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George Rowntree

The Reminiscences of George Rowntree
1855 -1940

written during the winter of 1935-36

CHAPTER XI.

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF A J.P.'S DUTIES

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF A J.P.'s DUTIES

I attended the Court each Wednesday, the day on which the Mayor always presides. As a youth I regarded "the great unpaid" as a group of men with no special qualification for the office of J.P., except that of being well-to-do citizens, but that was before I had been asked to join their ranks. A letter from Sir Charles Legard came asking me whether I would allow my name to be submitted to the Lord Chancellor. He was submitting five names; the other four all being "blue."

Amongst the duties that came my way during one year was to visit, with others, about 50 or 60 licensed houses, with a view to reporting any that were in excess of the number required for the district.

"The Three Mariners" , was a typical house in Quay Street, where, in past days, a good share of smuggling had been carried on. The panelled walls of one room included a secret door which, when opened, led on to a staircase in the wall. This opened out on to the roof of the building, from which it would be fairly easy to escape. The room on the ground floor was more like a Ship Captain's private room. The brass fire irons and copper kettles were so brightly polished that the little inglenook made the house very attractive for a sailor to spend his evenings.

On the day we called to examine and report on the house, the landlady, Mrs. Appleby, met us a the front door with sleeves rolled up to the elbows; we quite believed her when she told us that as she was there, there would be no need to send for a bobby.

The morning her house was reported I shall never forget; the Court was full, and the magistrates' bench was full; we all sat in a row, I, as a junior, at the extreme end. The Chief Constable called out "The Three Mariners," and a hefty woman got up from her seat to come to the Witness Box; just before she turned to give her evidence, she took one step directly towards me and said under her breath, "You'll do the best you can for me, weanít you ?" , and then stepped into the Witness Box and took the oath. The result, that her licence was renewed, cannot have had anything to do with her few words to me ! Mrs. Appleby was a very good sort. One day a Methodist lay visitor was passing "The Three Mariners" , on the far side of the road, without any wish to be seen talking to the landlady at the entrance to her inn, but a prompt "Mr. Porrell," repeatedtwice, made him pull up. "Now, then, why don't you go and see Mrs. Evans ? She's one of your church folk." "Well, I can't get into her house; her husband. Ö ." "Look here, I've seen her, I've washed her, combed her hair and done what I could, but I can't just do what you can. Cant get into her house ? Why, the woman's not getting food enough, let alone other things; you come along!" With that, Mrs. Appleby took the lay visitor to the house door and knocked. "Mr. Evans, I've brought Mr. Porrell to see your wife upstairs. Now, it'll be all right. You mun let him come when he wants." With that they went upstairs and Mrs. Appleby came away, There was no further trouble.

The Mayor, as Chief Magistrate, is the first citizen of the borough, and in that capacity it is right that he should preside at the court though his qualifications may not necessarily be those of the most judicial man, and sometimes there have been instances of an amusing character. Without mentioning any names, I will give two.

On one occasion, when a man came to get exemption from vaccination for his child, the Mayor began, "Do you conscientiously believe that vaccination will be prejudicial to the health of the child ?" , but the Mayor only got as far as , , cons .. , and stuck fast, adding, after three attempts, "Botheration, I wish that there wasn't such a word!"

Another Mayor asks the Chief Constable what the prisonerís future record has been. The answer was not good, so the magistrates agreed that the man must pay 20 shillings or go to Hull Gaol for 14 days. The Mayor then said to the man, "You shall have 14 days to pay it in." "Thank you," said the man, and was off out of the Court before the Mayor realised what he had done.

For the Children's Court the magistrates appoint a committee from amongst themselves, consisting of the women magistrates and three men. Mr.C.C.Graham is the Chairman; the officers are Miss Stubbs and M r. Oliver who take a keen interest in their work. No children are now sent to prison, but are placed under the supervision of one of the officers for a shorter or longer period. The Officers report to the Committee, who deal with all the cases without the children ever being brought inside the court house.

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