top of page

Sergeant Matthew Lightfoot 1854 - 1914

Like Sergeant John Harrison before him, Matthew Lightfoot was a long-serving member of the Stamford constabulary. Whereas John seems to have been embroiled in violent assaults to the end of his career, Matthew moved into the more sedate role of Town-hall keeper. 

Scotgate 1860

Scotgate about 1860. Note the windmill in the background.  (1)

The youngest of four siblings, Matthew is born in Nassington in 1854 to Matthew senior, an agricultural labourer, and Jane (née Worrow). 

We first find Matthew in Stamford in the 1871 census. He is lodging at 20 Scotgate, next door to the White Swan pub (later the Punch Bowl) with Edward Coulson, a joiner, Edward's family and a number of young boarders. Matthew works first as a groom, then as a painter.

In June 1876 he marries Sarah-Jane Pick of Witham-on-the-Hill, a month before the arrival of their only child, Edith Helen.


Poachers, Drunks and a Custard Pudding


With the responsibility of a family, Matthew is keen to find more reliable employment and in March 1881 successfully applies for the position of constable with the Stamford police force:

'A meeting of the Watch and General Purposes Committee was held at the Town-hall on Saturday last, at which were present Aldermen Michelson and Morgan and Councillors Dickinson, Bitts, Orford, and Riley. There were 23 applications for the vacant office of police constable, and after consideration it was resolved that the following four candidates be invited to attend adjourned meeting on Wednesday, viz , Thos Burrell, of Stamford, railway porter, aged 29; Wm Bolton, Boston, soldier, 23; Wm Jackson, Thornhaugh, 21; Matt Lightfoot, Stamford, painter, 27 … The four candidates for the office of police constable attended the meeting on Wednesday, when Matthew Lightfoot was elected.' Stamford Mercury 4 March 1881 (2)

When the 1881 census is recorded a month later Matthew is already in office and the family is living at 8 Foundry Road. 


Three years later we read about a case involving joint themes that seem to dominate 

Matthew's police career - outwitting poachers and dealing with abusive drunks. In March 1884 drunk and disorderly 'well-known poacher', James Makin, threatens PC Lightfoot when found concealing empty sacks under his coat in Wellington Lane: '"Why do you watch me?" defendant said to Lightfoot, and on the officer telling him it was his duty to do so, defendant remarked, "Well, it shall not be for much longer, for I will blow out your brains."'(2)

The following month Matthew is praised by the Mercury in a piece entitled 'Clever Captures by the Police. 'On the 9th inst ....PC Lightfoot, of the Stamford Borough Police, visited the Police-station at Grantham, and reported that a robbery of twenty-one fowls had taken place at Stamford that morning: that two men were in custody, and a third, named Charles Hibbins - who had left Stamford on the 8.30 am train for Grantham, with a fish barrel, supposed to contain the fowls — was wanted. Sergt Gray (who knew Hibbins) and PC Lightfoot at once started in search, and in ten minutes the man wanted was observed by Gray crossing the Market-place, in the direction of the Dysart Coffee Tavern, into which he went, followed by the two officers. When they arrived upon the scene, he was just ordering a pennyworth of soup. Not wishing to deprive him of this luxury, he was allowed to finish his meal, and then interrogated as to what he had done with the fish tub he had that morning brought from Stamford? Defendant replied, " Oh, it's up at Bob Fowler's, the Shepherd and Dog." On proceeding there, the old fish barrel, covered over with a piece of sacking, and containing twenty-one fowls, was found in an outhouse. Hibbins, when charged with the offence, admitted having brought the tub from Stamford, but denied all knowledge of its contents, and said it was given him by a man named Rouse to bring to Grantham. He was taken away, and has since confessed that he and a man named Lenton ... committed the robbery.'(2)

That May Matthew's father dies in Nassington at the age of 69 and at some point over the next few years his widowed mother Jane comes to Stamford to live with Matthew and Sarah. 

