George Mardlin: The village policeman
In the second half of the nineteenth century, a village policeman was a very prominent person in village life, “preserving the Queen’s Peace”. He, always a he then, would probably be a robust individual of larger than average stature, capable of dealing with those who would not “come quietly”. However he would usually be on his own, without the benefit of instant communications with a control room able to send “back up”. Consequently a delicate balance would be needed in his relationship with the villagers he lived amongst. He relied on their eyes and ears for information, and on their willingness to testify at Court (no real forensic science then) and perhaps to help out physically on occasions.
Of course villagers were also offenders at times, confrontation was inevitable, and perhaps grudges borne. Often village policemen were transferred to other villages on the other side of the county, for a variety of reasons. These included becoming too friendly with the population or too disliked by the people, or perhaps by some influential person, or for promotion. Sometimes policemen were moved for no reason at all, just on a distant Senior Officer’s whim. Probably a minority of Officers kept the balance right and remained in the same post, raising their own family in the village and even being promoted in situ. Such a village copper was George Mardlin, at Turvey from sometime in 1858 to 7/4/1886 when he retired from the Police Force.
George was born in Blunham, Bedfordshire in about 1835, son of Samuel, an agricultural labourer & Elizabeth, nee Thomson. There were other branches of Mardlins in Blunham at the time, also working on the land.
In 1851 it appears that young George was working as a general servant for Benjamin Titmus, stock dealer, at 9 Market Hill Biggleswade, with brother James, but on Monday 5th November 1855, he joined Bedfordshire County Constabulary. He was posted to Leighton Buzzard where on on 24th January 1856 he married Mary Jane Dawson, suggesting a whirlwind courtship – if they hadn’t already met before. Newspaper reports suggest that George was a busy officer at Leighton Buzzard, cutting his policing teeth on all the usual bread and butter police work; drunkenness, brawling, the idle and disorderly people, vagabonds and incorrigible rogues, as well as street gambling, poaching & larceny. In the course of this George was battered several times, and bitten at least once (by Tom “Trampy” Parrott), and doubtless learned by his mistakes.
In 1858 the couple’s first child: Frederick Henry Mardlin, was born at Leighton Buzzard, and baptised at Blunham on 11/10/1857. George was then transferred to Turvey, where their second child, Jane, was born in 1859. In the 1861 Census, they were living at 7 Abbey Square with Mrs Mardlin’s brother, a haircutter.
Policing Turvey in the 1850’s
It was perhaps a daunting prospect to arrive in a completely unfamiliar area, working independently and getting to grips with the local populace, but it is appears that George started as vigorously as at Leighton, and many of his early cases were reported at length in the newspapers. Apparently he continued to get assaulted not infrequently. Such reports are entertaining for the language used and considerable detail, and this one from the 1859 Bedfordshire Mercury is a good example of the style of such reporting.
ASSAULT ON A POLICE-CONSTABLE AT TURVEY.
Leigh Churchman, one of the defendants in the first case, was charged with assaulting Police-constable Mardlin, in the parish of Turvey on the 3rd December.
Complainant stated that he was on duty at Turvey, the 3rd instant, when he saw the defendant at The Three Fishes public house about quarter past eleven o’clock. He left the house drunk, and when he saw the complainant he said, “Here’s this policeman, I will have a talk to him.” He made use of some very bad language, and he came to the witness, who was on the path, and said, “What the devil did you say about me at the sessions last week?” Witness told him he did not want to have anything to say to him, and he’d better go home. The defendant said he would not, and he took hold of the arm of witness and said, “D— you, I will talk to you.” Witness told him to keep his hands off several times, but at last the defendant struck him the chest, and said, “D— you, you shall answer my questions.” He stayed there for some time, and kept swearing for about half an hour, and several people came out to see what was the matter.
Defendant: you mean to say I struck you?
Complainant. Yes; You hit me on the chest.
Defendant: I did not; I would take my oath before 40,000 magistrates that I did not touch you. I should be ashamed of myself to come here and tell such a lie. I could bring Mr Warren and Mr Harley to prove I never hit you. You don’t say anything about these things when you are betting half a gallon of beer on how far your leg measures round.
