Research by Mark Rothwell

The following is a list of police forces known to have existed in Devon and Cornwall which were unconnected with the large county and borough police forces (the ‘Home Office Police Forces’). Many of these situations came about as a result of town councils using powers normally reserved for the appointment of special constables to appoint police officers for specific purposes and locales. My research suggests that councils, as they do in the present day, formed sub-committees to oversee the running of local parks, strands, pleasure grounds, harbours, etc., and from time to time decided to address problems of crime and public nuisances by appointing their own police officers. These officers were usually special constables on the council payroll, with all the powers of regular police constables. In most cases they were entitled to claim a reasonable pension akin to ordinary council employees, but not always as much as regular police officers. Some of these ‘forces’ were in fact only one man at a time, employed on an informal basis according to local requirements, and the term ‘force’ is used loosely. In some cases, they were issued with uniform and equipment, in others they simply wore smart civilian clothing with a badge, armlet, or cap which acted as a badge of office. Not all of these forces were formally recognised by the chief constables of the county or borough Home Office constabularies.

This list deliberately excludes the British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence Police and antecedents, as these are well known and not specific to Devon and Cornwall.

This is by no means a complete list. I have been working on this for several years, and every time I think I have found them all, I discover another one. In many cases, it has not been possible to determine the dates of operation for each situation, and in these instances the date has been estimated based on the dates of the source material. I would be grateful for any comments, suggestions, or corrections. If you’d like to add anything, please contact me on 07305 545 399 or by email on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

CORNWALL

Falmouth Docks Police

Existed: 1870-present day

Falmouth Docks Police was formally established on 19th September 1870 under Section 79 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847. Officers were sworn as constables by the Falmouth magistrates and had police powers:

“…within the limits of the harbour, dock, pier, and premises of, and within one-mile of the same”.[1]

In the present day, the legal framework for the existence of these officers has not changed. The force in its original configuration was structured along the lines of a borough police force with a superintendent at its head, one sergeant, and three constables. The first superintendent was George Julyan. He resigned in 1876 after falling out with one of the magistrates. He was succeeded by James Laverty, the docks sergeant.

The force was originally funded by the Falmouth Docks & Engineering group (‘A&P Falmouth’ in the present day). The most recent information request on the force (2016) indicated the force consisted of five officers – one sergeant, two constables, and two civilian security officers. Docks officers receive regular updates on policy and procedure from the Home Office, however are largely uninvolved in matters which take place beyond the dockyard. Should any major incidents occur at or near the docks, they are dealt with by Devon & Cornwall Police.

 

Penzance Harbour Police

Existed: c1870-c1905

A small body of constables known as ‘Penzance Harbour Police’ patrolled Penzance Harbour around the time of the establishment of the West Cornwall Steam Ship Company. As yet, no record of the formal establishment or disbandment of this force has been found, however their activities are recorded in newspapers of the era. Constables John Harris, Richard Mitchell, and John Wright were members. PC Harris died in 1881.[2] In 1893, PCs Mitchell and Wright attempted to rescue a man who had fallen into the water. Despite doing all they could, the man drowned.[3] In 1905, the harbour police lent assistance to the crew of the SS Gervase when crewmember Charles Bree was fatally wounded by a falling grain sack.[4] This force was likely formed using powers vested in Section 79 of the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847.

 

Penzance Promenade Constable

Existed: 1902-c1911

James Edgar Bice, from Tywardreath, was appointed ‘Promenade Constable’ in the employ of Penzance Town Council in June 1902.[5] He was sworn as a special constable and acted independently from the Cornwall Constabulary and Penzance Borough Police force. Bice had previously served in the Cornwall Constabulary as a sergeant for fourteen years. His jurisdiction was the entire promenade from Jubilee Pool at the eastern extremity to Newlyn in the west. He dually acted as caretaker of the promenade oversaw its general upkeep. Bice was appointed during a difficult period in his life, having recently suffered the suicide of his wife and the fallout of a failed confectionary business venture in Helston. On 6th April 1908, he arrested James Banfield on suspicion of a serious assault on an 8-year-old boy after the man approached him on the promenade and confessed.[6] Bice served until at least 1911. Thereafter he found work as a commission agent for a colliery, and later as a court bailiff. No mention can be found in any official records of Bice’s position being advertised after he stepped down.

 

St Michael’s Mount Parish Constables

Existed: c1898-c1933

St Michael’s Mount is a 57-acre tidal island and civil parish in Mount’s Bay, West Cornwall. Joined to the mainland by a causeway, it has been a popular tourist destination for many centuries.

By purchase, by inheritance, or by force, the island has since the 12th century been owned by several individuals. In 1659, it was bought by Colonel John St Aubyn, an English politician (and Parliamentarian during the English Civil War). Since that year, ownership has passed to his descendants, most recently James Piers Southwell St Aubyn, 5th Baron St Levan.

Prior to the establishment of the ‘new’ police in Cornwall (1836 in the boroughs and 1856 countywide), St Michael’s Mount elected unpaid parish constables annually until the practice was abolished by statute in 1872. The Cornwall Constabulary appears to have had no permanent plan for the policing of the island, and the nearest county constable was stationed on the mainland at Marazion.