Stamford Station

In August 1884 Matthew catches the train to Bourne in hot pursuit of a burglar who had broken into Mrs Moore's shop on the corner of St Leonard's Street and Wharf Road, stealing money from her cash box and helping himself to some of her custard pudding:

'Information of the burglary was given to the Stamford police, and PC Lightfoot with commendable tact and celerity traced the man to Bourn [sic], examining on the way everything likely to afford an easy hiding-place. Lightfoot on reaching Bourn found that Mr Brown, the superintendent of police at Bourn, had been informed of other burglaries, and that he had just arrested the man who was believed to have committed them. This turned out to be the fellow followed from Stamford. Oddly enough the Bourn superintendent was taking a Sunday morning stroll with a friend, when he happened to see the gentleman whose society was in request crawl from under a hedge a few yards in front of him. He was detained at Bourn, and thence taken to Peterborough. When searched there were found on him a lot of farthings, a sovereign, a half-sovereign, &c, besides a gimlet and some wire which had evidently been used to open windows with.' Stamford Mercury 21 August 1884 (2)

The coming of the railway was a double-edged sword for the Stamford police - it made the pursuit of criminals easier, but also gave wrongdoers a quick means of escape from the town. 

Matthew's determination pays off in the form of a bonus, as the Mercury reports on 17 October 1884: 'The Stamford Watch Committee on Monday resolved that 20s be paid to constable Lightfoot in respect of diligence in the execution of his duty. It was this officer, it will be remembered, who so promptly tracked the burglar that broke into Mrs Moore's premises in St Leonard's street.' (2)

The following December Matthew is promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Meanwhile, he has given evidence in the bizarre case of Cade - v - Ward in which Charles Cade, a Stamford confectioner and 'well-known opponent of vaccination' claims Superintendent Richard Ward acted illegally in first seizing his harmonium and then auctioning it without proper advertisement. The police take this action after Cade refuses to pay the fine for non-vaccination of one of his children. 

Matthew assists Sergt Palmer in removing the harmonium from the Cade home. 'In carrying out the execution I entered the living room and with the plaintiff's consent seized the harmonium. Mrs Cade said, "If I knew you were coming for it I would have had it dusted." Every care was taken of the harmonium while it was in our custody.'(2)

The Town Crier announces the auction, for which more than 500 people gather on the Market hill. The auction is a flop, with the harmonium being sold off to another member of the police force for peanuts. The auctioneer, Mr Atton, gives evidence: 'Mr Cade favoured us with a lecture condemning the Vaccination laws. He harangued the people, and intimidated me...Mr Cade instead of helping me was reading the law behind my back. (Laughter!). They said I dare not sell the harmonium but I would not be a coward, and sold it. The persons were hustling and yelling for Mr Cade. It was quite a pantomime.' (2)


After much deliberation as to whether the police acted properly, the Judge finds in the Superintendent's favour but decides costs should not be awarded against Cade. Mr Cade protests the outcome:'They might as well have come into my larder and helped themselves to my food.— The Judge : Well, if a man went to you to ask for food you might say, "If l had known you were coming I would have had the plate dusted." (Laughter.)' Stamford Mercury 30 January 1885 (2)

Late Victorian policeman's coat pattern

The late 1880s brings more 'drunk and disorderly' cases for Matthew to deal with, including an assault by one Julia Vunstan, who hits him in the face when he tries to handcuff her son, and the need to carry another woman away by stretcher when she falls over singing drunken, bawdy songs near her home in St George's Square. There is also a high-profile incident in September 1887 involving members of the Salvation Army which draws a 2,000 strong crowd and blocks the Sheepmarket. Whilst the Salvation Army officers continue praying, singing and preaching, Matthew and his colleagues are trying to stop townspeople from throwing rotten fruit and gravel at them. 


But change is afoot for the Stamford Police as the Chief Constable is implementing reorganisation: 


'Radical changes are taking place with respect to the Stamford police force, which is already looked upon as an institution of the past. Superintendent Lawson has left Stamford, and entered upon his new duties in a similar capacity at Peterborough; Sergt Lightfoot, by order of the borough authorities, has taken over the command of the Stamford police force on Monday last as Acting-Superintendent, which position he will retain until the care of the borough is taken over by the county police. PC Charlesworth has been sworn in a member of the Rutland Force; and PC Wood will take up an appointment near Bourn. The Chief-Constable of Lincolnshire last week visited Stamford for the purpose of making enquiries respecting the police force, so as to arrive at a determination as to the arrangements to be carried out after the Ist April. Captain Bicknell will, it is stated, take the opportunity of further conference with the authorities on the subject.' Stamford Mercury 16 March 1889 (2)

By April the following year Matthew has reverted to the rank of Sergeant and he and Sarah have taken on responsibility for the Town Hall. 

