In their accounts of the Petty Sessions local newspapers can shine a light on the murky affairs of the past, often to reveal that they are in fact little different from the present though society's views may have changed and the law itself moved forward. The account of the West Penwith Petty Sessions of 2 March 1853 is a case in point.
The first case to come before the bench is a curiosity in so far as it not a case at all: “Mr D Le Grice mentioned that a very suspicious case had occurred in the parish of Paul, leading to the presumption that a crime of a heinous description had been committed, but the crime had not been reported to any magistrate…...” Mr Le Grice said the case had only come to his notice the evening before and he “knew not of what amount the offence was”. The parish constable had reported the business to the vicar, Rev. Graham, who said that he was very concerned that the involvement of the parish constables in the affairs of their neighbours made them, at times, disinclined to perform their duties and that he was seriously considering an application for a paid constable in order to “keep the people within bounds”.
The Parish Constable made his own statement saying that he had kept a sharp look-out on the suspected party and that the matter had been dropped.
Reading the account you get the impression that everyone knows what's being discussed here but no-one is going to say. We're clearly not talking about an assault of anything of that sort, it sounds more like an ongoing activity by a single person which may also involve other members of the community. Poaching? Smuggling?
Also before the bench on 2 March 1853 was a feud in Heamoor, between the White, Ladner and Barnes families, which had blown up into a serious assault. This case was complicated by the fact that one of the Ladners involved was in fact the Parish Constable and the bench took the opportunity to deliver a lecture on the responsibilities and duties of constables.
The bench also considered a case of unpaid wages due to one Mary Davy of Paul for hoeing turnips belonging to Henry Osborne. The claim was for 6 shillings but one of the witnesses reported that “little Mary” had also mentioned the sum of 2s 6d. “Little Mary" was not a child, as becomes clear later in the report, when it is said that one witness was unwilling to give evidence against “the dwarfed complainant” because she dreaded being “ill-wished” by her.
Among other matters reported on that day were snowballs. These snowballs had been thrown at respectable chapel goers in Ludgvan by a godless band of young men and boys and the bench agreed that “such public scandal” should be put a stop to and that any persons brought before them accused of “Sabbath desecration and wanton misbehaviour” would be dealt with using “the utmost vigour of the law.”
So there we have it: corruption; family feuds; violence and superstition; and protecting the status quo. Not too different from today.
Cornish Telegraph 9 March 1853 p3