On 9th March 1898 at the West Penwith Petty Sessions Court, Robert James Matthews, postman, and Richard Matthews, harbourmaster, were sworn as parish constables on St Michael’s Mount for the ensuing year.[7] How were these officers allowed to exist if the practice of appointing parish constables had been abolished decades earlier? The answer lies in the influence of the Mount’s owner, John St Aubyn (1st Lord St Levan), and a clause in the Parish Constables Act 1872.

A Quarter Sessions Court could, if the magistrates could be convinced, overrule the law and allow a parish to appoint a constable under the old system if local needs dictated. Lord St Levan was at the time Deputy Lieutenant for Cornwall and a Justice of the Peace. In his lifetime he had served in the Royal Cornwall Rangers Militia in every rank up to Major, and as a Colonel in the Marazion Artillery Volunteers. He had also represented the Liberal Party in West Cornwall for 29 years and had served as the Special Deputy Warden of the Stannaries. If anyone possessed the knowledge to invoke an obscure piece of legislation to enable the appointment of a parish constable on St Michael’s Mount, it was his lordship.

John St Aubyn died in 1908, and ownership of the island passed to his heir apparent, John Townhend St Aubyn. Like his father, he was also a Justice of the Peace and served a similarly illustrious career in the British Army. The tradition of appointing parish constables on the island continued under the new Lord St Levan; Richard Matthews, the harbourmaster, served for almost 30 years in the role.

In June 1926, Mr C.E. Venning, acting on behalf of the incumbent Lord St Levan, applied to the Midsummer Quarters Sessions Court in Bodmin for the appointment of a parish constable on the island. The request was well covered in the press and opened up the matter to debate amongst the county magistrates. The proposal explained that there would be no cost to the county, as Lord St Levan would meet all expenses. As with the 1898 appointment of Messrs Matthews as constables, the proposal was an interesting one. There were several options available for requesting a permanent police presence in a place that hitherto had none, such as calling upon the Cornwall Constabulary to provide an officer for the island or swear one or more of the residents as special constables. However, it seems that his lordship was intent on utilising the clause in the Act of 1872 to obtain his own private policeman as his father had, and he did just that. The county authorities passed a special resolution to invoke the clause and passed the matter to the local petty sessions court to sort out the finer details.

In August 1926 at the West Penwith Petty Sessions at Penzance Guildhall, Mr Clive Marriott, an agent for Lord St Levan empowered by the blessing of the higher court, formally applied for the appointment of a parish constable for St Michael’s Mount:

“Mr Marriott explained that the Mount was very isolated, and his lordship felt it was very necessary there should be a constable on the island to maintain proper order. The Mount was thrown open to the public three times a week, and a very large number of visitors availed themselves to this privilege”. [8]

The chief constable of Cornwall, Sir Hugh Bateman Protheroe-Smith, was consulted on the matter, and gave it his blessing. Superintendent Davies, the senior police officer in West Cornwall, was also supportive and thought the constable of the mount would be of ‘great assistance’ to the county constable stationed at Marazion. With overwhelming support, John Uren, for many years a resident of the island, was duly sworn in as parish constable of St Michael’s Mount on 3rd August 1926.

Mr Uren, a mason by trade, was issued with a blue serge waistcoat and over coat with crested buttons. He carried a wooden staff painted with the family coat of arms of Lord St Levan which acted both as a badge of office and a means for self-defence. Thus, Constable Uren’s 1926 appointment was a walking relic of the 19th century in the 20th.

Constable Uren’s activities were observed in detail in 1929 by historians Dorothy Hunt and Frederick Nettlingham for their book ‘Guide to and Short History of Marazion and St Michael’s Mount’. They described the constable’s activities as ‘precautionary rather than specific’.

“…there is no need for him to stroll about like an ordinary representative of the law. He follows his vocation as head mason on the estate but is invested in the authority of a policeman if at any time called upon to exercise it in an emergency. Under the jurisdiction of the Cornwall Constabulary, but paid by Lord St Levan…”[9]

In 1933, Mr Pearce Matthews was sworn as constable of St Michael’s Mount in the place of Mr Uren. In the first week of the Second World War, Lord St Levan closed St Michael’s Mount to visitors and the island was fortified by the British Army for the duration of the conflict. No further mention of the appointment of constables on the island can be found beyond that of the 1933 appointment of Mr Matthews.

In the present day, policing of the island is the responsibility of Devon & Cornwall Constabulary officers stationed at Penzance.

 

DEVON

Barbican Pier Constables

Existed: 1840-c1852

It was resolved by the Plymouth Borough Police Watch Committee early in 1840 to assign a policeman to the Barbican Pier to, “…discharge all the duties of the Governor of the Barbacan [sic], including preventing boats and vessels from fastening or holding on to any part of the new steps, or so as to interrupt the access thereto, and observing the general regulations of the police force to the extent of the Western Pier and Southside and Smarts Quay”.[10] The only person known to have undertaken the role was William Fuge who had been a ‘street keeper’ in the Plymouth Borough Police force since 21st January 1836.[11] His pay and uniform were identical to that of his borough counterparts, and according to a Kelly’s Directory, Fuge was still serving on the pier as a constable in 1852.[12]

 

Barnstaple Pannier Market Constables

Existed: 1855-c1950

The first market constable in Barnstaple was appointed in 1855 on a salary of £20 per year.[13] His house was conveniently situated adjacent to the pannier market. Thomas Summers was the market constable from c1895 to 1907, followed by Philip Laramy from 1907 to 1915.[14] [15] The market constable was jointly the official sampler for the borough under the Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs Act. In 1909, Constable Laramy enrolled in the borough fire brigade. He joined the Army in 1915 and was temporarily replaced by Frederick Harris. Laramy broke his leg in 1917 and was discharged from the Army. His role was filled by William Manley who served until 1928. Reginald Darch was the market constable from 1928 until 1940, followed by Frederick Ackland who remained in post until at least 1950.[16]

