On this Day 23rd December 1893

Midwinter Misrule in Penzance


If the reports of Penzance Petty Sessions for the 8th January 1894 are anything to go by, December 23rd 1893 was quite a Saturday night. Christmas Eve that year fell on a Sunday, so the 23rd – work over and pay distributed – will have been the perfect night for getting into the spirit of the season.

The police certainly had a busy night of it, and seem to have been out in force. PC Beckerleg found a cabman drunk on duty, settled down for the night in the cabman’s shelter just below the Humphry Davy statue, and only “eventually” did “his mother and others” persuade him to go home. It is tempting to imagine the scene unfolding.

P C Retallack recalled that one young man had “nearly knocked him off his legs”, although the accused claimed later that he’d only had a couple of pints in the Farmer’s Arms.

Alverton c1900 (photo by Gibson & Sons, courtesy of Morrab Library Photo Archive)But it was in Alverton Street, as midnight approached, that the trouble was at its worst. Superintendent Nicholas was busy with “a very large and disorderly crowd”. They were “singing and shouting at the tops of their voices” – although some were past any attempt at singing, and “all kinds of sounds” were emanating. The names of the songs to which they gave voice are, sadly, unrecorded. Nicholas, an experienced officer who had worked in Plymouth and Newcastle, said in court that he “never saw a more disgraceful mob in his life”; that “the whole mob seemed to be bent on defying all law and authority”. Some refused to move on – one said that “he was a ratepayer and was not going before he liked”. The crowd, probably sensing the might of their numbers, began to follow the police about, “halloo’d and shouted”, and even in one case threatened to do violence against an officer when he next met him off duty. Towards midnight there was a “regular stand-up fight”, and Nicholas required the help of Sergeant Harry to part the combatants.

The Penzance Montol mob in the 21st century (photo John Steadman)PC Rowe had also been busy. As midnight approached, amidst the crowd gathered in the Greenmarket, three men were “walking about arm-in-arm”, pushing and barging into people. One of them would later plead not guilty – an Alverton Street grocer testified that he’d been into the shop, purchasing groceries for his mother, at 11.15 pm, and had been as sober as: well, as sober as the magistrates and witnesses hearing the case. But three other policemen sided with PC Rowe, and testified otherwise. The magistrates gave the accused the benefit of the doubt, but advised him to “keep better company”. And they had some very strong words to impart about “disorderly persons”, “scuffles and skirmishes”.

The Cornish Telegraph would also publish strong words, warning against leniency in the face of “the spirit of anarchy” and “ruffianism”.

All that – and another century or more to go before Montol would be even thought of. The good old days, eh?

A very merry Christmas to all our readers.

Cornishman Thursday January 11th 1894, page 4

Cornish Telegraph, January 11th 1894 page 4

On this Day:

Browse all 'On This Day' Features

Penwith Local History Group
On this Day:

Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

Edited by
Sally Corbet

price £10
plus p&p


PayPal – The safer, easier way to pay online.