‘Mutual preservation’ in eighteenth-century Great Oakley

Archivist Allyson Lewis blogs for us about an exciting new accession…

We recently purchased the Articles of Association of an Association ‘for the mutual preservation of property and the more effectual prosecution and bringing to justice of house-breakers, horse stealers and thieves of every kind’ (Accession A13635 (D/DU 2835)).  This early form of insurance/neighbourhood watch scheme was formed by the inhabitants of Great Oakley and surrounding parishes on 4 February 1794.  The deed is signed by all the members, including new members to 1899.  

The heading of the Articles of Association (click for larger version)

Each member paid a membership fee of at least 10s 6d.  This money was used to publish a description of stolen property on hand bills and in the newspapers and to offer rewards for information leading to the recovery of stolen property.  The Articles specify the following rewards to be offered to anyone apprehending and convicting offenders who had committed a crime:

House breaking                               £5 5s

Stealing of horses or cattle                        £5 5s

Highway or footpad robbery           £5 5s

Breaking open barns, stables or outhouses       £3 3s

Stealing poultry, turnips, apples, pears, damaging hedges etc           £1 1s

Signatures of members of the Association

In the days before any police force, local associations of this kind were felt necessary, particularly in times of war or trouble.  This Association dates from the period of the Napoleonic wars which gave rise to a general fear of revolution and invasion.  The parishes are in the neighbourhood of Harwich where many men would be stationed in the Martello tower and as militia organised to defend the county from attack by the French.  Perhaps the members of the Association had experienced thefts from deserters or militia men trying to head home.  It is surprising that the Association was still considered necessary at the end of the 19th century, long after the formation of the county police force in 1840.

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