'Stamford Town Council.— A meeting of the General Purposes Committee was held on the 10th. It was intimated that it was not unlikely that PS Lightfoot, who with his wife has charge of the Town-hall, might for his own advancement soon be removed to another part of the county; and it was decided in future to combine the office of hall-keeper, inspector under the Petroleum Acts, keeper of the recreation-ground, surveyor of the corporation gardens, inspector of the shambles, and Mayor's messenger. The committee resolved to recommend the council to allow the hall-keeper and his wife 25s a week, together with lodgings, coal, gas, and a suit of clothes for himself.' Stamford Mercury 18 April 1890 (2).

But Matthew's anticipated promotion never materialises, and at the young age of 37 and the height of his career, we find Matthew moving into the civilian role of Town Hall keeper - the kind of position more normally occupied by someone approaching retirement. 

Known as 'Matty' by the Corporation staff, his new role is diverse, covering everything from carrying the mace during official ceremonies to 'wielding the birch for recalcitrant boys.' His salary of £65 a year is supplemented in December 1891 by a £10 allowance for taking on the additional responsibility of school attendance officer for the borough. Matthew, Sarah, 15

Stamford Town Hall
Stamford Town Hall

Mace-Bearer and Birch-wielder

year-old apprentice milliner daughter Edith, and Matthew's mother, Jane, all move into accommodation attached to the Town Hall.

We first learn of Matthew's Waterfurlong tenancy in September 1896 when he discovers a George III guinea whilst digging in his garden.

Lord Street, Liverpool, 1900
Liverpool's Lord Street circa 1900
Princess Henry of Battenberg's visit (1)

Matthew and Sarah remain quietly at the Town Hall for the next 24 years, seemingly having little involvement in the town's social life or its many and various committees, clubs and societies. Some time before the 1901 census their daughter Edith leaves home, not to marry or to take up a job opportunity in a nearby town but to join the staff of faraway Liverpool emporium, Frisby, Dykes & Co.

Frisby Dykes is a large department store on Lord Street and Edith is employed as a sales assistant, living on site along with some twenty other employees. It seems likely she meets her future husband Robert Ross whilst working there. Edith's family do not have any obvious Liverpudlian connections and it is an extremely unusual move for a young woman in the Victorian era. Might the clue both to Matthew's job change and Edith's departure lie in Sarah's health, for in 1892, 1893 and again in 1905 we find a Sarah Lightfoot admitted for spells to the Lincoln Lunatic Asylum? Further research is needed to establish whether this is Matthew's wife.

In January 1907 Princess Henry of Battenberg visits Burghley House, and a reception in her honour is held at the Town Hall. Matthew is responsible for ensuring everything is ship-shape and also plays an important ceremonial role - he is seen here on the steps bearing the mace. 



Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, later Princess Henry of Battenberg, was the youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. At the time of her visit she was 54 and had been widowed for 15 years after her husband contracted malaria in Africa. Princess Henry spent the rest of her life in Osborne Cottage on the Isle of Wight. 

The year after Princess Henry's visit one of Matthew's Waterfurlong plum trees is stripped bare by thieving children. Meanwhile, Edith's marriage to brewery clerk, Robert, has brought Matthew and Sarah three grand-daughters, Roma, Zena, and Olga. Edith and Robert live in Chester but may well bring their little girls to Matthew's garden on visits home. 

In May 1910 we again find Matthew in his

role of mace-bearer when the mayor, Lord

Exeter, reads the proclamation of the

accession of King George V on the Town Hall


On 25 July 1912 Matthew in involved 

in the social event of the year - an

elaborate pageant recreating Queen

Elizabeth's 1565 visit to Stamford. The

script is written by Thomas Sandall, another

of our Waterfurlong gardeners, and many of

the participants appear on horseback. Matthew

can be seen next to the Mayor, Joseph

Corby, playing Stamford's sixteenth century

mace-bearer. He is described by the Mercury

as 'a fine figure of a man.'(3)The event is

a huge success, raising generous funds for

Stamford & Rutland Infirmary. 

Matthew dies eighteen months later in January

1914 at the age of 59 and presumably the

home that comes with his job is lost to Sarah.

At some point she goes to live with daughter

Edith in Cheshire, where she dies in 1933. 

Mathew Lightfoot


(1) Kind courtesy of the Lincolnshire Museums Service.

(2) The British Newspaper Archive © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. All Rights Reserved.

(3) The Phillips Archive, Stamford Town Hall. 

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018

bottom of page