IN THE Victorian period, the coming of a regular police force to Leicestershire made a great difference to the maintenance of law and order.
The man who made the most significant contribution to effective policing in Hinckley was Walter John Chapman who was born in Mountsorrel in 1834 and was the son of a builder. He worked for his father after leaving school but in 1859 decided to join the Leicestershire Constabulary. At that time, the Force was commanded by Chief Constable Goodyer who had been the architect of the Leicestershire Borough Police after 1835 and the county force in the 1840s.
John Chapman began his police service in the rural parts of West Leicestershire, far removed from the crime-laden metropolis of Leicester. His first appointment was in Newbold Verdon and, after a year in that village, he moved onto what he anticipated would be the rural idyll of Sutton Cheney.
This was not to be. He sustained a serious assault while in police service in Sutton Cheney and, as a result, spent many months in Leicester Royal Infirmary recovering from his injuries.
Next, John moved to Narborough where the navvies of the new South Leicestershire Railway were causing "a very rough time" according to one contemporary account. It was these navvies who were constructing the rail link between Hinckley and Leicester.
John married in 1860 and four years late he and his wife moved to Great Wigston. Finally, in 1869, John Chapman was promoted to police sergeant in the crime-torn town of Hinckley.
Certainly, in the later part of the 1860s, Hinckley had an established reputation for crime and violence. At the election of 1868 a large-scale riot developed and Goodyer, as Chief Constable, had to call on reinforcements from Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire. There was also a gang, which controlled much of the criminal activity in and around Hinckley.
Into this environment larceny and riot came John Chapman, sergeant at the Stockwell Head Police Station. He managed, within two years, to break the gang's control of crime in Hinckley. The perpetrators received suitable terms of "penal servitude".
Recognition for this success came in 1875 when John Chapman was promoted to inspector in charge of the Market Bosworth Division and, three years later, he returned to Hinckley as police superintendent at the request of local people. He remained in this post for 11 years until he was appointed as Deputy Chief Constable in 1889.
He retired two years later and was presented with an illuminated address and purse by the magistrates of the Market Bosworth Division and a gold watch from the Leicestershire Constabulary. He left behind a Hinckley, which enjoyed Victorian peace and prosperity.
Author: Hugh Beavin
Written for: Hinckley-on-line