Thomas Challoner (1833 – 1881)
Finding out about the career of my police officer ancestor during the Victorian period has been fascinating to say the least. I already knew from my dad’s research that my Great Great Grandfather was a county policeman. My research journey has taken me a few years, from searching police records at the Leicestershire records office, many visits to Leicestershire, finding out history on a reformatory and of course the newspaper archives.
So here goes, he was born in Oadby, Leicestershire in 1833 to parents John Challoner and Mary Hill. John and Mary had moved down to Oadby shortly after they were married in Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire at the beginning 0f 1832. Thomas was baptised on 1 Sep 1833 as you will see from the baptism record below.
During the 1830s Great Britain saw a couple of changes of monarchy, William IV in 1830. His niece Victoria then came onto the throne in 1837. Which means that the infamous Victorian times started when Thomas was aged 4. Before the end of the decade, John and Mary had a couple of more boys, but sadly lost them.
At the beginning of the new decade John and Mary had Elizabeth in 1840 the day before Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert. Elizabeth is the subject of a blog already with her hubby. So, when the very first ever census of Great Britain took place in June 1841, John, Mary, Thomas and Elizabeth appear together in London Road, Oadby – see below.
Shortly after the census were taken, Sir Robert Peel became Prime Minister for his second term. He was instrumental in starting the police force in Britain with founding the Met Police back in 1829. Hence why a police officer was often nicknamed a ‘Bobby’.
Back to Oadby, the Challoner family grew with sister Jemima being born in 1842 and then lastly Mary Ann in 1845. Sadly, Mary Ann only survived 4 months and passed on in 1846. When Thomas was aged 13, his mother also sadly died too in the middle of 1847.
When the 1851 census was taken, Thomas had left home to become an apprentice Cordwainer. A cordwainer is a shoemaker who makes new shoes using new leather. The census image below shows that he was living in Newton Harcourt, Billesdon area as an apprentice to cordwainer Christopher Freestone.
Whilst the Crimea war was raging over in Eastern Europe during the mid-50s Thomas life changed again as he decided to join the county police force. If there was ever a question, I would ask my Great Great grandfather it would be what made him decide to join. He probably saw an advert in the local newspaper and the pay was reasonable. The Leicestershire County Police force was started in 1839 and overseen by their first Chief Constable Frederick Goodyer, a former Met Police officer. Below you will see the record when Thomas was sworn in by the Reverend Hoskins on 21 July 1855 as he became number Police Constable 53.
Police officers would be allocated beats and their whereabouts were checked regularly by their commanding officer. If they weren’t where they were supposed to be, the incident would be recorded in the station record book. I discovered that in 1857 Thomas had a couple of incidents recorded against him. Below is a page from the Record Book. One where he was spotted drinking at the Neptune Public House in Loughborough and the other when he was found after having been missing for a few hours a bit worse for wear from drinking.
It seems after that, he must have settled down into the role of a police officer. When I delved into the police records, the information didn’t specify exactly which stations he had been based at during his career. The newspapers however did shed some light. Thomas regularly had to provide testimonies at the police courts or at the quarter sessions known as the Assizes. The Assizes court took place at Leicester Castle which is a fab building that is now part of the Leicester De Montfort University.
It seems his initial area was in the North West area of Leicestershire, in particular in Ashby de la Zouch according to his personal life and the newspapers. He had met Mary Ann Hood from Ashby and they got married at St Helen’s church on 24 Aug 1858. About a year later they had their first child John Joseph born in Moira which is just outside of Ashby. See below for the marriage details.
The first time he appears in the newspapers is in the Leicester Journal – Friday 7 January 1859 when he provides testimony at the Epiphany Session for a case of stolen timber from the mill at Moira Colliery in December 1858. Another appearance in the paper is in the Leicester Guardian – Saturday 22 October 1859 when he apprehended a 20-year-old collier who had stolen 2 live tame fowls.
The 60s were pretty eventful for Thomas. His family grew and got involved in many major incidents during his policing duties. First of which was being assaulted by the Lalley brothers, according to the Derby Mercury – Wednesday 14 November 1860. See the article below from the Petty sessions of Ashby that took place on 10th November.
In his personal life his wife Mary Ann gave birth to another son William in April 1861 who just made it into the 1861 census along with Thomas, Mary Ann, John Joseph. The family are shown as living in Whitwick Moor, Whitwick, along with Mary Ann’s eldest sister Eliza as you can see in the image below.
The newspapers were not the only records, I found Thomas in. He appears in the minutes of the police watch committee. The committee met regularly and the minutes have been archived at the Leicestershire records office and they were really interesting to read. They would discuss police officers and various expenditure during the period. The type of expenditure discussed were the accounts of the upkeep of stations, horses, purchase of material for uniforms and gratuity given to the officers. If officers were offered tips and gifts by the general public, they had to declare it to their supervising officer. The committee would also discuss gratuity to officers if they had done good detective work or provided good testimonies in the courts. The early part of the 60s, Thomas was mentioned several times in the minutes. See below a copy of one of the minutes.
