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Gregory Hardiman update 1: June 2022

Constables, but not as you know them: University constables in Cambridge

It’s an exciting time for me, as I finish one series of books and embark on another.  In all honesty I didn’t set out to be an author of series, but I find it suits me: I think I am stronger at writing character than plot, so I like to develop characters over time.  I also enjoy the mental exercise/puzzle of keeping track of things over several books: what colour did I say their hair was last time, and have I put someone’s house in a different street this time, and are they far too young to have had a baby?  It is more mathematically pleasing to do odd numbers in a series; the Sam Plank series was of seven books, and I think the new series – the Gregory Hardiman series – will be of five (although if I fall as much in love with him as I did with Sam, it might grow to seven…).  And now that I am officially starting on Gregory, I thought you might like to read a little of the research I have been doing into his role as a university constable in Cambridge.

As you know, I am obsessed with the 1820s, and fortuitously that obsession can still be indulged in Cambridge: on 5 July 1825 the Universities Act 1825 was passed and included this provision: “It shall be lawful for the chancellor or vice chancellor of the said universities [Cambridge and Oxford] respectively to appoint such number of able men as he shall think fit to be constables in and for the said universities respectively… and every man so sworn shall have full power to act as a constable within the precincts of the university for which he shall be appointed, and four miles of the same university.”  My plan is for Gregory to be taken on as one of the first cohort of constables – I’m still working out the details of how he (a farmer’s son from Norfolk, and war veteran) might be recommended for such a post.  In short, the first book in the series will take place in late 1825.

Rather fabulously, the University of Cambridge still has its constables, and they are still called constables.  (Oxford followed a different track: they instituted constables in 1825, then set up the Oxford University Police in 1829 – the same year as the Met Police was formed in London – and in 2003 renamed them Proctor’s Officers.)  As this suggests, university constables work for the Proctor (a contraction of the Latin procurator – one who looks after the affairs of others).  The Proctor (at least in the 1820s) is an august fellow, very on his dignity, and certainly above chasing wayward undergraduates who might be out of college after hours, or visiting ladies of welcoming morals, or gambling.  For this, he has two constables (often called bulldogs) who accompany him when he does his evening rounds.  (Later in the nineteenth century – certainly after Gregory’s time – the Proctor stopped going out on rounds and sent the constables on their own.)

The ideal pairing of bulldogs was one sprinter (for quick arrests) and one long-distance runner (for the longer pursuits).  Undergraduates sometimes took this as a challenge, taking off their gowns to be able to run faster.  The constables were armed, although the expectation was that they would use their truncheon only to remind undergraduates of their poor behaviour, rather than actually clobbering them.  As you can see, a 12-inch solid wood truncheon could have done some serious damage.
The Universities Act 1825
An Oxford Proctor and his two constables instructing an undergraduate to put on his gown rather than carrying it (artist, source and date unknown, but the dress looks about right for the 1820s)
A Cambridge constable's truncheon - this one postdates Gregory, as it has the arms of Queen Victoria on it, but the style and size would be familiar to him
A photo I took in Cambridge last year: from left to right we have the Marshal (who oversees the university constabulary), the two Proctors, and three constables
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