Controlling anti-social behaviour in the Parks and Walks

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Although the town Council was responsible for managing Nottingham’s recreation grounds, parks and walks, the day-to-day supervision of the areas was done by the police. Lodges were built at the two main entrances to The Forest specifically for police constables and lodges or police states were positions on or close by all the other public spaces. The job of the police constables was to deter criminal activity and ensure that everyone who used the parks and walks behaved in a respectable fashion. They may have sometimes have been a bit over-zealous; in 1909 a young man and his lady friend sheltering from the rain under the trees on the Forest were told to ‘move along’. In a letter to the Nottingham Evening post the man expressed is disgust at the obvious hint that their intentions were not honourable.

The hint was not without foundation however. In 1852, Thomas Barrett was sentence to six months imprisonment for indecent exposure to a young woman and a separate offence of misconduct before children, both on Robin Hood Chase. In 1859, a ‘grey haired man’ was accused of indecently assaulted a girl aged about 8 in the Bath Street recreation ground. The culprit was bound over to keep the peace for three months and to pay costs of 18s 6d or to three months in the house of correction if he was unable to pay. A similar offence was reported in the Nottingham Evening Post of August 1881, when a 61 year old framework knitter was accused of indecently assaulting a 7-year old on two occasions, once in Robin Hood Chase and once in The Arboretum. The man, who had already spent four months in prison for indecent assault, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

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Most of the bad behaviour in the parks and walks was however, far less bleak. Many of the problems the police dealt with would, today, be described as minor vandalism; in the 19th century they were treated as ‘wilful damage’ to public property which was a criminal act. Much of the damage was done by children and young teenagers. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century the newspapers frequently report children being taken to court and being found guilty of damaging trees, fences, benches, shrubberies and flowerbeds. In 1858 a 12-year old boy was taken into custody for breaking a fence and tree in Robin Hood chase; he was discharged with a caution and there are a number other examples of the Council talking to the child’s parents or school.   When children were prosecuted they were usually fined 1s, though in 1869 the Magistrate also ordered the mothers of two boys to look after them better in the future. More seriously, an 11 year old boy was fined 7s 6d for firing stones from a catapult in Bath Street recreation ground (now Victoria Park).

In a letter to the Town Clerk dated 1884 the Chief Constable reported that because of the amount of damage being done to trees in Queen’s Walk, a plain clothes officer had been on duty. In 1887, the he was asked to provide plain clothes officers to patrol Robin Hood Chase and other Walks, especially ‘at points where children pass to & from school’ to identify who was damaging the trees. On the other hand, a letter to the Nottingham Evening Post in November 1885 noted that while police were visible on Queen’s Walk during the day time ‘interfering with children at ball or other harmless games’ at night they were always conspicuous by their absence. At about the same time, the Chairman of the Public Parks Committee ordered that the trees in Waterloo Promenade should be protected by spiked fencing as the police were powerless in preventing damage.

Of course, not all offences were committed by children. Two men in their twenties were fined 3s each for damaging the fencing in Robin Hood Chase while drunk, and an elderly women was fined 20s or 10 days in gaol if she was unable to pay, for collecting wood in the Chase. The mayor, who was presiding over the court said that anyone committing such offences were liable to be sent to prison with hard labour which reflected how seriously these crimes were thought to be.

There were other concerns as well. In 1852, residents around some undeveloped ground which later became St Michael’s Recreation ground complained that it

… is a great Nuisance to all in the Neighbourhood in consequence of the numerous bad characters assembling there every day, but more especially on Sundays, when they amuse themselves by gambling and gratify their evil propensities by throwing stones at the houses and are continually breaking the Windows and Chimney Pots, and if any remonstrance by made to them, they abuse the person and threaten further mischief, we are all convinced that if allowed to continue, it will be a School for vice and the demoralizing of the rising generation.

Bad behaviour on Sundays also feature in a report about the Arboretum where, in 1879 was claimed to be a

… resort of a number of ill-behaved youths, whose language is of the worst description, and whose manner of conducting themselves is to annoy all respectable persons.

The problem was partially solved by having two more constables on duty but interestingly, the better remedy was thought to be ‘… improvement of the tone of the community by educational agencies …’ not by intervention by police.

By 1907 complaints about the conduct of people who used the Forest in the evenings led to the local clergy lobbying for the pathways to be lit to improve the safety of walkers and sportsmen. Instead, the Council’s solution was to close the entrance gates at night so that no one could use the grounds, but public protest made them reverse this decision and in 1908 gas lighting was installed along the pathways.

 

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