 

Barnstaple Parks Constables

Existed: c1886-1937

Barnstaple’s historic Rock Park was opened to the public in 1879 and was named for the English publisher and philanthropist William Frederick Rock. A lodge was erected on the park and was occupied by William Mitchell in 1886 – a special constable in the employ of Barnstaple Town Council, jointly overseen by the Parks Committee and the Rock Trust. As the Rock Trust also oversaw the Athenaeum (opened in 1888) and the Convalescent Home, they fully expected Constable Mitchell to divide his time between the three locations, and that he did.[17] [18] Over time, responsibility for the general upkeep of Rock Park passed from the Parks Committee to the Parks & Advertising Committee, and then to the Public Walks & Pleasure Grounds Committee. The park constable was responsible for the general detection and prevention of crime in the park and the enforcement of park byelaws, which included deterring people from playing football and cycling on the grass.[19] Any improvement work carried out by contractors was carefully overseen by the constable; in Mitchell’s case this involved ensuring that work was carried out carefully and cheaply. In 1894, Mitchell asked the council to recognise his diligence with a one-off bonus, which was refused![20]

 

Barnstaple Strand Constables

Existed: 1923-c1940

Barnstaple Town Council resolved in 1923 to appoint a special constable to act as a parking warden on the Strand to address the influx of parked cars in the summer months. The council appealed to the King’s National Roll Scheme, an employment program for disabled ex-servicemen, and two men were interviewed.[21] James Darch, a veteran of the Royal North Devon Hussars, was appointed on 23rd July 1923. He was paid £2 per week by the council and was entitled to take a 20% commission on parking fees.[22] [23] He worked in the summer months only and was provided with a smart suit of uniform and an overcoat.[24] The Strand was overseen by the council’s Properties Committee, which had a say in how much the strand constable earned. In 1927, the committee reduced Constable Darch’s pay by ten shillings per week.[25] In 1930, Darch fell ill and stepped down as constable, however out of respect of his service to King and Country, kept him on the council payroll and give him light jobs from time to time. In the time between Darch’s resignation and the appointment of a successor, the duties of the Strand Constable were carried out by the borough caretaker.[26] A permanent replacement was found in Frederick Ackland, however he was not sworn as a constable and had only Common Law powers to maintain order on his patch. Ackland however retained the title ‘Strand Constable’. Compared to his predecessor, Ackland earned a measly ten shillings per week. The services of the Strand Constable were much appreciated, and in 1943, the Barnstaple Conservative Association generously erected a shelter at their own expense adjacent to their premises for the sole use of Mr Ackland. Ackland served until around 1940.[27] There is no evidence of the appointment of Strand Constables beyond that year.

 

Bideford Market Police

Existed: c1835-c1862

At the discretion of the Mayor of Bideford, the unsworn market superintendents who oversaw Bideford’s town market could be sworn as constables if the need arose. This situation was true at least as early as 1835.[28] The constables were paid £2 per year and likely inspected weights and measures and provided general crime prevention and detection. Over time according to the whims of Bideford council, whomever was appointed governor of the borough gaol automatically became market constable as well.

 

Devonport Park Constables

Existed: 1858-1889

In 1857, the authorities in Devonport leased a piece of land within the lines of the fortification from the War Department with the intention to set it out as a very pleasant park.[29] The completed park was placed in the care of the Devonport Parks and Pleasure Grounds Committee (a sub-committee of the local council) which decided a permanently based constable was needed at the park to keep the peace. They subsequently appointed PC John Westlake, a serving member of the Devonport Borough Police force, as the park constable. He was housed at the very pleasant and aesthetically striking Lower Lodge on the Fore Street side of the park.[30] Westlake served in that role for seventeen years, having only the park as his beat. Amongst the crimes he dealt with were robbery, pickpocketing, violence, theft, and killing of sheep.

In 1875, Albert Spear, also a constable in the Devonport Borough Police force, was selected as the new park constable when PC Westlake retired. In 1876, he discovered a naval pensioner in a severe state of intoxication in the park. He conveyed the drunk man in a wheelbarrow to Devonport Police Station, which was at that time situated in the basement of Devonport Guildhall, and charged him with being drunk and disorderly. Sadly, whilst in the cells, the man died the following morning.

Spear was a keen horticulturalist and acted as both policeman and head gardener. In 1883, he raised a magnificent display of purple lobelia in the park. His designs for the carpet bedding were also greatly admired.

Towards the end of the 1880s, Spears’ health deteriorated. Although he remained in post for several years more, he delegated his duties to Constable Pengelly, who was also his nephew. Spear died in June 1889, aged only 42. As he was a serving police officer within the borough of Devonport, he paid into a pension, and upon his death a grant of £68 5s was paid to his widow from the Police Superannuation Fund. Following the passing of PC Spears, the park committee decided not to renew the position of the park constable, and instead appointed a civilian gardener at 25s a week and a park keeper at 15s per week.

 

Note:

The above information is largely derived from an article written by the webmaster of the British Police History website. His sources included the following newspapers:

Western Morning News 18 July 1860, 12 July 1860, 16 July 1883 and 7 February 1884.

