We had only two constables in the town then and they were both cobblers as well as constables. They always stuck to their “last” until they were sent for whenever there was a row or a fight. Perhaps they had less to do with the “last” on Monday for this was the day when the idle Saints (drunken workmen) got most notice.
Colliers and potters rarely worked much on Mondays and with drink plenteously imbibed free fights were very common. Pugilism and dog fighting were then very much in favour, these succeeding the cock fighting of a previous generation. In every street there was a beer shop. Inside there would probably be a couple of men stripped to the waist, pounding at each other in regular fisticuff order, till they battered each other black and red; or else a couple of bulldogs (of which many were left) would be devouring each other amid a howling ring of brutal men. Sometimes the women would scream at these sights and the constable might hear them, or some woman would run to tell him what was going on. If not engaged elsewhere, he would come hurriedly, not with the modern bobby pace, and as soon as he was seen there was a cry raised, “The constable is coming.” That cry never failed to disperse a crowd. Fighting men would pick up their clothes and run as if for life. Backers of dogs would rush the mangled animals away or carry them in their arms. There was a potency in the word “constable” which I have never seen in the word policeman. But we live in progressive times.
I said the cry of “constable” never failed to disperse a crowd. But I saw it do so once. There was a riot among the colliers. This had sprung from a strike. These men had marched to a colliery with the purpose of destroying whatever they could touch on the pit bank. While engaged on this work, a cry came that the “constable” was coming. And so he did and expecting, as usual, that the crowd would disperse, he boldly ran into the thick of it. But nobody gave way. Nobody was afraid. The men were too numerous and too grimly in earnest, that when the constable attempted to hinder their destructive work, two or three of the men seized him and carried him to a large water pit, and threw him in as if he had been a dog. Doglike the poor constable tried to swim to the bank. I stood aghast full of curiosity and fear, and when the constable was coming to the side a collier got a rail and shoved him back. This cruel treatment was continued until the poor fellow was nearly exhausted, and as drowning was a near issue, a humane cry of protest was raised: the brutal collier threw down his rail, and the nearly drowned constable was allowed to crawl out and creep off home.
Extract from “When I was a Child” by Charles Shaw published in 1903.