A third son Richard Cheatle was born to Thomas and Mary Ann in March 1863. A few weeks later on the evening of 9th April, Thomas was called to a dangerous situation at the Reformatory of Mount St Bernard Abbey at Whitwick. He was badly injured during this evening. The incident and subsequent events in 1864 were big news according to several articles in the local newspapers. These events rattled the residents of Whitwick as well. Because of all the information I have gleamed it deserves a separate blog all on its own so watch this space.
His life certainly changed after these events. Thomas and his family moved to the Melton Mowbray area in North East Leicestershire. Thomas became a sergeant on 16 Jun 1865. Roughly a month later his only daughter Elizabeth was born at Kirby Bellars a village not far out of Melton.
The minutes from the committee recorded that the Sergeants of the county police force decided to ask for a pay rise in the September 1865. Thomas was on the list, see below.
His name appeared in the papers quite a few more times, as he gave testimony on various cases in the Melton area. See below a couple of stories from the Leicester Journal – A burglary at Twyford in the Friday 21 July 1865 edition. By far my favourite story I discovered was reported on Friday 12 July 1867 entitled Clever capture of a Forger.
By 1868 the family moved again but this time to the South Leicestershire town of Market Harborough. The papers continued to report various cases that he was involved in. One case though was not particular pleasant. The below story may be upsetting for some from the Leicester Journal in February 1868. As a police officer would have had to deal with many different and difficult cases.
In July 1868, Thomas had another mention in the committee minutes for receipt of gratuity. The family also grew further with addition of another son Albert Curzon in the November.
Life in the 70s took a different turn for Thomas. The 1871 census showed he was living in a village of Lubenham, located a short distance from Market Harborough. See below the census image with his wife and kids John J, William, Richard C, Elizabeth, Albert C.
I visited the village in May 2022 and walked along the heritage trail they had setup. Check out https://lubenhamheritagegroup.co.uk/special-projects-the-lubenham-heritage-trail/. It was really interesting to wander round the village and felt a connection to the place. The village is steeped in history linked to hunting and horse racing. The first Grand National Challenge cup was held nearby and the staples in the village housed several Grand National winners. Pick pockets would have worked at the races so probably kept Thomas and his colleagues busy.
December 1871, however, a fifth son Tom was born but sadly died a few hours later. Then a few months later in Feb 1872 Mary Ann also passed away due to anaemia, probably caused by problematic childbirth. Tom and his mother were buried at the All Saints church cemetery. I went round the churchyard but sadly couldn’t locate them, I suspect they were in unmarked graves. Check out the photo I took of the church.
I can’t imagine how this would have made him feel and how it affected the kids. Life definitely changed as of the end of 1873. Thomas had moved to another police station, this time to Narborough. He had met and married Elizabeth Moore from Sileby. A month later Thomas’ 6th son my great grandfather Francis Thomas was born. Below is a copy of the marriage.
By 1876, Thomas’ police career was coming to end after 21 years with the Leicestershire constabulary. The committee meetings indicated that he was suffering from eczema and swollen legs and was being treated by the police surgeon. The committee agreed that he was unfit to be an officer. This was the same time that Chief Constable Frederick Goodyer also stepped down from his post. Thomas was pensioned off from the force on 15 July.
Life surely would have changed. Thomas and his family moved back into North West Leicestershire to Swannington. In 1877 his name popped up in the papers again but this time it was for the application for a license to sell alcohol. License was needed when he became the landlord of the Talbot Arms.
By the beginning of 80s, his eldest children had left the nest. The 1881 census in April recorded Thomas living in Main Street, Swannington. See the below census image with his wife Elizabeth, Albert and Francis.
Sadly, on 9th May, Thomas’ health failed him and he passes on aged 47. He was buried in St George’s Church, on the 11th. As a respected police officer, he had a police procession which was reported in the local papers but proved unexpectedly to be an even harder day for the family.
When I visited St George’s in November 2019, I tried looking for his grave, but sadly yet another unmarked grave. According to Thomas’ death certificate his informant was his son Albert who would have been 12 at the time. Ten days after Thomas dies, his seventh son Thomas was born. Elizabeth his widow carried on living in Swannington where she raised her sons. Both of which also remained in the area to become coalminers. Elizabeth sadly passed on in 1923 at the Tanyard, Swannington.
My Great Great grandfather clearly lived a very up and down tough life but has been a joy to research. The newspapers provided a good snapshot of his policing career, and I found many more articles – too many to add to this blog. I wonder if he kept in touch with his sisters Elizabeth in the South Island, New Zealand and Jemima in Stoughton. All his sons and daughter all had equally tough lives. John Joseph also became a police officer stationed in various places from Leicester to Shepshed. William was the subject of my first ever blog, who became a priest and then a superintendent of education. Both Richard and Albert worked in the shoe industry in Leicester. Elizabeth marries twice, firstly living in Tewkesbury and then in Leicester.
Incredible work Debs. Your best blog yet. Fascinating account and very insightful into life at the time. The newspaper accounts both entertaining and horrific too. Well done. I look forward to the next one.