Western Daily Mercury 27 September 1862, 17 June 1889 and 19 July 1889.

Launceston Weekly News and Cornwall & Mid Devon Advertiser 5 August 1876

Historic England

 

Exeter Cathedral Constables

Existed: c1668-c1830

According to surviving documents in the Exeter Cathedral archive, there existed a ‘cathedral statute’ for the appointment of constables to keep the peace in the cathedral and surrounding precinct. Thomas Poynington is the earliest recorded cathedral policeman, appointed in 1668.[31] His jurisdiction was limited to the cathedral and grounds and was overseen by the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral. In 1676, the office was held by Thomas Whithaire. He was admonished by the Dean and Chapter in 1676 and 1677 for undertaking police work outside of the cathedral’s sphere of influence. Official records held by the cathedral archive prove this indiscretion was “contrary to cathedral statutes”.[32]

No records are known to exist of the appointment of cathedral constables in the 1700s. The next available information dates to the early 1800s when George Walker was the cathedral constable. On Bonfire Night 1810, “great riot”[33] ensued when three men entered the cathedral close and set off fireworks. They were challenged by the cathedral constables, who suffered verbal abuse from the trio. The men were arrested and detained until the next Quarter Sessions Court.

Constable Walker died in office in 1818 and was replaced by Richard Risden.[34] Risden had a deputy named William Rench from 1820-1822. Their duties were to:

“…keep the peace and prevent nuisances and annoyances by fireworks or otherwise”.[35]

On 11th August 1821, six men were sworn as temporary constables to assist the cathedral officers on Coronation Day. They were each paid 2s 6d for their trouble.[36]

In 1826, resident Thomas Tierney complained to the Dean and Chapter about the absence of law and order in the cathedral close in light of:

“…the nightly disturbed state of the Cathedral yard where, in the absence of all police, fireworks are constantly let off not only dangerous in themselves but to the great annoyance of passengers as well as the inhabitants in general, and where a number of disorderly persons assemble who continue to a late hour making noises and using language the most disgusting and last night only murder was repeatedly cried.”[37]

It is not known whether this complaint relates to the cathedral constables being elsewhere at the times of these disturbances, or whether they even existed at all by this point. In October 1830, a night watch was formed in Exeter. Several cathedral officials joined the watch, including two vergers, a dogwhipper, and the keeper of the treasury ground. Each were sworn as special constables.[38]

 

Note:

According to Exeter Cathedral archivist Ellie Jones, the cathedral appointed constables on an informal basis and did not go to the effort of formally constituting a police force.

In 1836, the night watch was replaced by the Exeter City Police force.

 

Exeter Market Constables

Existed: c1862-c1922

The City of Exeter’s Markets Committee appointed William Lias in 1862 as market constable. He was a former Royal Marine (1839-1862) and was discharged as a colour-sergeant. He held the Syrian War Medal and the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He was succeeded in 1885 by a man with the rather sinister surname of Kill. In 1893, Constable Kill went absent without leave and subsequently his position was advertised.[39]

Robert James Lias, the son of Market Constable William Lias, was appointed in place of Mr Kill. He was paid 16 shillings per week and was provided with a uniform and an official residence. The tenure of Constable Lias Jnr came to an inauspicious end in 1912 when he was convicted for assaulting five young girls. He was imprisoned on 21st May 1912 for five months.[40]

Another man known to have served was Walter Pearson, from at least 1909 to 1919. He was a former guardsman and during the Great War took a prominent role in recruiting men into the Army in Exeter. For this work he was awarded a silver meritorious service medal in a ceremony at Exeter Cathedral.[41]

David Keel was the market constable in 1922,[42] however beyond that date, nothing more is known about the market constables in Exeter.

 

Exeter Mendicity Society Constables

Existed: 1827-1835

The 19th equivalent of homeless charities was so-called ‘mendicity societies’; mendicity being variation on ‘mendicant’, which meant beggar or vagrant. The City of Exeter was home to several such organisations which were overseen by the Corporation of Exeter whose job it was to provide public services paid from taxation. On 23rd June 1825, Exeter Mendicity Society was formed at Exeter Guildhall in a bid to tackle the city’s problems of begging, vagrancy, and destitution.[43] The society was patronised by the Bishop of Exeter and its president was Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, the future Tory MP for West Somerset.[44] The society coexisted with a handful of other charities which had similar aims, such as the Blanket Society and the Society for the Relief of the Sober and Industrious Poor of Exeter.

The mission of the society was relief of the travelling poor; anybody who contacted the society and claimed alms was issued a ticket which entitled them to two good meals and one night’s lodging at a designated lodging house. In some cases, a small amount of money was gifted to allow onward travel. The society was funded from public subscription (the cost of subscription is not a matter of record), and by 1827 the society’s books looked so good that they were content to risk reducing the cost of subscription by half.

The work of the society brought great relief to the travelling poor of Exeter, however in 1827 concerns were raised that the society’s generosity was being taken advantage of. ‘Impostors’ falsely claiming poverty to secure a night’s sleep and a hearty meal or two abused the system considerably. On 30th November 1827, the society swore in three men as police constables to combat the problem – the three officers, whose names are unknown, were the clerk to the society and two corporation staff-bearers. They operated entirely in service to the society and regularly inspected the lodging houses in the parishes of Heavitree and St Thomas.[45] The society’s origins in the seat of local government in Exeter likely made the appointment of constables quite straightforward.

