PC Joseph Labdon, Carpenter and Undertaker

We started last time with a burial, William John Labdon in Sticklepath.  Will’s father, Joseph as a FAN (friend, associate and/or neighbour) of #Sticklepath #One-Place Study,  warrants investigation in his own right. 


Joseph Labdon was born on 22 August 1842 in Bradninch, Devon, youngest son of William, aged 47 and his wife Jane (born Stoyal) age 37.  He married Susan Ireland in Wellington, Somerset on 1 May 1866 and they had 11 children together. At least 3 died during childhood. He became a Police Constable in Bratton Clovelly, Chillaton and then in South Zeal. 18 months after Susan died he married Elizabeth Knapman on 25 July 1889. In his later years he was a carpenter and undertaker in South Tawton. Joseph died in March 1915 at the age of 72. 

I use Ancestry to create the family tree for each resident and managed to make contact with several members of the #Labdon Family through the website.  I was delighted when they generously shared their research and some photos and scans. Many thanks especially to Patrick Mitchell for information about Susan Labdon’s death and all the images in this post, which he has kindly allowed me to use.  Thanks too to the British Newspaper Archive where I accessed the newspaper items (July 2021). 

PC Labdon. Photo supplied by Patrick Mitchell

Joseph’s early life and career

In 1851, aged 8, Joseph is living at Higher Trinity, Bradninch, with his mother Jane, father William, a carpenter, and 3 older siblings. 

By the age of 18 he and his brother were journeyman carpenters living with their parents. Mother is dress-making and father now calls himself a Master carpenter. (Journeyman suggests they had completed an apprenticeship or training within the family and are now gaining experience. Literally day worker, from the French ‘jour’). William’s grand-daughter, likely Joseph’s niece, Sophia aged 8, is staying with them.  

We don’t know how Joseph, aged 23, met Susan. He was still living in Bradninch and working as a carpenter at the time they married.  One of the witnesses was a Sophia Labdon, who may have been his niece at age 13 it is more likely his older sister of the same name. The family moved around Devon quite a bit.  How did they come to move to our villages? 

Between 1866 and 1871 Joseph trained as a police constable, and by 1871 he was appointed Constable in Bratton Clovelly.  He probably trained in Exeter but their first two children: Mary Sophia aged 3 and William John aged 2 were born in Cullompton.  This suggests the family may have been living there at the time. There were certainly Labdon relatives in Cullompton who may have employed him. The youngest child on the 1871 census, aged 8 months, was born in Bradninch. Could they have been staying with his parents at the time? 

By 1881 the family are living in Chillaton, Milton Abbot Parish, perhaps in a police house, with several more children.

Daughter Elizabeth Jane died in 1881, this death was registered in Okehampton, so they may have already been in South Zeal.  Son William John, subject of the last blog post, died in March 1882, when we know the family were living in South Zeal. 

The migration path has been mapped by an @FACHRS project. (Scroll down to bottom of link page.) Many thanks to researcher Martin Allen. Amazing what you can find online!

The Devon Constabulary

For many years, up until the mid-19th century, in rural areas Parish constables were appointed usually as volunteers.   The County Police Acts of 1839 and 1840 initiated change and in 1856 Devon Constabulary was finally formed.  Initial recruits were largely Devon men who had joined the Bristol City Police but now jumped at the chance to return to their home county.   

In February 1857. the Constabulary consisted of 108 Constables, 12 Sergeants, 2 Inspectors and 4 Super-intendants all under the watchful eye of Gerald de Courcy Hamilton. Classroom tuition for new recruits was provided at Exeter Ragged School, with practical swordsmanship skills taught at Exeter Castle.  Uniforms by Messrs Hibberd & Son, army contractors in London.  The Constabulary gradually absorbed the boroughs and areas of Devon, including Okehampton in 1860 and Bradninch in 1866.  Joseph Labdon must have completed training at some point between 1866 and 1871.  

In 1871 constables wore a low brimmed hat with chin strap and long frock coats. They often carried their essentials in haversacks whilst they walked their long beats. A truncheon (not a sword) hung from their belt.  From about 1879 the new ‘Pickelhaub’ helmets were used, but by 1903 these were deemed too similar to the Prussian military helmet, and the Boar War bush hat (‘slouch hat’) was brought into use. (See photos)

The old Parish Constables came from within the community but the new Devon Constabulary moved their Constables frequently to avoid too much fraternisation. This largely explains his moves.  They were paid and often a specific ‘Police House’ was provided.  In Sticklepath there was a Police House near the Bridge until Pixie Nook, on the way towards Okehampton was specially built.

PC Joseph Labdon – the Policeman

Policemen were required to attend court, and petty sessions were often reported in the newspaper.  For example, several times PC Labdon arrested John Martin, landlord of the Devonshire Inn, Sticklepath for drunkenness and disorderly behaviour.  In 1882 John Martin and William Mugridge, a farmer, were summoned for assaulting P.C.Labdon whilst in the execution of his duty, a quarrel arising when they were drinking after hours (Express and Echo 2 Nov 1882). 

