There was a time when it was possible to spot a policeman strolling along the High Street keeping a watchful eye on the bairns as they went about their daily business.
In Victorian Falkirk the man pounding the beat was the burgh’s most famous lawman, 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 obviously too much for one man and the Falkirk Herald demanded that he be given some help: “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 Bath Hub.
The ‘‘evil doers’’ apprehended by Peter found themselves locked up in one of the two cells in the steeple.
Sometime around 1858 additional officers were appointed and 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 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’’. “Cheese” was the standard reply except for the boy who answered “mutton” and went on to confess that “the skin’s lying below the bed”.
When Peter died in 1867 his coffin was carried shoulder high from his house in the Cow Wynd to the parish church through crowds of bystanders and, as the bells tolled and shops closed, he was laid to rest. After his death Lang Pate’s reputation seemed to grow and so did his height which was reported as over 6 foot 6 inches.
His police record says he was just six foot – big enough for the time and certainly big enough for the local badly behaved boys.