Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: August 27, 2019
Webpage updated: November 30, 2019




 A section of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, which received the Royal Assent on September 9th 1835, required new Boroughs to set up a Police Force covering their area, under the control of a Watch Committee of Borough councillors.  Plymouth's Watch Committee held its first meeting at the Guildhall on January 16th 1836.

At first the Council just took over the unpaid householders who were already operating the Watch and Ward operation.  This meant that there were thirty-eight Constables, eight living in the Sutton ward and six in each of the other Wards.  One man in each election Ward was named the Ward Constable and their names and places of residence were published and lists affixed to public buildings around the Town.

What were known as 'daytime police' were to be paid a weekly amount.  An Inspector and six 'Street-Keepers', as they were named, were to be constantly on duty and allocated between the Wards.  Mr John Sweet was appointed as Inspector of Police and the six Street Keepers sworn-in on January 21st 1836 were Messrs Richard Beale; William Whipple; William Fuge; John Gill; John Rendle; and Richard Clade.  There was apparently a seventh Street-Keeper so presumably one man had a day off each week.  In addition there were four Captains, six Rounders, ten Patrol-men and fifty-four Watchmen of the night police.  All these were placed under a Superintendent of Police, the first of whom was Mr John Eastridge Adams.  His salary was 40 per annum.  Remuneration was vastly better than it had been.  The Inspector got paid 18s per week and the Street-Keepers 15s, although they had 1s a week deducted to pay for the uniforms.

The new Police Force commenced its duties on Saturday March 26th 1836, although the Watch Committee minute book refers only to the taking of the oath of allegiance on that day.

However, there was still some concern about the organization of the police and on September 2nd 1836 the Mayor of Plymouth, Mr Thomas Gill, had a meeting with a Mr Maine, from the Metropolitan Police in London.  He recommended that the Force should consist of one Inspector, three Serjeants (sic) and twenty-seven men.  As a result of the deliberations, when the Mayor issued his notice on September 8th 1836, inviting applicants to join the Borough Police it was for one Superintendent (25s per week or 65 per annum); three Inspectors (18s per week); and twenty-seven Constables at 15s per week.

This was quickly followed by the local press reporting that in future seven Constables and an Inspector would patrol the Town from 6am until 2pm when they would be relieved by a second group of the same composition.  The second group would patrol until 10pm when they would be relieved by the first group plus 'a reserved number of thirteen from the other divisions'.  No explanation was given as to the meaning of 'other divisions' but it appears that twenty Constables were on duty between 10pm and 6am along with two out of the three Inspectors.

 Interviews were held at the Guildhall on October 7th 1836 and the Watch Committee did not hesitate in making its choices.  Mr John Sweett was appointed Superintendent to replace Mr John Eastridge Adams, who had resigned on August 6th 1836 but stayed in office until the new man had been taken on.  Mr George Hale, Mr John Heydon Williams, and Mr Robert Huxham were appointed as Inspectors.  A Serjeant (sic) was to be borrowed from the Metropolitan Police to provide advice and training.

Uniforms, hats, great coats, leather belts, and capes were ordered but the Superintendent and Inspectors were expected to finance their own frock coats.  Whether Mr Williams could not afford his frock coat is not known but he resigned soon afterwards and was replaced by Mr William White.  At 9am on Monday October 31st 1836 the officers and men paraded at the Guildhall, in the presence of Serjeant (sic) Haining of the Met, took their oaths before the Mayor, and commenced duty.  This seems to have been the formal commencement of the Plymouth Borough Police Force.

 A Lieutenant Robert Holman, Royal Navy, was listed as the Superintendent of Plymouth Police in 1844 and 1847.

The Superintendent of Police in 1851 was 35-years-old Mr Joseph Gibbons.  He came from Bristol but as he married a lady from Cobham in Surrey and his three eldest children were born in London, he evidently served with the Metropolitan Police.  The family lived at 1 Portland Terrace, Plymouth.

In 1857 the Superintendent of Police in Plymouth was Mr E Codd.

On the morning of Saturday October 26th 1861 the Mayor, Mr W Luscombe, assisted by Mr William Burnell, held the annual swearing in of the parish constables.  The Force then consisted of eight officers and 49 men.  The Mayor complemented then men 'on their creditable appearance and on their general efficiency'.  Afterwards the town surveyor, the market inspectors, the Hoe constable, the Great Western Docks' policemen, the special constables, the relieving officers and other officials were also sworn in.

The following were sworn in as special constables: Henry Ivey; Thomas Jarvis; Thomas Jory; Richard Keen; Henry Keen; Danie Kingdon; Henry Kitt; Henry Lake; John Paddon Earland; John Elliott; William Hole Evans junior; William Farwell; William Floyd; Henry Fox; William Furneaux; John Gent; Henry Gordard; Henry Buckingham; Thomas Bunker; James Birch; William Butt; John Cambridge; John Mills Carkeet; John Choke; Samuel Clark; Francis Clark; Richard Clatworthy; William Coles; Emmanuel Coles; Mortimer John Collier; Phillip Herbert Guvvett; James Gullett; Robert Gullett; Edward Gully; John Gun; John William Guswell; Richard Hancock; George Hannaford; Henry Harris; James Hawker; Jeremiah Hellyer; Josiah Hellyer; John Henley; Francis Hicks; William Hill; Richard Pearse; Samue Pearse; Thomas Peters; Thomas Phillips; William Samuel Pike; Peter Pellaw; Thomas Plimsaul; Henry Ebenezer Prout; William Radmore; George Rendle; George Risdon; Richard Ross; William Rowe; John Rowe junior; William Henry Rowe; William Salmon; John Jeffery; James Brown; William Inch; William Jenkin; Thomas Fleming; James Rowe; George Coad; William Phillips junior; James Salisbury Kiddell; John Sandover; John Vivian Fooke; John Somers James; John Edevain; John Endle; George Haddy Saunders; and Thomas Pearse.