The Chairman said it did not appear that this was a very hard blow; was the complainant quite certain that the defendant did it wilfully, or was he only throwing his arms about?
The officer said he was quite sure that the blow was given intentionally.
The defendant said the policeman was drinking oftener than he was. He knew how far his leg measured round. He denied the assault altogether.
The Chairman said he believed the defendant was a marked man. If he found the officer drunk at any time he had his remedy, and he could lay the matter before the proper authorities. If he were drunk, that was no reason why he should interfere with the police. If the officer were drunk, and he (the defendant) were drunk, and he were to assault him in the street, he would still be amenable to the law. They would not inflict any penalty this time, but he would have to pay the costs, which amounted to 5s 6d. This was only the result of going to the public house; they got drunk there, and then the constable was called to turn them out. He hoped the defendant would take warning by this.”
One can deduce that George may have been proud of his physique, and drank ale in the village pubs. Doubtless he soon realised that he had made his mark, by being known to all simply as “Mardlin.”
The Mardlin children
Other children followed: Alfred in 1862; Emily Elizabeth on 11/6/1865; Elizabeth in 1867; Eliza in 1869; George William on 23/10/1870.
By 1871 George and family had moved to the Police Station in Main Street, next to the Post Office, probably by The Central Stores’ position today. They were joined by Jane Wheeler, George’s mother-in-law (who was twice widowed, it is believed).14 year old Frederick was a pupil teacher. In 1874 he started work as a sorting clerk at Bedford Post Office. On 29/9/1875, he followed his father into the Bedfordshire Constabulary, but resigned on 2/2/1878 on transfer to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne City Police as a detective.
Other children followed: Annie Louisa born on 21/12/1872; Maria Maude 27/5/1875; Gertrude Mary 5/7/1877. Thus George had quite a supporting cast with many additional eyes and ears in the village, and lots of mouths to feed. Naturally as the children grew older, they felt the need to bring money to the house as soon as possible. They would each demonstrate a strong work ethic, and, as their later lives suggest, most of the Mardlin children perhaps harboured an ambition to forge careers for themselves, beyond Turvey, and not working the land, lace-making, or becoming servants.
The family later in the 19th Century
By the time of the 1881 Census, George had been promoted to Sergeant – apparently Turvey became a Sergeant’s position and presumably he had a good record. In fact it is believed that offers of further promotion came later, but George declined them to remain at Turvey. George was living in the same police station house with his wife, daughter Jane, now working as a telegraph clerk, presumably at the post office / grocery shop of Gillaway Harley next door, George William, Maria Maude and Gertrude Mary, who were at school.
Alfred’s whereabouts at this time are unknown but the following year he joined the Leicestershire Constabulary before an early transfer to Nottingham City Police as a detective. Emily is also missing from the Census return. Perhaps she had gone into service for she subsequently married a butler, Frank White, and lived in Gloucestershire and Derbyshire. Similarly absent is Elizabeth, who married butcher Charles Landon in 1889 and moved to Bedford. Eliza and Annie were living with their grandmother Jane Wheeler at the butcher’s shop of George Finch in Turvey High Street.
By 1891, George had been retired for 5 years but kept busy as a Sidesman in the Parish Church for some years, as a school manager, as a village guardian from 1898, and Overseer tending to the welfare needs of the parish, as well as being a Parish Councillor. He and Mary Jane remained in the same house with 15 year old Maria, a grocer’s assistant for sister Jane, now postmistress and grocer next door, and Gertrude, “Gertie”, who was still at school. Fred had briefly returned from Newcastle to marry a Bedford girl, had transferred to Leicester Borough Police as a Detective Inspector, and was, since 1887, Chief Constable of Northampton Borough Police. His son, Percy Alfred was staying with his Turvey grandparents for his health. Eliza and Annie lived with Jane at the Post Office and worked as telegraph clerk and pupil teacher respectively. Alfred was progressing his career in Nottingham but his wife had left him with their baby daughter and gone off to America with another man. George William was now a policeman in Leicestershire Constabulary.
