The Watch, or Charlies & the 'Lambs'

  • 20 Feb 2023
  • Crime and Legal
  • Back

In most towns, night-man, known as 'Charlies', with warning rattles, kept an effective watch. They were often old, and always poorly paid, and there were complaints that when trouble started they were quick to avoid it and go to the other way. In rural districts the public peace was entrusted to parish constables, chosen in rotation, from the reluctant house-holders, and appointed annually.

Practical jokes upon 'Charlies' were recognized pastimes of the young 'bloods' of the town. There are many anecdotes concerning the Worcester Charlies; one being secured in his box, which was upset upon the pavement and waiting for the daylight when passers-by would release him - but the passers-by were in no hurry at all to do this for him. Another Charlie was stationed nightly at Worcester Bridge to keep a look-out upon people passing over the Severn, and passed the time between smoking and sleeping. A group of young men found him a sleepy and gently carried the box down to the water's edge and set him adrift on the river. It was not until the water seeped into his box that he awoke, and his shouts brought watermen to his rescue. Colonel Maybury, a well-known member of the Worcester Militia, always claimed his first prisoner was a Charlie, captured by over-turning the sentry-box on him at the Bridge.

Watchman on duty in area of St Helens Church 

Not all episodes were as humorous as these however. In an attack on a Charlie's box in St. Nicholas churchyard, Richard Hill, the last of the Charlie's in the City, received concussion of the brain in a night assault, but after lying up for some time, recovered, but unable to continue in his role as a constable, was made Beadle of the church. In 1823, Tuberville reported; 'two men were brought to trial for unprovoked assault. They were part of a fraternity calling themselves 'Lambs', who used to infest the streets of Worcester at night for the sole purpose of annoying more peacefully disposed  people. At trial, they bought a number of witnesses to prove an alibi, but failed utterly and disclosed most unblushing perjury'.

Night watchman