The police service in Plymouth

By Brian Moseley


Watch and Ward


Long before our modern police service was set the enforcement of law and order in parishes was set up by the Statute of Winchester in the year 1285. This obliged communities to look after their own law and order and introduced the Parish Constable.


In towns such as Plymouth this was achieved by setting up a system known as Watch and Ward. The Watch was the name given to the men who guarded the town gates and walls at night. Any wrongdoers caught during the night were then handed over to the Parish Constable in the morning. Their daytime duties were called the Ward. The constables carried a bell in the earliest days, a rattle later, with which to rouse the inhabitants and they called out the time and the weather at frequent intervals.


Two other implications of the Statute of Winchester were the system called the Hue and Cry, whereby a person wishing to make an arrest could call on the men, and presumably women, to join him in the chase, and the requirement that all men between the ages of 15 and 60 had to own a weapon with which to help keep the peace. It is recorded that in 1572 Plymothians were asked to provide themselves with clubs.


This ancient system of law enforcement did not change until 1770 when Plymouth and Plymouth Dock started to promote local Acts of Parliament authorising the collection of rates to pay for street lighting and men to watch the Towns at night. [1]


Plymouth's paving, lighting and watching Act provided for one corporal and eight men to watch between 10pm and 4am between Lady-Day and Michaelmas, the corporal being paid 12d and the men 8d each per night. From Michaelmas to Lady-Day there were to be eleven men and a corporal on duty from 10pm until 6am, the men getting 9d each per night at this time of the year. [1]


One of the men was always to be stationed at the Mayor's house and another at the Guildhall, where they were to be relieved every hour. The remainder were to be alternately patrolling the town, and no fewer than three of them must be on patrol at any one time. They were to be armed with a halberd each and a bell and were to call the hour and weather throughout the night. In addition to this, it was considered that there should be six men on Ward (or day-time duty) on a Sunday at a payment of 4d each, as part of their duties was to visit the inns, taverns and beer shops to ensure that the Sabbath was maintained. [1]


There were two corporals, who had charge of the watch-house, the coal and the candles, and four sets of men. [1]


And who paid for this service? The inhabitants. The cost of the service as set up was calculated to be £151 3s 3d and at a Watch Committee meeting on November 25th 1766 it was resolved: 'That each person in the town shall pay by quarterly instalments four shillings a year for the watch, and on default thereof to be summoned legally to watch, and in case such person do not watch pursuant to such summons at the ensuing sessions a bill of indictment be prepared'. [1]


Plymouth Dock likewise obtained a paving, cleansing and watching Act in 1781 and added further powers in 1814 such that the original Act was repealed.


A list of Plymouth's Constables was published in 1812 in the local directory "A Picture of Plymouth", which shows that the men sworn in were from all walks of life in the Town and from almost every part of Plymouth. It is quoted below, with spellings as originally published [2]:


John Sweet, Sherriff's Officer, Market Street

John Williams, bookbinder, Old Town

Francis Suly, mason, Jubilee Street

Robert Elliott, grocer, Barbican

John Bickell, carpenter, Southside Street

William Lawek, taylor, Woolster Street

Edward Ludlow, baker, Britonside

William Brown, carpenter, Jubilee Street

James Beedle, grocer, Barbican

William Fleming, carpenter, Stonehouse Lane

John Gubbell, baker, Butcher's Lane

William Nankivell, cabinet-maker, Pike Street

Henry Burnett, painter, Stonehouse Lane

Philip Shepheard, sadler, Old Town

John Smart, plumber, How's Lane

William Shepheard, grocer, Cornwall Street

Jonathan Hearder, umbrella-maker, Higher Broad Street

Thomas Wingett, boot and shoemaker, Old Town

John Kitto, mason, Colmer's Lane

Henry Honey, musician, Frankfort Street

Andrew Scardon, grocer, Britonside

William Burnell, confectioner, Market Place

William Wright, Foxhole Quay

Charles Knighton, grocer, New Street

John Prouze, carpenter, Frankfort Place

Richard Westcott, boot and shoemaker, Exeter Street

John Hellier, hatter, Exeter Street

John Curtis, brazier, Higher Broad Street

William Gay, boot and shoemaker, Higher Broad Street

John Brend, shipwright, Catt Down

John Harlow, cooper, Catt Down

Robert Baker, blacksmith, Old Town

Robert Prim, grocer, Britonside

-- Knight, mason, Butcher's Lane


As a result of the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, the Plymouth Borough Police Force was formed on January 1st 1836.



[1] "'Watchers' of Plymouth: Growth of Town's Police Force", Western Morning News, Plymouth, September 7th 1928.


[2] "The Picture of Plymouth: being a correct guide to the public establishments, charitable institutions, amusements, and remarkable objects in the towns of Plymouth, Plymouth-Dock, Stonehouse, Stoke and their vicinity: also a list of the principal inhabitants of those towns", Rees and Curtis, 1812.



Plymouth Borough Police


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 [1a]. Plymouth's Watch Committee held its first meeting at the Guildhall on January 16th 1836 [1b].


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. [1c]


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. [1b][1c]


The new Police Force commenced its duties on Saturday March 26th 1836 [1c], although the Watch Committee minute book refers only to the taking of the oath of allegiance on that day [1b].