The Turvey drowning
A terrible tragedy befell the village on 16/1/1892. Young Percy and two friends, brothers Frank Ernest Sargent 8 years and Harry Charles Sargent 11years, sons of a Turvey labourer, were playing on the frozen river at Turvey when the ice broke. They all went in at a point where the river was 12 feet deep, near the mill. A little girl raised the alarm and men made desperate & courageous attempts to save the boys but it was between ten minutes and twenty minutes before all the boys were brought out and attempts at resuscitation failed. There was a joint funeral service attended by the whole village, family members from afar and a contingent of Northampton Borough Police. The Sargent brothers were interred in one grave alongside the grave of Percy. Mrs Sargent had given birth the previous week to twins. Chief Constable Mardlin was recovering from typhoid fever and apparently too ill to enter the cemetery for his son’s burial, remaining in a cab with his mother at the cemetery wall.
Into the 20th century
By 1901, George and Mary Jane were living alone, still in the High Street, with Jane and Eliza next door at the post-office. Fred’s reputation as a modernising Chief Constable was soaring and he was also renowned for his charitable work and concern for the welfare of his men. Alfred was also very highly regarded as an expert “thief taker” who worked at racetracks around the country during the “Peaky Blinders” era of organised crime and illicit gambling. George William had left the police at Loughborough and turned to farming at Priory Farm Turvey, and was now married with a son, Frederick George, who was himself to become a senior detective in Hampshire. Annie had married William Joiner, a Northampton policeman and later Deputy Chief Constable under her brother Fred.
Maria, “Maude”, was boarding at Bedford and working as a cashier. She married Frank Valentine in 1904. Gertrude had married a Rushden Licenced Victualler, (son of a Northamptonshire County Constabulary Sergeant) Albert Page in 1897 and had a son.
In 1906 George & Mary Jane celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary at home in Turvey, surrounded by family and local well wishers and the Church bells ringing out peals throughout the day. Fred proposed the toast and presented his parents with a large Georgian silver tea pot containing 50 gold coins. This gift from all their children was inscribed “Presented to George and Mary J Mardlin on the occasion of their Golden Wedding, January 24th 1906. Through cloud and sunshine in love unchanging. 1856-1906.” All ten of their children had survived thus far.
By 1911, George and Mary Jane lived with postmistress Jane and telegraph clerk Eliza. Alfred was newly divorced and a police pensioner and was staying with them at the time of the Census and, now married mother of three, Emily, was also visiting.
Mary Jane died in 1912 with the funeral taking place on 6th June, and George on 31/3/1918 after a long illness left him confined to bed. His death notice in the Northampton Mercury of 5/4/1918 included the words: “To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die.” His well attended funeral took place on 3 /4/1918. It was said that he had been a leading spirit in the life of the village.
Eliza died in 1918 after a long illness and an operation. She was buried at Turvey on 25/9/1918. Alfred, who had re-married and had worked as Head of Security at Cammell Laird during and after the Great War, when it employed 6,000 workers making projectiles, died in 1929. Fred had been awarded the King’s Police Medal, largely for his preparation before, and work during the Great War and retired from his Chief Constable position after an incredible 36 years in 1923. He died in 1931; his wife predeceased him as did a married daughter.
Jane who had latterly lived at Barton Cottages, Turvey, died just weeks after Fred in 1931. By 1939, George William had left Priory Farm and retired to Great Barford. All the other Mardlin children had already left the area and passed away over the following 30 years.
Descendants of the Mardlins are spread far and wide but, so far as is known, only those in the Cemetery remain in Turvey now.
Corrections to this article, additional information, and photographs are welcomed. (Many other stories have already been researched, particularly about the careers of the policemen mentioned.)
Apart from genealogy websites, most information for this article has been sourced from the British Newspaper Archives (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). Bedfordshire Mercury – Monday 26 December 1859. I acknowledge too the book of the late Richard Cowley, Policing Northamptonshire 1836 – 2013, which led to my interest in the Mardlins.
 Bedfordshire Mercury – Monday 26 December 1859 (copyright The British Library Board. All rights reserved)
 ‘Sessions’ refers to a Court, the Petty Sessions, equivalent to the present day Magistrates’ Court. On this occasion, Leigh Churchman, the defendant, was accused of poaching at Turvey. The case was proven and he and others were each fined five shillings and costs of five shillings and a penny halfpenny.