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My Grandad Was a Felon: The Story of Skelton Association for the Prosecution of Felons

By Peter Appleton


18th century England. Riots over food prices. Vagrants thieving their way across the countryside. Poaching and petty larceny the daily norm. Rich and poor alike caught up in civil unrest. In towns and villages across the land, the question being asked was: “How do we maintain law and order in our community?”

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18th century England. Riots over food prices. Vagrants thieving their way across the countryside. Poaching and petty larceny the daily norm. Rich and poor alike caught up in civil unrest. In towns and villages across the land, the question being asked was: “How do we maintain law and order in our community?”

In 1787, the inhabitants of Skelton-in-Cleveland formed an Association for the Prosecution of Felons. It was part law enforcement agency, part legal aid society and part insurance company. The history of village life is made by the landowners, clergymen, farmers, tradesmen, craftsmen and innkeepers. This is their story, and that of the Association which they formed.

There were many such Associations formed during the late-18th and early 19th centuries. Skelton’s survived the formation of the police force in 1856, evolving alongside the police constables as they took over much of its former activities. In the early 20th century it transformed itself into a gentlemen’s dining club, whilst post-World War 2, it became a social club within the East Cleveland communities. It eventually disbanded in the early 1970s.

Thanks to the survival of the Minute Books, it is possible, perhaps for the first time, to tell the full story of one of these Associations.

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