In 1867 the Inspector of Constabularies, Captain Edward Willis, reported that 'the Plymouth force consists of 79 persons, one to each 7 acres.'

Mr Frederick Wreford (1833-1892) was the Superintendent of Police in 1871.

Whistles were issued in Plymouth in 1880, prior to them becoming standard issue from September 1881, when neighbouring Devonport received theirs.

Approval was given on February 24th 1883 for the construction of a branch police station in Octagon Street, on the corner with Granby Street.

From 1887 until 1941, when the National Fire Service was formed, the Superintendent of Police was also responsible for the fire brigade.

By 1892 the Plymouth Central Police and Fire Station was connected to the telephone network operated by the Western Counties and South Wales Telephone Company.  Its number was Plymouth 32.  The Stonehouse Central Police Station was also on the Plymouth network, having number 187.

Following the sudden death of Superintendent Frederick Wreford (1831-1892) shortly before, on July 13th 1892 Mr Joseph Davidson Sowerby (1863-1919) was appointed as Chief Constable and Chief Fire Officer.   Mr Sowerby had been a senior police officer at Leeds before the appointment.   His Great Grandson, Mr Owen Sowerby, has pointed out that he was only 29-years-old at the time and even today still holds the record as the youngest person ever appointed as Chief Constable in this country.

At the time Mr Sowerby took over his post a Constable's wages were just 19 shillings a week, rising to 1 8s 6d.  But for his first 40 weeks in the Force the Constable would have one shilling deducted every week 'for fear that he might run away with his uniform'.  Mr Sowerby put a stop to that and handed back some 500 to the men.  He also discovered, while inquiring into an accident where one of the Constables injured himself in a fall at Tothill during the night, that there only a dozen lamps available to the entire force.  They had all been given to the men in the outlying areas and those in the centre of the Town had to make do with lighting a match.  He also found that handcuffs were not issued and that this made apprehending a violent man very difficult.  The prospect that the arresting officer had to ask the man to stay where he was while he ran back to the Police Station to get handcuffs, did not amuse him.

Police Stations at Ford Park Lane, Mutley, and at Elliott Road, Prince Rock, were approved in 1897, plus taking-over two houses at Laira.

The first point duty policeman was appointed in 1897.

In January 1906 there were 123 Constables in the Plymouth Borough Force, all of whom worked an 8 hour day and were allowed 10 days leave of absence a year.  Their wages ranged from 1 3s 6d per week for the 41 8th class Constables to 1 12s 3d per week for the 15 1st class officers.   The highest paid Constables were those with "2 badges", who received 1 13s 6d a week.  But if they were sick or off work due to an accident they found an amount deducted from their wages per day.  The 7th and 8th class lost 1 shilling a day; the 6th, 5th and 4th class Constables lost 1s 1d per day; and those from the 3rd class upwards lost 1s 2d per day.

Also in January 1906 the Council's Watch Committee approved the purchase of clothing for the officers.  The summer helmets for the Constables came from Messrs Christy and Company at a cost of 4s 5d each: they had previously cost 4s 11d.  Messrs Pearson, Huggins and Company supplied tunics at a cost of 19s 10d each: they had previously cost 1 3s 11d each.  The same Company supplied the "S" trousers (summer trousers?) at a cost of 11 shillings each (previously 9s 8d) while Messrs H Lotery and Company supplied "W" trousers (winter ones?) at 9s 7d each (previously 9s 3d).  Caps for the Inspectors cost 13s 6d each from Messrs Christy & Company while the Superintendent was supplied with a suit costing 3, and a pair of trousers costing 16s 6d, both from Messrs S Stidston and Company.

East Stonehouse was transferred from the Devon County Constabulary to Plymouth Borough Police Force on November 8th 1914 and with it one Inspector, two Sergeants and 15 Constables.

Mr Sowerby, who had been appointed Chief Constable and Chief Fire Officer in 1892, retired on March 31st 1917.  He was, therefore, the senior officer during the amalgamation of the Plymouth force with that of Devonport and with the East Stonehouse District of the Devon Constabulary.  During his time in charge he had introduced women in to the Special Constables, whose main duty was to look after the morals of young girls in the streets at night.  Mr Sowerby was succeeded by Mr Herbert Hards Sanders (1873-1941), who had previously been a Divisional Detective-Inspector at New Scotland Yard.

On May 21st 1919 it was resolved by the Plymouth Borough Council that two policewomen be appointed. On June 18th Miss Awdrey Josephine Canney (1884-1955) was appointed Inspector and the other officer was Miss Isabel Frances Taylor (1885-1953).

Police used the old Watch House on the Barbican as a Police Station from 1922.

The Chief Constable reported on December 17th 1924 on the 'question of installing a telephone system by means of which the public and police on patrol can get quick and easy communication with the central police, fire and ambulance stations'. However, Police boxes were to be provided at: Compton, Laira (a large box!), South Devon Place (by Astor Playing Field), Tavistock Road (Stoke), Swilly Hospital, Millbridge and Pennycomequick. Boxes already authorised at Lyndhurst Road, Saint Budeaux, Ford, and Mount Gould Road.

Despite protests from the residents of Laira, it was announced in December 1924 that their old police station was to be offered to the Plymouth Library Service.

The status of a City was conferred upon Plymouth in 1928 and thus it now became the City of Plymouth Police Force.