Falkirk’s thin blue line in Victorian times

Lang Pate Crawford, a terror to 'evil doers' in Victorian times
Lang Pate Crawford, a terror to 'evil doers' in Victorian times

Last week’s Herald included a very interesting article by my friend John Nimmo about his grandfather the ‘policeman poet’ Alexander Stewart.

He was clearly quite a character but I was reminded of an even more famous Falkirk law man who pounded the local beat a century before Sergeant Stewart.

He was Peter Crawford, known to all as ‘Lang Pate’, who is often mistakenly described as ‘Falkirk’s first policeman’.

Peter was born in Muiravonside in 1805 and spent his early years as a farm worker in various places, but when the railway arrived in the Slamannan area in the 1830s we find him acting as a ‘policeman’ for the railway company.

Presumably he was responsible for protecting the company’s assets, but at the same time he was learning the arts of enforcement and detection for which he became famous in later years.

By 1841 he was in Avonbridge where he is still described as a policeman, though he did not join the official Stirling County force until the following year when he was appointed “rural policeman for Falkirk”.

It was the start of 25 years of successful service in the town and surrounding area during which he gained the reputation as “a terror to those evil doers who come within reach of his truncheon”, as well as a strong protector of “those who do well”.

At the time of Peter’s appointment Falkirk had two officers in post – one of whom, William Rew, acted as Crawford’s superior until his death in 1850.

As well as Falkirk there were constables resident in Larbert, Polmont, Slamannan, Grangemouth and Airth under the supervision of a Chief Criminal Officer called William Shaw who was also based in the town.

Peter’s area included Laurieston, Camelon, Bainsford and Bonnybridge, but it is clear from the record that he was operating in other parts of the district or lending his assistance to his colleagues.

This was clearly too much for one man and the Herald published editorials demanding that he be given some help.

One article read: “We cannot ask our friend Peter to perambulate the streets during the whole night . . . or sacrifice himself for the good of a public who has denied him any assistance.”

At this time the police station and the Sheriff Court were located in Bank Street in the building that now houses the Roxy Café, and the ‘evil doers’ apprehended by Peter found themselves locked up in one of the two jail cells in the steeple.

Sometime around 1858 additional officers were appointed and, as the picture shows, Lang Pate was promoted to Sergeant –no doubt to the delight of his many admirers in the town.

The regularity of generous presentations he received speak volumes for the impact he had for more than two decades and the folklore of Falkirk includes many examples of his fine detective skills.

Most famously we are told that when a sheep was stolen in Stenhousemuir he went to the school and asked the children what they had on their dinner ‘pieces’.

The boy who replied ‘mutton’ went on to confess that ‘the skin’s lying below the bed’.