Despite its good work and strong public support, by 1834 the society’s finances were dire. Many of its esteemed founding members had moved on and had not been replaced, and those who remained complained that the society had not done enough to promote its work. The subscription cost was raised to recover some losses, and the services of the constables were disposed of in 1835.[46] Concurrently, the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 received Royal Assent and replaced all previous poor law legislation. This rendered the services of the society very much reduced as the government thereafter operated a policy of only providing poor relief in workhouses.

Exeter Mendicity Society suspended its work in 1837 as it had fallen into significant debt. Since its inception in the previous decade, it had helped over 17,400 people.

 

Exeter Park Constables

Existed: c1913

It was reported in the Western Times on 7th June 1913 that retired warrant officer of the Indian Army named James Carter died suddenly whilst walking through Exeter’s Northernhay Gardens. Assistance was rendered by Park Constables Bolt and Steer.[47] Nothing more is known about these officers.

 

Head Weir Bathing Ground Constable

Existed: 1871-c1908

Exeter City Council assumed responsibility for the area known as the ‘Head Weir’, a popular open bathing space on the east bank of the River Exe near Mount Dinham, in 1864. The decision to take control of it seems to have been inspired by the frequent tragic loss of life at the weir, as bathers often were overcome and drowned. The dangers faced by bathers at this location were highlighted in the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette in 1859:

“At the dinner given to Mr. Charles Pates, on Wednesday evening, that gentleman strikingly illustrated the necessity of precautionary steps being taken against the loss of life which annually occurs at the Bathing Place, at Head Weir. Strange to say, about the very time he was striving to impress the importance of this subject on his hearers, another life was lost; making two victims, during the short space of ten days, to the culpable negligence of the authorities of Exeter. Reason and humanity alike suggest that bathing should be altogether prohibited in this very dangerous part of the river, or that proper means should be taken to rescue incautious individuals from a watery grave."

As well as the safety of bathers, the council was acutely concerned about matters of modesty after many complaints of ‘indecencies’ were made by residents whose houses overlooked the weir. The solution was to form a Bathing Committee and appoint an official to oversee the weir who could both enforce the wearing of respectable attire, and react to any bathers in distress; essentially, a lifeguard. James Baker was appointed ‘Bathing Ground Superintendent’ in 1864 on a salary of 18 shillings per week. A wooden shelter for changing and resting was erected at a cost of £250, all with the understanding that bathing would only be allowed in the morning, and in any case no later than 9 o’clock.[48] Mr Baker was a superintendent only in title, the word being generally synonymous with ‘manager’, and there is no evidence he held any constabulary powers. In the summer of 1867, it was noted that Mr Baker had rescued seventy people from drowning since his appointment.[49]

Mr Baker’s career however came to an inauspicious end when he was dismissed for misconduct in 1871. He was succeeded by Frank Shooter who was accordingly sworn as a special constable by the city authorities, and whose long career was marked by the many daring rescues he made at Head Weir. The reason for bestowing constabulary powers to Shooter is, at the time of writing, unknown, however in many other examples such as the situations at Barnstaple Strand and Penzance Promenade in the early 20th century, such decisions were made to ensure that men like Shooter were legally protected in the execution of duty.

Shooter was born in Exeter in 1847, the youngest of seven children to Edwin Shooter, a master carver from St David’s, and Sarah, from St Sidwell’s. As constable of the bathing ground, he first came to the attention of the press one year after his appointment when he saved from drowning Mr H. Brockington from Whimple. Three days later, he rescued from the weir Colin Williams, an apprentice coach builder.

In September 1872, Shooter oversaw the first of many swimming matches at the weir; subsequent events were held every August. Cash prizes were awarded, as much as 80 guineas by 1883. Shooter received many awards from the Royal Humane Society during his career, so many that the wearing of the medals on his blazer became cumbersome.

From 1871-75, Shooter was employed seasonally, however from 1876 he served all year round; he was paid 26s per week in the summer, and 12s per week for the remainder of the year. He saved so many people from drowning during his career that he earned the sobriquet ‘The Hero of the Exe’.

An avid pugilist, Shooter opened a gymnasium on Bampfylde Street in 1889 and taught boxing and fencing. As an instructor, he was known as “…a teacher who never loses his temper”. Shooter’s gym quickly became a popular haunt for young people and drew unfair complaints from the city police that the place had become rowdy. An accusation he naturally denied!

As a sworn policeman, Shooter made very few, if any, arrests during his career. His attire, which consisted of a smart suit and hat, was purchased as part of the regular police uniform order by the corporation of Exeter, which in 1881 cost £2 12d for two suits.[50] In the era when police officers in Britain were not allowed to vote, it was noted by the editor of the Western Times that, as Shooter was a police constable, he was twice struck from the voter’s register in 1876 and 1877.[51] The 1881 Census records Shooter’s occupation – ‘Bathing Ground (Police Constable)’.

After retirement, he became the landlord of the Fireman’s Arms at the corner of West and Preston Street. He died in 1917, aged 69. He was buried in a walled plot at Exwick Cemetery which is in view of the bathing ground. His legacy was that of a courageous and selfless individual, who gave of his time to improve the lives and health of many youngsters, and to whom over three hundred people owed their lives in the 37 years he was constable of the bathing ground.

