Law and order in Richmond

(Information gathered from the website of the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames.)

The first Act to regulate the government of Richmond was passed on 30th April, 1766, and was entitled An Act for the Relief and Employment of the poor, and for repairing the highways, paving, cleansing, lighting and watching the streets…”.

It does not appear to have been very successful for in 1785 a further Act was passed and the trustees were replaced by Vestrymen. From this date there are detailed minutes of the Vestry meetings. The first meeting of the newly constituted body was held at the Greyhound Inn in George Street; thereafter, meetings were at the Parish Room in the churchyard. One of the first tasks of the reorganised Vestry was to order the erection of a watch house. On 30th December, 1793, it adopted Mr Justice Bonding’s system of watching and laid down a rota of “beats” to be walked by the watchmen.

As meeting at the Parish Room proved inconvenient, it was resolved on 7th June, 1790 “that it is expedient to build a new Vestry Office and that the spot on which the houses now stand on the ground purchased for the purpose of a new burial ground is the most convenient place for that purpose.” The surveyor or architect was Mr Faulkner, and it was built by Thomas Taylor. The first meeting in the new office at the corner of Vineyard Passage and Paradise Road took place on 11th April, 1791.

By 1829 the watch was in its final years. Richmond was added to the Metropolitan Police area on 13th January, 1840, and the Vestry was relieved of its duty in that direction, other than collecting the Police Levy. The watch house was closed when the police station opened in 1841. In 1849, the Vestry Hall was enlarged and the police court was added.

Richmond became a borough in 1890. By 1895, the old Vestry Hall had outlived its usefulness and been replaced, for all except its magisterial duties, by the new Town Hall in Hill Street. The Vestry Hall was pulled down and replaced by a new Magistrates Court, plus mortuary, which opened in October, 1896. According to one local paper, “the universal opinion appeared to be that if the exterior…is not exactly calculated to inspire respect mingled with admiration, the interior is very well adapted to its purpose.”

The building’s original function was removed in 1975 to the new Court House in Parkshot, on a site previously occupied by Parkshot Rooms and the swimming baths. The Parkshot Rooms was the later name for a building of 1905 which had been used as offices for the Richmond Board of Guardians.

This was on the site of No. 8, Parkshot. A. Leonard Summers described it as “an unpretentious looking Georgian house, ivy clad, but suitable on account of its quiet and seclusion”. Mary Anne Evans and the philosopher George Henry Lewes lodged here together, occupying a room on the second floor of the home of a Miss Croft. It was during her time in Richmond that Evans began her first novel, Amos Barton (1857), later retitled Scenes of Clerical Life, assuming the pen name of George Eliot for the purpose.

In 2016, the Richmond & Twickenham Times reported that Richmond Magistrates’ Court had closed its doors for the last time on Friday, 18th March. Tony Arbour, a long serving magistrate, told the paper sadly:

“Back then (in 1975), it was the local court…it was full…This was…when police decided which cases to prosecute…It is very sad…in the old days, you would have lawyers from Richmond Green prosecuting.”.

The article ends with an invitation to readers to email their comments on it, and two were submitted. One printed, one deleted…

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