Cathedral constables have a long history and can trace their lineage back to the 13th Century. They have played an important, if little known, contribution in the development of policing in the United Kingdom. Before the onset of professional policing, something often overlooked, is the close relationship, which once existed between the church and the imposition of law and order. Parish constables, sometimes referred to as petty constables, were supervised not only by justices of the peace, but also by churchwardens. Like parish constables, church wardens were locally appointed and oversaw the upkeep of the church fabric and property.
In the Middle Ages, the parish was the smallest unit of local government in the country. Every parish was centred on the Church of England church and, after the Reformation, was responsible for administering civil and religious government at a local level.
Many parishes developed a Vestry - a small body of village officials, answerable only to the bishop and the local justices, and responsible for the ecclesiastical and secular well being of the parish they served. Similarly, many cathedrals employed parish constables to keep watch and maintain law and order, both within and around the cathedral and its precincts. These officers were answerable to the Dean and Chapter.
Currently, Canterbury Cathedral, York Minster, Hereford Cathedral and Liverpool Cathedral still employ constables; and in December 2011 Chester Cathedral appointed its first head constable, raising the number of cathedrals which employ constables to five. A small number of officers are attested as constables although most remain unattested.
In order to preserve their history and tradition, the Liverpool Cathedral Constables formed the Cathedral Constables' Association; their motto 'In Deo Speramus,' simply means, 'In God we trust.' The association has published a short book 'Cathedral Bobbies,' of the history, traditions and work of cathedral's constables through the ages.
- Law enforcement in the United Kingdom
- List of law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom
- Washington National Cathedral Police
- Pontifical Swiss Guard/Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City