In the present day, only traces remain of the once popular Head Weir Bathing Ground; a few bricks amidst a tangled mess of undergrowth in the shadow of the imposing Millennium Bridge over the River Exe.

 

Ilfracombe Harbour & Pleasure Grounds Constables

Existed: c1894-1972

Ilfracombe Urban District Council (IUDC) exercised powers under the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 to appoint a police officer for the harbour and pleasure grounds on Lantern Hill in 1894.[52] The first recorded officer was James Stentiford, appointed on 3rd May 1899. Stentiford was previously a Devon Constabulary police officer who served in Braunton, Marwood, and Dartmouth from 1872 to 1896.[53] Although first a police officer, he was responsible for the general upkeep of the pleasure grounds and gave equal time to the flowerbeds and chasing away mischievous children.

During the Great War (1914-1918), Stentiford returned to the Devon Constabulary and was posted to the other side of the county in Dawlish. He returned to Ilfracombe after the war and temporarily worked as a caretaker in the employ of IUDC before once again serving as the constable of the pleasure grounds and harbour. By this time, his duties included inspection of hackney carriages and boats.

In 1921, the chief constable of the Devon Constabulary challenged IUDC on the legality of their private policeman. The chief was concerned that he had no control over the officer, and that and risked being misidentified as a county policeman in his smart tunic, trousers, and flat cap. Particularly irksome to the chief constable was the council’s preference for issuing the constable with a collar badge with the words ‘IUDC Constable’ inscribed and thought that this should be removed from his uniform. The chief constable offered to swear him in as a special constable to provide some validity to the appointment, however IUDC rejected the idea. In 1924, Constable Stentiford retired and was replaced by Constable Frederick Pearce, a former military policeman and ex-Barnstaple Borough Police officer.

Jack Wilson was appointed as IUDC constable in the summer of 1931 on a salary of £3 10d for the duration of his appointment. A portion of Wilson’s pay was derived from the pier tolls. This was a contentious issue for certain members of the council, who felt that Wilson’s pay did not reflect how busy he was! He became the sole constable on the pleasure grounds when Constable Pearce retired through ill health in 1933. In 1935, Constable Wilson was struck by a car whilst on duty and was flung through the window of a tailor’s shop. Remarkably, he landed amongst a pile of mourning suits and emerged with only cuts and bruises.

Wilson retired in 1937 and was succeeded by a man named Lake whose duties extended to the upkeep of the town war memorial. Lake took on a number of civil defence roles during the Second World War, and as a result the upkeep of the pleasure grounds suffered. He was replaced in 1946 by John Tucker, who left in 1949 to join the Scots Guards.

It is difficult to provide a chronology of the IUDC constables after 1949; enquiries with Ilfracombe Town Council and Ilfracombe Museum in 2018 indicated that no records survive of the appointment of police officers on the pleasure ground.

In 2019, I posted an appeal on a local history group’s Facebook page about the IUDC constables. The post provoked a lot of discussion, and some commented that they remember there being a pleasure grounds constable as recently as the 1970s.

IUDC was abolished in 1972 during the national reorganisation of local government. If there is to be an end date of the Ilfracombe Harbour and Pleasure Grounds Constables, it possibly coincided with this event.

 

Lundy Island Constable

Existed: 1787-1788

According to Anthony & Myrtle Langham’s book ‘Lundy’ (published 1970), then owner of Lundy Island Mr Cleveland appointed William Hole as constable.[54] Constable Hole died in 1788. He fell to his death from Gannett’s Rock whilst trying to collect seagull eggs.

 

Newton Abbot Park Constables

Existed: 1930-c1937

Two park keepers in the employ of Newton Abbot Urban Council were sworn as park constables in 1930 to after complaints were made about the amount of criminal damage caused to the parks fixtures.[55] In 1937, a complaint was made to the council about:

“…three or four dozen young hooligans, aged between sixteen and eighteen, who tried to monopolise the swings and seesaws and make themselves objectionable to everybody”.[56]

In 1949, consideration was given to appointing park constables to prevent criminal damage in the town’s parks, but the proposal was refused during a council meeting on cost grounds.[57]

 

Plymouth Hoe Constables

Existed: c1836-c1914

“Alert, energetic and a terror to unruly boys,” was one Plymothian’s description of policeman Edward James Kessell, constable of Plymouth Hoe. Plymouth’s historic Hoe Promenade and waterfront has been the centre of leisure and recreation in the city since medieval times. In the year 1530, Westcote wrote:

“…here the townsmen pass their time of leisure in walking, bowling, and other pleasant pastimes.”[58]

Perhaps one of the most notable historical figures to enjoy his time there was Sir Francis Drake, who famously played bowls on the waterfront in 1588 whilst awaiting the arrival of the Spanish Armada. In 1836, the Hoe Committee was established to better manage the upkeep of the grounds and walkways. The committee’s members were undoubtedly concerned about crime, resulting in the appointment of the first Hoe Constable in that year. It is perhaps testament to the troubles the Plymouth Borough Police force was experiencing at the same time that the committee decided to appoint their own policeman rather than wait for a Hoe beat to be established by the municipal police. A small lodge located on Lockyer Street acted as the Hoe Constable’s home and headquarters. The powers and responsibilities of the Hoe constables can only be speculated on, but the activities of the policemen can be found in abundance in the newspapers of the era.