John Martin didn’t change his ways, he was summoned for being drunk on the highway in Sticklepath in April 1883 by PC Labdon. We find him in court yet again in August 1883:  at Crockernwell Petty Sessions PC Labdon summoned John Martin, landlord of the Devonshire Inn Sticklepath for being drunk on licensed premises at South Zeal – he was fined £1 and costs. In the same session PC Labdon confirmed the state of a sheep which had been ill-treated by a farmer’s son of South Tawton. On another occasion he was the first policeman to a suicide. It was not an easy job.

Torquay Times, and South Devon Advertiser – Friday 06 October 1882 SAVAGE ASSAULT ON THE POLICE

 “Jas. Glanville, a mason, of South Zeal, was brought up in custody charged on a warrant with assaulting Constable Joseph Labdon, whilst in the execution of his duty at South Zeal. Whilst the constable was on duty he heard a disturbance, and some one remarked, “Here comes the — let him have it.” The prisoner was very violent, tearing the constables uniform and scratching his face. He was remanded in custody till Saturday.”

He was also involved in the crime scene investigation when Ellen Gillard was assaulted in 1884. 

Later Career and personal life

Joseph stopped being a policeman at some point during the mid-1880s. No evidence has been found to suggest he qualified for a pension or that there was any specific incident leading to his change of career.  His father William died in 1881. As the youngest son perhaps Joseph inherited some tools and well seasoned wood from his father. (I have not found any evidence of a will.). We have seen Joseph was assaulted at work twice during 1882, I wonder if this combined with the family deaths noted above and, perhaps most importantly, his wife’s illness, led him to make a change in his career. Susan died of long standing heart disease and dropsy for 4 months. Joseph described himself as a retired police constable when he register her death in December 1887.

We can follow Joseph in the census, and the newspaper gives us some information about both his business and personal matters. In 1891 the family are living in South Tawton, at Shelly House. Joseph describes himself as a carpenter and builder. Son Samuel, also a carpenter, is living with them, aged 20.  Joseph is on the local villages Cottager’s Show committee that year, and we can see that he wins prizes for his parsnips, cucumbers and other vegetables in different years.  We can also find him attending political meetings, for example for the conservatives in South Zeal 1895 (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette July 9th). 

Letterhead Scan provided by Patrick Mitchell

In 1898 Okehampton District Council accepted the tender by J. Labdon (South Tawton) to supply posts for staking stone depots. (Western Times May 2nd).  By 1901 Joseph, carpenter, and his wife Elizabeth live alone in a cottage in South Tawton village. Richard Knapman, blacksmith is their immediate neighbour.  (The relationship if any to Elizabeth nee Knapman is unknown.) The addresses are not given, but they are on the same page as the houses by Sticklepath Bridge so may have been close to Sticklepath, part of which was in South Tawton Parish.  The neighbours may not have been on the best of terms.

East & South Devon Advertiser on Saturday 06 June 1896 reported the Crockernwell Petty Sessions:

” Richard Knapman, blacksmith, of Southtawton, was fined 20s. and costs for assaulting Joseph Labdon of the same place. On the Ist May the parties had an altercation on parish matters and politics, and the blacksmith “swinging his arm round,” the complainant’s teeth were knocked out.”

The Western Times reports 25 June 1901 that

“Messrs. Burd, Pearse and Mr Prickman, solicitors, Okehampton, made an application on behalf of Mr. Labdon, the undertaker, for the payment of a sum of £1 4s, being the cost incurred in the burial of a pauper. It was alleged that the relieving officer had given Mr. Labdon instructions to make coffins without waiting for official orders.”

This was not held against him as the Western Times 17 March 1905 tells us that Okehampton Board of Guardians accepted a tender for coffins from J. Labdon for South Tawton. 

Joseph Labdon in South Tawton. Photo supplied by Patrick Mitchell

In 1911, at aged 68, Joseph described himself as a carpenter and undertaker. Several funeral reports from the early 1900s name him as the undertaker. In 1911, he and Elizabeth  had been married 23 years and had a live in servant and general labourer, Ernest Gillard aged 14.  Joseph died in 1915. 

Joseph Labdon (with stick) at his daughter Millicant Rhoda’s wedding to Richard Dimond Mitchell 1909. Photo supplied by Patrick Mitchell.

Link to son

Please let me know if you can add any further information for this family or any others with links to Sticklepath. Investigating a number of different families I may get some information wrong, please do let me know.

All comments welcome! shields_h_f@hotmail.com Thank you.

COMMENT FROM Patrick Mitchell: I think Susan Ireland met Joseph Labdon as a result of her brother Thomas being stationed at Bradninch in the 1860s. He was a railway policeman on the Bristol and Exeter Railway, who later moved to Bedminster near Bristol as a signalman.

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