A little while ago, we were alerted to the fact that a book of 1830s Belper nightwatchmen’s reports was up for sale. We asked the seller to send it to us so we could see if we wanted to buy the book and the answer was definitely yes!
The book details nightly goings-on in Belper between 1833 and 1836. At the time, the cotton spinning company of W G & J Strutt employed 2,000 people in its Belper mills. With so much invested in the town, it also ran its own mini police force in the shape of half a dozen nightwatchmen. As well as checking the water levels and the new-fangled gas lighting, the nightwatchmen also silently patrolled the town to apprehend any ne’er-do-wells.
The book gives a revealing glimpse into what went on in Belper after dark, giving us a very vivid feel for how this pioneering millworkers’ community rubbed shoulders with a much older set of inhabitants, including Belper’s nail-makers. The watchmen’s base seems to have been by the bridge and they noted the poachers crossing the bridge with a dog onto the Duke of Devonshire’s land. There was also a lot of drunkenness and fighting going on, particularly on a Saturday night!
What makes this book such a gem is that the watchmen were part of the local community and knew most people’s names. You can see some names coming up over and over again, kicking up a noise whilst drunk, lying dead drunk in the street, or having a fight: Uriah Holmes, George Blood, Mr Kiddy the tailor and many others all feature in the book. Take this example:
“Saturday night Sep 26th  at 12 ¾ Old Billy Hunt & his son Billy making a great disturbance at their own house. Thomas Bird who lives at next door came out and threw a stone at window which took several squares and he then ran away followed by young Billy up Bridge hill and down the Green Walk when they both jumped into the Garden of John Kiddy and were making a great noise when I came up and made them to go home.”Nightwatchman George Gratian
The book is on sale for £3,000 which is more than we can afford, so we have set up a crowdfunding campaign with Belper Historical Society to buy it and bring the nightwatchmen home. It will then be kept safe at the record office, where it will also be freely available for everyone to look at.
There are some fantastic rewards up for grabs for anyone who contributes to the crowdfunding, including exclusive access to an online talk by Adrian Farmer of Belper Historical Society telling the stories of the nightwatchmen and the people they apprehended. Adrian will also be leading some unique guided tours of Belper, literally walking in the footsteps of the nightwatchmen.
“Sunday morning June 28th  at 3 Josiah & John Woodward, George Marshall (Mrs Marshall’s son) and 4 others drinking and singing at John Barnes – the liquor (Ale and Rum) were had from Samuel Wards at 1 o’clock.” Nightwatchman Samuel Taylor
It would be a great loss to Derbyshire’s history if the book were to disappear into private hands again. You can help prevent this and bring it home: just go to the crowdfunding page, donate and choose your reward!
Help bring the #Nightwatchmen home by donating to the crowdfunding appeal now at: