Pillaton WI Report - February 2014

Policing in the Peninsula

Our speaker in February was Simon Dell who told us about policing in the Peninsula or as he put it the Halcyon days of Policing.

Simon is an ex policeman and is still involved as a special Constable. He first became involved in the Devon and Cornwall force in 1975. He took us back in history by telling us that between 1361 and 1861 there were Parish Constables. These were unpaid and who as their badge of office had a Tipstaff, which in fact was a lump of wood. This was the warrant card of those days. The parish lockups then were “blind houses” i.e. they had no windows. Men prisoners were locked in using one key whereas women were locked in with two, one of which was given to the policeman’s wife for safekeeping!

At the end of the 1700’s in London and in response to the vice trade, the Bow Street Runners were created. Their badge of office also was a tipstaff but was made of brass of sometimes silver. The top unscrewed leaving a hollow inside in which they kept their bill of office. Hence the ‘Old Bill.’

In the early 19th Century the Government wanted to change policing. They looked at Ireland where Robert Peel had created the Royal Irish Constabulary – the Peelers. They liked what they saw, so The Home Secretary asked Robert Peel to come to England and create a proper force for London. The result was that in 1829 the New Police Force was formed. This later became the Metropolitan Police Force.

They were told not to look military so they wore top hats and long swallow tailed coats. The top hats, apart from being hats, had an additional use – they could be used as a step for looking over walls etc. These men had truncheons made out of beech and carried ‘balls eye’ oil lamps so called because the lanterns had a door in them that could be closed without the flame being extinguished. They also carried rattles as the whistle had yet to be invented. No mobile phones!!

In 1914, female peelers came into being in areas where there were munitions factories with young women working in them. These women were deemed to be vulnerable to soldiers on leave. Therefore their morals were protected by the female peelers!

In the West Country in the early 1900s there were a number of small forces, which gradually started to amalgamate. For some reason in 1914 all the Penzance policemen had moustaches – quite a sight I imagine.

There was an accident in 1909 on the A39 in Wadebridge. This was a first for Cornwall as a car hit a cow. Fast reaction vehicles were sent to the accident. And the fast reaction vehicles were ...... bicycles! A photo taken later showed a weary policeman having a rest on the back seat of the car!

Pam Lowther

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