The aforementioned policeman Kessell was approached by a man in late December 1864 and was informed that a large quantity of rope and military clothing had gone missing from one of the boats moored in Great Western Docks. Kessell’s enquiries led him to a cave near Millbay Pier that appeared to be a place of reception for stolen goods and, indeed, the missing rope and clothing. Rather than remove the goods straight away, Kessell decided to wait in ambush for the offenders to return. His patience paid off, for several hours later four men entered the cave in possession of stolen goods and were promptly arrested and delivered into the custody of the borough police. If policeman Kessell was overt in his work, it seems later constables were conspicuous by their absence.

In early 1889, the Hoe Committee was deeply unsatisfied by Hoe Constable James Colton’s commitment to the job. Concerned that Colton was not showing up for work on a regular basis, the committee asked the chief constable of the borough police to keep an eye on him. It could not be said though that Colton was completely idle. On 7th June 1880, he was the first on the scene to a dreadful suicide at the home of Charles Polkinghorne at 2 Windsor Terrace. Whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed, Polkinghorne cut his own throat with a razor and leapt from a first-floor window. He was found alive by his housekeeper who went off in search of assistance. Constable Colton was intercepted on the Hoe and repaired to Windsor Terrace immediately. Despite the efforts of a local doctor, Polkinghorne died a short time later. Colton gave evidence at the subsequent coroner’s inquest.

“He was the old Hoe constable who lived in the lodge which was pulled down when the war memorial was erected. He was a short, stiff man, dressed in a long frock coat and I remember him wearing a silk hat. He always carried a cane and did not forget to use it on any offending youngsters.”[59]

…so said Mr David Snell of Stonehouse of Hoe Constable Colton. It is unclear precisely when the services of the Hoe Constable were disposed of, but it is likely the expansion of the jurisdiction of Plymouth Borough Police in 1914 to include Devonport and Stonehouse rendered his services obsolete. The Hoe Constable’s lodge on Lockyer Street was demolished in the early 20th century to make way for a war memorial.

 

Plymouth Market Constables

Existed: 1803-c1836

In 1803, Plymouth Corporation (council) formed a ‘Committee of 21’ to oversee the provision of public services in Plymouth. The committee consisted of elected freemen, the incumbent and previous mayor, a justice of the peace, and the ‘Keeper of the Keys of the Coffer’. Amongst the committee’s responsibilities was the administration of the markets and they were empowered by the town charter to appoint market constables to “keep order at the market”. In 1835, the market constable was paid £3 18s per year and was provided with a uniform and an official residence.[60]

 

Plymouth Water Police Unit

Existed: 1894-c1914

To better address the problems caused by civilian traffic on the River Tamar, the Plymouth Watch Committee decided to form a water police unit on 21st March 1894. The unit consisted of one sergeant and three constables at a cost to the corporation of £300 per year, and a boat was purchased for £19 10s. Members of the unit included Sergeant W. Moulding, and PCs Menhinnick, Lane, and Roach. As well as a waterborne crime prevention squad, they acted as an occasional lifeboat service. Officers in the unit wore flat caps and double-breasted police tunics. The unit is believed to have been disbanded around the start of the Great War. Pleas were made in 1921[61] and 1923[62] for the reintroduction of the water police following a rise in petty thefts, however no action was taken.

 

South Molton Market Constables

Existed: c1835

Two serjeants-at-mace in the employ of South Molton Corporation were sworn as constables and acted as market constables in 1835.[63] No further information is known.

 

Teignmouth Pleasure Grounds Constables

Existed: c1909-?

Only one mention can be found of the existence of a constable of the Teignmouth Pleasure Ground in 1909 during a meeting of Teignmouth Urban District Council. A public complaint about the disturbance of the shrubberies at Shaldon Green was raised, and the solution was to “send the pleasure grounds constable” to deal with it.[64]

 

Torquay Pier Constable

Existed: c1890-c1892

The financial accounts of the Torquay Harbour Board, which were released publicly in the local newspapers, reported on the existence of a ‘pier constable’ in Torquay from at least 1890 to 1892. In 1891, the pier constable was a man named S. Nichols who earned £1 per week.[65]

 

[1] Section 79 Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847

[2] ‘Births, Marriages, and Deaths’ The Cornish Telegraph 10 November 1881, p4 – The British Newspaper Archive

[3] ‘Lowestoft Fisherman Drowned in Penzance Dock’ Cornishman 20 April 1893, p6 – The British Newspaper Archive

[4] ‘Fatal Accident at Penzance Dock’ Cornishman 23 March 1905, p5 – The British Newspaper Archive

[5] ‘The Promenade Constable’ The Cornish Telegraph 11 June 1902, p2 – The British Newspaper Archive

[6] ‘Serious Charge Against a Sancreed Man’ The Cornish Telegraph 16 April 1908, p8 – The British Newspaper Archive

[7] ‘West Penwith Petty Sessions’ The Cornish Telegraph 10 March 1898, p5, col.6

[8] ‘Parish Constable for St Michael’s Mount’ Cornishman 4 August 1926, p5, col.4

[9] ‘The Parish Constable Duties at St Michael’s Mount’ Cornish Guardian 5 September 1929, p6, col.5

[10] Plymouth Borough Watch Committee Minutes 1837-1840, item dated 21 April 1840, p98 – Plymouth & West Devon Record Office Accession 1648-144b

[11] Plymouth Borough Watch Committee Minutes 1836-1837, item dated 7 December 1836, p14 – Plymouth & West Devon Record Office Accession 1648-145

