HISTORIAN Arthur R. Nicholls examines anti-social behaviour in Kendal over the years.

We tend to look upon anti-social behaviour as a modern phenomenon, but nothing could be further from the truth here in Kendal.

As far back as at least 1577 the streets were hazardous with crime while disorder was a daily occurrence, especially at night.

The corporation had to deal with it and organised a nightly ‘watch’, consisting of six men, to patrol the three main streets - Highgate, Stricklandgate and Stramongate - from nine at night until four in the morning.

They were chosen because they were ‘tall, manly and well governed’.

Each man carried a halberd, a raven bill, an axe and an iron-bound staff or similar weapon. He wore a sallet or helmet to protect his head.

Their task was to look for, lay hands on and apprehend ‘disordered night walkers, malefactors and suspected persons to prevent and stay other inconvenience and all other dangers.’ They must have been a fearsome sight and a clear warning to potential troublemakers.

In addition to their main duty they would look out for fires in buildings, sound the alarm and help to extinguish them.

Like all occupations, that of the watch became arduous. Over time, it seems to have also become ineffective, and in 1643 The Borough Court had to face the problem and ordered that householders themselves had to keep watch from eight at night until five in the morning.

Even that provision failed and, in 1776, a Prosecution Association was formed by a number of public-spirited men to run down highwaymen and housebreakers who were causing much trouble in the town.

This, in turn, failed and degenerated into a mere social club whose only activity was to hold an annual dinner.

A form of watch, however, continued, the darker nights being the more dangerous for them.

In 1811 an attempt was made to set up a nightly ‘patrole’ under the management of the Kendal Fell Trustees, one of whose duties was to light the town.

However, this failed to elicit public support and, in 1816, 150 respectable inhabitants were appointed to guard the property in the town from eleven o’clock at night until daybreak, and these patrols served until the formation of the police force.

Gambling of any kind was frowned upon, and as far back as 1577 an order was issued that gambling was forbidden and punishable in public houses or elsewhere with cards, dice or table bowls for money, ale ‘or any unlawful thing’. This did not stop gambling; two boys were placed in the stocks for gambling on Sunday.

Drunkenness has been a curse in Kendal for centuries. In 1589 it was ordered by the corporation that anyone found incapable through drink could be placed in the stocks, fined or incarcerated in the town dungeon.

The elections in the early 1800s were fired by drink, causing serious rioting in the streets. Drunken affrays were commonplace in and outside public houses at night, often accompanied by cheering onlookers.