Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Victorian Emergency Services Series - Dalton-in-Furness

Today we take Emergency Services like hospitals, the police and the fire brigade for granted. They are engrained in our modern world, if we need them they are there and we can always rely on them. Back in the Victorian Era though things were very different. In this post we continue our series on Victorian Emergency Services by looking at Dalton-in-Furness.

Police Station and Court House

Dalton has had its fair share of law enforcement sites, the earliest being that of Dalton Castle which was used as a dungeon and court house in the middle ages, but at the start of the 1800's there was only a small lock up to detain those unwilling to follow the law. This lock up sat in the grounds of a work house on Goose Green and was 7 feet long and 6 feet wide. The lock up was originally constructed in 1828 to restrain and detain drunk and rowdy farmers and reapers who came to the town on Sundays. From 1841 law enforcement in the town was maintained by one man, P.C. William Robinson, who's office and residence may well have been on Goose Green near to the lock up.

Sometime later the towns police station was situated in a building on the corner of Nelson Street and Chapel Street. This building is now a private home and not much really shows that it used to be a police station. It was then, in 1897, that a brand new, custom built police station and court house was opened on Market Street. This new station was an imposing and impressive building sat right on the road side for everyone to see. Inside the new building was not only the police station but a court room, housing for the constables as well as the inspector's house! The inspector's house, located on the far right of the building, was a three story town house but it was a little different to most town houses. For one it was connected directly to the main station with a door from the hall way leading through another hall to the court room and a door way in the kitchen that led directly to the cells! This may seem odd but if something happened in the cells, say a fight amongst prisoners; the inspector would need quick access to the cells and station to help sort it out. Being a Victorian Police Inspector was a 24 hour job it would seem. Also we have heard tales that the inspector's wife would take food to the prisoners so it would make sense that their kitchen had access to the cells.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of the Inspector's house is that beneath it's ground floor lies an underground mortuary for the examination and dissection of bodies found in Dalton streets. As you can see, to the right, taking center stage inside the room was a morgue table with a marble top. Marble would be used to keep the cadavers cool and to some extent 'fresh'. Along one edge of the room is a sunken gully leading to a drain in the corner, this was for any blood spilled during an autopsy to be drained away. Quite why the morgue had to be situated beneath the Inspectors personal house is unclear. Maybe it was so the small window letting light and air into the basement room would face into an ally way instead of into a well used street? This would prevent anyone from being able to peer into the morgue while an autopsy was undertaken, but this is merely speculation. Unfortunately the Morgue Table has now been removed, which is a shame as there aren't many intact Victorian Morgues left in this area.

The Police Station itself is a much large building compared to the Inspectors house. On the left of the building is a door that would have led into the Police Offices with a general officers room to your left and the inspector's office to your right, both separated by interior walls. Behind the inspector's office was a door way leading to the cells. Past this door you would have to pass through a large iron barred gate where you would then find three small cells at 13'.0" x 7'.6" each. These cells were, and still are, covered in red and white tiles and each would have had a bed across one wall with a small toilet in the far left corner of the cell. Although each cell has ample room for one person these cells could have been filled with up to 20+ prisoners, the cells weren't made for comfort! Behind the cells there was an area simply called 'Cell Area' on the plans, this area we believe was the exercise yard for the prisoners. It would have been an inside area with a glass roof allowing light in, one imagines this was to prevent any prisoners trying to escape by climbing over uncovered walls.

Next to the Police Offices was the Court room, walls covered with lovely oak paneling this room was used to put on trial the wrong doers of Dalton. Just outside the Court room was a staircase that lead to some more paneled rooms above, here magistrates would decide the innocents or guilt of those held on trial. There is a wonderful tiled Victorian bathroom that adjoins these paneled rooms of which you can see a picture of later in this post.

This building is a stunning example of Victorian architecture, built to be imposing, sending a message to the towns people that the police are there and they will protect you. It also is a truly multi purpose building holding the police officers, the court room, cells, exercise yard,  inspector's house, morgue, magistrate's rooms as well as constable's lodgings. The whole station was done up as a cafe and house a couple of years ago but is now unfortunately closed to the public. Hopefully in the future the cafe will be reopened so everyone can see inside this wonderful building. Until then though you can always admire the old County Police Station from the road side and imagine what lies inside. Also if you look behind the station there are two houses made in the same materials, these were sergeants dwellings built with the station.

Fire Station and Ambulance

Standing on Station Road is Dalton's well known Town Hall but this building wasn't always just the Town Hall. In the later part of the Victorian period this building also housed the local Fire Station. The building was built in 1885 and the council chamber was situated beneath the clock tower with the Fire Station standing next to this. On the far right of the building you can see a large open door way, this is where the fire engine would be held ready for action. Originally horses would have drawn the town's engine and these horses were stabled behind the building where a large yard was situated. Although the fire station was here from 1885 the fire brigade was established several years earlier in 1874. This was the first official fire brigade in the town, although a 'fire fighting appliance' does appear to have been in the town from an earlier time. As well as a fire engine being housed at the Town Hall building an Ambulance was also kept here. Where this ambulance would take injured or ill people is un-clear. There doesn't seem to be evidence of a hospital in the town so maybe patients were taken to Barrow to the North Lonsdale Hospital? Or maybe taken straight to the local Doctor's surgery? If we ever find out we will be sure to let you know.

The remains of Dalton's Victorian Emergency Services are clear to see in this modern time with large buildings still standing. Although some of the very early emergency services buildings now lost to time it is a wonderful thing that the major buildings used in the late 1800s are still standing and used today. To lose these buildings would be a tragedy and would be a loss to our vivid heritage. Let us hope that they will still be here for many years to come!

Come back on the 4th March for the next Furness Hidden Heritage blog post about some features located around Furness Abbey, following on from our earlier post about the Amphitheatre.



Two of the Cells inside the old Police Station while being converted to toilets.
An original Victorian bathroom on the first
floor of the Police Station.

A section of original Victorian Wallpaper from
inside the police station

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