[12] Directory of Plymouth, Stonehouse, Devonport, Stoke and Moricetown 1852, p63 – University of Leicestershire Online Archive Accession DLS10004

[13] ‘North Devon 50 Years Ago’ North Devon Journal 23 November 1905, p2 – The British Newspaper Archive

[14] ‘Borough of Barnstaple Market Constable’ North Devon Journal 5 September 1907, p5 – The British Newspaper Archive

[15] ‘Barnstaple Town Council’ North Devon Journal 26 September 1907, p2 – The British Newspaper Archive

[16] ‘Market Doors Opened’ North Devon Journal 30 May 1940, p3 – The British Newspaper Archive

[17] ‘Barnstaple Town Council’ North Devon Journal 27 September 1894, p2 – The British Newspaper Archive

[18] ‘Municipal Election Notes’ North Devon Journal 31 October 1895, p5 – The British Newspaper Archive

[19] ‘Football and Cycling in Rock Park’ North Devon Journal 2 March 1905, p2 The British Newspaper Archive

[20] ‘The Public Walks’ North Devon Journal 26 April 1894, p2 – The British Newspaper Archive

[21] ‘Strand Constable Appointed’ North Devon Journal 19 July 1923, p2 – The British Newspaper Archive

[22] ‘Barnstaple’ Exeter & Plymouth Gazette 14 July 1923, p4 – The British Newspaper Archive

[23] ‘Barnstaple Town Council’ North Devon Journal 28 October 1926, p3 – The British Newspaper Archive

[24] ‘Barnstaple Town Council’ North Devon Journal 29 April 1926, p3 – The British Newspaper Archive

[25] ‘Barnstaple Town Council’ North Devon Journal 30 June 1927, p3 – The British Newspaper Archive

[26] ‘Council in Committee’ North Devon Journal 31 July 1930, p2 – The British Newspaper Archive

[27] ‘Sports Ground Tipping Scheme’ North Devon Journal 29 February 1940, p5 – The British Newspaper Archive

[28] ‘Bideford’ First Report of the Commissioners on the Municipal Corporations of England and Wales 1835 – Google Books

[29] ‘Devonport Park Constables’ – British Police History Website

[30] Western Times 23 April 1859 and 20 June 1889

[31] D&C3560 Chapter Acts, p70-71 – Exeter Cathedral Archive

[32] D&C3560 Chapter Acts, p421-422 – Exeter Cathedral Archive

[33] D&C3576 Chapter Acts, p501 – Exeter Cathedral Archive

[34] D&C3578 Chapter Acts, p352-353 – Exeter Cathedral Archive

[35] D&C3560 Chapter Acts, p544-545 – Exeter Cathedral Archive

[36] D&C3578 Chapter Acts, p475 – Exeter Cathedral Archive

[37] D&C7076 Chapter Acts, p195 – Exeter Cathedral Archive

[38] D&C3580 Chapter Acts, p312-313 – Exeter Cathedral Archive

[39] Western Times 15 April 1893

[40] Western Times 17 May 1912

[41] Western Times 31 July 1919

[42] Western Times 22 February 1922

[43] ‘Exeter Mendicity Society’ Exeter Flying Post 7 August 1834, p2 – The British Newspaper Archive

[44] ‘Public Charitable Institutions’ Besley’s Exeter Directory for 1835, p19 – Google Books

[45] ‘Exeter’ North Devon Journal’ 6 December 1827, p3 – The British Newspaper Archive

[46] ‘Exeter’ First Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into Municipal Corporations in England and Wales Part 1: Midland, Western & South Western Circuit 1835, p490 – Google Books

[47] ‘Sudden Death on Northernhay Exeter’ Western Times 7 June 1913, p3 – The British Newspaper Archive

[48] ‘Exeter’ Exeter Flying Post, 20 July 1864, page 7

[49] ‘Narrow Escape from Drowning’ Express & Echo, 17 August 1867, page 1

[50] ‘Watch Committee’ Exeter Flying Post, 19 January 1881, page 3

[51] ‘Exeter Parliamentary Registration’ Western Times, 9 October 1877, page 5

[52] Ilfracombe Harbour Byelaws – information supplied by Ilfracombe Museum

[53] ‘James Stentiford’ Stentiford.org website

[54] ‘Lundy’ by A & M Langham, p40

[55] ‘Newton Abbot’ Western Times 20 June 1930, p11 – The British Newspaper Archive

[56] ‘Newton Urban Council’ Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 23 July 1937, p12 – The British Newspaper Archive

[57] ‘Newton Refuses Park Constables’ Torbay Express and South Devon Echo 28 June 1949, p3 – The British Newspaper Archive

[58] Worth, 1890

[59] ‘Hoe Constable’ Western Morning News 25 May 1925

[60] ‘Plymouth’ First Report of the Commissioners on the Municipal Corporations of England and Wales 1835 – Google Books

[61] ‘Water Police’ Western Morning News 29 April 1921, p4 – The British Newspaper Archive

[62] ‘Water Police’ Western Morning News 13 January 1923, p3 – The British Newspaper Archive

[63] ‘South Molton’ First Report of the Commissioners on the Municipal Corporations of England and Wales 1835 – Google Books

[64] ‘?’ Teignmouth Post and Gazette 4 June 1909, p? – The British Newspaper Archive

[65] ‘Harbour Revenue Account’ Torquay Times and South Devon Advertiser 4 September 1891, p8 – The British Newspaper Archive