When retribution was a diet of bread and water

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The Independent Online
The discovery of a country policeman's diary from1817 could hold some lessons for parents, MPs, teachers and police officers trying to quell "unmanageable" teenagers.

Constable Isaac Gregory was Constable of the Hundred of Frome in Somerset in 1817-8 and kept a detailed diary of his duties. The diary has just surfaced nearly 180 years after it was written. His entries show that he stood for no nonsense, and parents of wayward children sought his help with their errant offspring. The mother of one youth who was running out of control was advised to keep him in a dungeon on a diet of bread and water.

The diary, which has just come to light, records how PC Gregory was appointed constable in place of his brother, who paid him to take on the task for him.

The officer received no official wage - the last entry records how he paid "a good bottle of wine" to be relieved of his duties.

PC Gregory struggled to impose law and order in 19th-century rural England. On 17 January he wrote: "Mr Coward imprisoned a woman for striking a man - interceded for her and had her set at liberty, as women are very apt to strike hard, even in their most loving moments."

One Sunday later in the month his entry reads: "Routed many squads of Boys at play and took and drove some to Church."

On 18 May: "A poor woman bought me her son that would not go to work and was quite unmanageable - I told her one year imprisonment in the Dungeon and to live on bread and water would bring him to his duty."

The original diary is missing, but a copy has been donated to the police museum collection by former Sergeant Jim Hyett, who served in Somerset from 1938 to 1968.

He was given the copy more than 30 years ago by a colleague who is thought to have copied it from Constable Gregory's original.

Museum executive Martin Wotton said: "This diary gives an interesting and enlightening insight into the duties of a parish constable in the early 19th-century, just after the Napoleonic Wars."