It Was Only A Tenner, Your Honour

From the pocket book of Police Constable Bowkett 1868

Ed Heley

On 5th September 1868, Thomas Hudson reported the loss of two 5 pound notes to the Kingswood Police Station.

The money had gone missing when Hudson was travelling from Cromhall to Tortworth. Reacting to this report, Police Constable Bowkett and Sergeant Watts went to Sinwell and escorted Sophia Mason to the Kingswood Station. Mason, aged 54, was described in prison records of the time as a hawker from Wotton-under-Edge.

Subsequently, on the 21st October, Police Constable Bowkett attended the Quarter Sessions in Gloucester and gave evidence against Mason, who was charged with stealing the two 5 pound notes from Thomas Hudson in Cromhall.

Surprisingly, since 10 pounds was a very significant sum of money in those days (see footnote below), Sophia Mason was only sentenced to one month imprisonment according to Police Constable Bowkett’s records.


*As a footnote, we might wonder what the value of the £10 stolen in 1868 would be worth in today’s money (March 2024 at the time of writing).

According to the most recently available figures from the Bank of England’s Consumer Prices Index  inflation calculator, which calculates the Consumer Price Index – currently the UK Government’s “preferred measure of inflation”, £10 in 1868 would be worth £936.07 in February 2024.

However, we have to consider that the £1 coin of its day in 1868 (and throughout the 19th century) was the British gold sovereign. According to the Royal Mint’s website, a new gold 20 shilling (or £1) coin was introduced in 1817. Since the average price of a gold sovereign today (on 18th March 2024) is £410, then the value of the £10 (equal to 10 gold sovereigns) stolen by Sophia Mason in September 1868 would be around £4100 in today’s money.

So which yardstick for correctly measuring the rate of inflation over the long-term do you think is the correct one? The Consumer Price Index as calculated by The Bank of England and UK Government, or the price of gold?

Suited and booted

On 14th September 1868, Police Constable Bowkett was on guard duty over the prisoner Mary Ann Hefer, who was described in prison records as a 30 year-old hawker from Wotton-under-Edge. On 21st October 1868, Hefer pleaded guilty to the theft of a pair of boots valued at 5 shillings and 11 pence, the property of Samuel Holloway, and a hat valued at 1 shilling, the property of Issac Dudley at Wotton-under-Edge on 14th September 1868.

This penchant for stealing footwear wasn’t restricted to women, however. On 20th November, Police Constable Bowkett was on guard over the prisoners Joseph Hicks and Job Bence. Both prisoners were listed in prison records as 18-year old labourers from Marshfield who were convicted of stealing two pairs of boots from Joseph Gale at Marshfield on 17th October 1868. The prisoners were each sentenced to two months hard labour.

An avoidable death?

On the afternoon of the 5th October 1868, Police Constable Bowkett attended the inquest at the Kings Arms Inn in Kingswood into the tragic death of Emily Holding, aged 22. According to the coroner, Emily’s death during childbirth might have been avoided had her parents called for a doctor sooner than they did. The puerperal fever which was cited as the cause of death is an infection of the reproductive organs, such as endometritis, which can be contracted after delivering a baby.

Chronicle October 10th 1866

He’s got form

On Friday 30th October 1868, Police Constable Bowkett and Sergeant Watts escorted the prisoner Robert Drew, a baker by trade, to the Dursley Police Station for onward transfer to Gloucester Prison.

On the 7th January 1869, Drew was tried and found guilty of breaking and entering the dwelling house of one Helen Morgan at Wickwar on the 25th October 1868, where he stole four copper tokens and two knives.

Drew received the rather harsh sentence of 10 years penal servitude for his troubles, but this can be explained by the fact that Drew was obviously an habitual criminal by this stage. According to prison records, in 1860 he had been convicted of attempted felony and received a further conviction of larceny in 1862. Two years later, in 1864, he was convicted of felony at the Middlesex sessions.

An almost trouble-free election in South Glos.

The general election of 1868 was the first election in the UK in which more than a million votes were cast, which was nearly triple the number of votes cast in the 1865 election. The reason for the increase was down to the passage of the Reform Act of 1867 which enfranchised many male householders, thus greatly increasing the number of men entitled to vote in a UK general election.

The election resulted in a landslide victory for William Gladstone’s Liberal Party, which increased its Majority over Benjamin Disraeli’s Conservatives to more than 100 seats.

Since there was some controversy surrounding the introduction of the Reform Act, Captain Henry Christian, the Chief Constable of the Gloucestershire Constabulary at the time, was alert to the potential for unrest during the polling for the 1868 election. He therefore distributed the following orders to his officers:

Chief Constable’s Office

                                                                                        Cheltenham. October 29th 1868



                  The election being now near at hand, I think it my duty to remind the members of this Police Force in this county how important it is that they should one and all be most particular in performing their duty in an impartial and temperate manner.

                       They must recollect that their principal duty is the preservation of the public peace. They will be most careful not to express an opinion either one way or the other on any political subject. Should it be necessary to act, it is to be done with temper, energy and determination.

                      I place every reliance on the discretion of the superintendents in having the duties performed in such a manner as to command the approbation of all classes in their respective districts.

                     I am to be informed by telegraph should a riot take place at any of the elections or an augmentation of force be required.

                     This order is to be copied in to every man’s diary and also read to the men every Monday with the circular orders until the elections are over.

                                                                                        Henry Christian

                                                                                  Captain Royal Navy Chief Constable

Mr. Superintendent  Brown     


It seems that the officers of the Gloucestershire Constabulary must have performed their duties well, since there is no record of any serious unrest in the county during the election period. Indeed, on 14th November, Police Constable Bowkett noted that he, Police Constable Small and Sergeant Watts found themselves on duty at the local schoolroom in Kingswood “in consequence of Colonel Somerset, the Conservative Candidate, addressing the electors” and that “all passed off quiet”.

However, in nearby Mangotsfield, South Gloucestershire, an apparent Liberal Party stronghold where no police presence was noted, the “gallant” Colonel Somerset’s reception wasn’t quite as uneventful:

According to the Western Daily Press on 11th November 1868 Colonel Somerset was hooted out of Mangotsfield with the population shouting out the names of the Liberal candidate.





This page was added on 03/04/2024.

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