, a tenement of houses opposite the courtyard of the Crown Hotel, in South Street.

The police had been warned that the first opportunity would be taken to give them a mauling, and when the noise of the fight going on behind the houses attracted their attention, they paused to consider if it might not be a ruse to lure them into this dark recess, but the cries of distress satisfying them that someone was being ill-treated, they drew their batons and rushed into the close, when they were immediately felled to the ground and kicked about like a football, and otherwise received such rough handling that scarcely a part of their bodies was missed, and the clothes were nearly torn from off their backs.  Thomas M'Cracken and Constable Gordon fared the worst, and it was some time before either were out of the doctor's hands.  Constable Gordon, whose head was opened by a large cut, had to have the wound stitched, and for some time his life hung in the balance.

It was difficult to prove who was the guilty party, as the night was pitch-dark, but the crowd suspected soon gave themselves away by attacking Hugh Brown, the officer of the "Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners," in the open street.  After the attack they were pursued and captured at Wilsontown, from which place they were brought back and tried in Linlithgow Court, when they were so smartly dealt with as to put further molestation of the public and police out of their heads.

Constable Douglas was transferred to Blackburn, and Constable Robertson brought back again in 1869. and shortly afterwards the Police Station underwent an alteration, by which a second storey was added, and Constable Robertson's living rooms were made upstairs, whilst the junior constable, Matthew Calton, was accommodated next door to the office.  Constables Wm. Robertson and M. Calton remained neighbours till 1875, when Mr. Robertson, who had become too old for service, was made to retire on half-pay, and P.C. Robert Chalmers, from Crofthead, took up his duties.

Mr Chalmers, on entering upon his duties, found Armadale in a very loose condition.  All the publicans lived on their licensed premises, and on Sunday no difficulty was experienced by those who desired to procure excisable liquor to drink.  To put an end to this, Mr Chalmers had his work cut out.  The taking away of such liberties was viewed by a certain section of the community with displeasure, but the firm hand with which he enforced the law soon had the desired effect, and in time Mr. Chalmers endeared himself to all who could appreciate even-handed and impartial justice.  Alex. Feenie, soon after Mr. Chalmers' introduction to Armadale, became his neighbour, and it was during their reign and on the evening of Saturday, 8th December, 1877, that a most notable riot occurred, bringing Armadale once more before the notice of the country in a very unfavourable light.

Two men, a soldier and a civilian, fell out in the Crown Hotel, and blows were passed between them.  The police were called in, and they chose to take the soldier, a powerful fellow, and a favourite with the general public, to jail.  On coming to the street, the soldier resented being dragged along the street by two police, and in the struggle all three went down in a heap at the butcher's door next the Hotel.  A large crowd was gathering, and the night being dark, the police, fearing a rescue, pulled the soldier into the butcher's shop and shut the doors.  The roads being newly laid with new metal, which lay loosely about, stones began to be freely used to break the windows of the Police Station.  Things came to such a pass that a messenger was slipped out the back door to the Post Office to telegraph to Bathgate for assistance.  In about an hour a waggonette appeared at the Cross full of police, headed by Inspector M'Kay, who hailed the multitude that had now gathered, "Hello, Armadale, what’s wrong with you, to-night?"  The words had no sooner escaped his lips than his helmet went in the air, and the shower of stones that followed made the police seek speedy shelter.  A conference between the police was held, with the result that the soldier was allowed to go home on payment of £1 as bail, but a large crowd hung about all night to resent any attempt of a renewed arrest.  Next morning the front of the Police Station and the butcher's shop presented the appearance of having passed through a siege, and all day and the following Monday a large number of police were busy arresting those whom they believed to be the ringleaders, and a larger number were examined as witnesses.  The trial came on, and two of the most able advocates of the day, Mr. Mair and Mr. Strachan, were engaged to defend the case, which lasted for three days, and almost ended in a farce, since nothing more serious than a breach of the peace could be made of it.

In 1885 Mr. Chalmers was promoted to Sergeant, and sent to Bo'ness, and he was followed in the office by P.C. Alex. Neil, who had Robert Brown for his junior.  P.C. Neil remained until 1888, when Constable James Simpson succeeded him.  Mr. Simpson was shortly afterwards joined by P.C. John Thom.

The Police Station had meantime undergone great alterations.  The whole of the building had been gutted out, and built to a uniform height of two storeys.  The ground floor was re-modelled to its present state; the east part made into two roomy cells and an office, and the west part converted into living rooms for the senior constable, the junior being accommodated upstairs.

Constable Thom, along with Constable Simpson, was held by the public in the highest esteem, and deep sympathy was shown when Mr. Thom died in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary after having undergone an operation.

P.C. Simpson was promoted to be Sergeant in 1892, when he was transferred to Uphall, and P.C. Corsie was transferred from Uphall to Armadale.

P.C. Malcolm Corsie, after eight years' service in Armadale, was rewarded with the sergeant's stripes, and billeted in Linlithgow in 1900.  He was followed in the office charge in Armadale by P.C. Charles Watt, who in a short time was promoted to be Sergeant at Whitburn, P.C. Robert Duthie, his neighbour, taking over the senior charge, with P.C. John Moir in the junior place.  In 1904 Mr. Duthie was raised to the rank of Sergeant, and removed to the important station of Bo'ness, and P.C. Moir took over the senior position in Armadale, with P.C. David Anderson second in command.

During the last few years of the last century the population of the Bathville district had greatly increased, and through the endeavours of Mr. James Wood of Bathville, a Police Constable was stationed there in 1900.  Thomas Stenhouse was the first to take up the duties at Bathville, but the opening of the Model Lodging-House in January, 1902, created in him an ambition to be in charge of it, and the opportunity soon presented itself, and he accepted the appointment.  P.C. John Lees succeeded him, and soon gained the respect of the district, but was removed to Stoneyburn charge in 1905, P.C. Robert Swan succeeding him from East Lothian.  The latest police change in Armadale was P.C. David Anderson's transference to a senior position in the spring of the present year, his place being filled by P.C. James Anderson, transferred from Edinburgh City.

Armadale at one time, as has been admitted, was a bad place for a policeman, but as years rolled on the people became reconciled to the police force, and for many years the town has been looked upon as the best-behaved in the county, and a happy billet for the police.

Few constables have left Armadale without having received promotion (Mr Chalmers and Mr Simpson having risen to the rank of Inspector).  Withal that, many would have preferred to remain in Armadale, but orders must be obeyed, and while the people rejoice in their promotion, it has often happened that much regret has been expressed on those being removed who had, through their judicious discharge of their delicate duties, endeared themselves to the law-abiding community.


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