In 1680 there were two Constables in Wenhaston and one in Mells, appointed by the Justices of the Peace and serving for one year. The list of their duties reveals what was considered to be unacceptable behaviour in the late seventeenth century:
- Not attending church on four successive Sundays
- Hanging out a lantern without a light
- Not sending a team to repair the highway when ordered
- Selling ale without a license
- Having a dangerous and offensive chimney
- Cutting turf on the common
- Carrying a load of gravel away
- Destroying part of the common through digging
- The nuisance of muck, making a dunghill
- Craftsmen exercising trade, without first having served a legal apprenticeship
- Keeping greyhounds or setting dogs, nets or guns without qualified to law
- Harbouring vagrants
- Abusing or beating the Constable
- Using slanderous and baleful words to his wife
- Labourers erecting cottages on waste land without leave from the Quarter Sessions
For quick punishment most villages had their stocks, whipping posts and, where they had a pond, a ducking stool. Wenhaston had all three! At Beccles Quarter Sessions in 1744, Sarah Culver was sentenced to be publicly whipped for feloniously taking three loaves of bread from the house of John Stratford of Wenhaston. The village inhabitants also made regular appearances at the Halesworth Petty Sessions, as the Justices’ Minute Book shows, for such crimes as assault, larceny, highway offences and drunkenness, although we should not assume that Wenhaston was unusually lawless for the time.
There were more severe punishments available. Robert Gissing was transported in 1824 for stealing a quantity of beans from the executors of Martha Webb of Wenhaston. In the same year James Woodgate was convicted at Ipswich Sessions for stealing a grey mare pony from John Newby of Wenhaston. He was transported for 14 years. Smuggling, of course, was more of a vocation than a crime in these parts, although the authorities took the latter view. One Wenhaston man who attracted their attention was George Butcher, a merchant, owner of wherries, and one time landlord of the Harbour Inn at Southwold. He lived in Wenhaston and a sad entry in the diary of James Maggs of Southwold reveals that in 1855 he was sent to Ipswich Gaol for smuggling.
Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich, Wenhaston Parish Records Constables Account, FC 189 11/1–3;
The Southwold Diary of James Maggs, 2 vols 1818–1848 and 1848–1876, Suffolk Records Society vols XXV and XXVI (Woodbridge, 1983–84).
Keith Johnceline, Wenhaston, November 1995.
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