However, there was still some concern about the organisation 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. [1b]


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. [1d]


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. [1e]


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. [1b]


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. [1b]


A Lieutenant Robert Holman, Royal Navy, was listed as the Superintendent of Plymouth Police in 1844 and 1847 1f].


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. [2]


In 1857 the Superintendent of Police in Plymouth was Mr E Codd [2a].


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. [2b]


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. [2c]


In 1867 the Inspector of Constabularies, Captain Edward Willis, reported that 'the Plymouth force consists of 79 persons, one to each 7 acres.' [3]


Mr Frederick Wreford was the Superintendent of Police in 1871 [4].


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. [4a]


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


Plymouth Borough Police, Chief Constable Frederick Wreford in centre (Kepi Hat), next to bearded man, He was a very tall man, c1890


Constable 69 William Charles Hooper Bennett. Retired from the force c1919 (Photograph Great Grandson Chris Mantle)


By 1892 the Plymouth Central Police and Fire Station was connected to the telephone network operated by the Western Counties & South Wales Telephone Company. Its number was Plymouth 32. The Stonehouse Central Police Station was also on the Plymouth network, having number 187. [5]


Following the sudden death of Superintendent Wreford shortly before, on July 13th 1892 Mr Joseph Davidson Sowerby 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. [6]


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. [6a]


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. [6a]


On the 1st December 1894 the remains of the late Police Constable William Corrick were interred at Plymonth Cemetery. About 50 Constables were present, to pay a last tribute of respect to their departed and highly-esteemed comrade. Amongst the officials of the Force were Chief Constable Sowerby, Supt. Gasking, Inspectors Wyatt aud Warne, ex-Inspectors Hill and Price, and ex-Sergeants Luckham, Prout, and James.


Police Constable 55 Palmer and his Sergeant, c1895. (Photograph courtesy Chris Robinson)


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. [7]


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. [7]


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 & Company at a cost of 4s 5d each: they had previously cost 4s 11½d. Messrs Pearson, Huggins & 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 & 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 & Company. [8]


The Great War, 1914 – 1918

by Peter Hinchliffe & Graham Weeks


In 1912 the Plymouth Corporation decided that all it’s employees, including policemen, should have one day off each week. This was about 2 years before most police forces granted their men one rest day in every [14].


In 1913 The Government appointed the “General Officer Commanding the Fortress” initially this was Major General Arthur PENTON, who commanded the strategic port and Garrison of Plymouth and the Coastline adjacent to it. The First War was anticipated for some while before it was actually declared. In January 1914 PENTON claimed that the thee towns of Plymouth, Devonport and East Stonehouse should be amalgamated into one local authority, for reasons of military efficiency. There was some initial opposition to his plan, after war was declared on 4th., August, the General became more forceful, and the unification occurred on 30th., November, 1914.


The Devonport Borough Police and the Devon Constabulary men stationed at Stonehouse, became Plymouth Borough policemen. The Chief Constable of Devonport Mr J H WATSON left on his appointment as Chief Constable of Bristol. The force was re-organised in December 1914 and March 1915.


General PENTON had far reaching powers and authority over the Chief Constable, who enforced the General’s orders. In August 1914, the General closed all the pubs in the borough of Plymouth and they stayed closed for six weeks, when they re-opened he placed further restrictions, allowing them to sell alcohol between 9a.m. and 9 p.m. In October 1914, he ruled that women could not buy drinks after 6p.m. No civilian could buy drink for a serviceman, and no pub could sell to a serviceman for consumption off the premises. He also invented the “no treating” rule which prohibited the practice of buying rounds of drink. These rules became national in 1915. [21]


About 10% of all constables were military reservists, and these men left their forces on 4th., August, 1914 to travel back to their units. Plymouth was unique in the South West, in that it maintained a relationship with their men, reservists and others who volunteered for “KITCHENERS new Army” The borough council had decided that, any employee in the military would have his pay subsidised to the same level as his council pay. After June 1915 this became a national system. Some Plymouth men were actually promoted in their police ranks, whilst on active service. In the other police forces men re-signed on enlistment in H M forces.


In common with other police forces Plymouth recruited “Temporary Constables” to replace the men who had left to join the armed forces. In all they recruited 26 men, generally older men who were not perhaps as fit as normal recruits, they were on a months notice of termination of employment. After June 1915 they could not leave without the Chief Constables permission. They were paid about the same money as constables with an annual increment. [17]


The General was concerned that the port and borough may suffer bombing or bombardment, a scheme was devised so that policemen, using long bamboo poles, a stock of which had been strategically placed around the town, could rush around and extinguish the gas street lights at the first sign of attack. [19]

There was considerable unrest amongst the civilian workforce in the country, despite the war being fought, there were many strikes and much discontent. The discontent was manifested in the police, who frequently received “war bonuses” of additional pay as a bribe to keep them “on side”

Recruitment for the armed forces was always a challenge in both Devon and Cornwall, there were fewer volunteers for active service from these two counties, than any other in England. When the Derby scheme was introduced, whereby all men of a certain age had to register and await conscription, it became apparent that the police would not be able to manage if many more of it’s manpower was taken away from the force. It then became the responsibility of the Chief Constable to nominate those men who could leave for military service. It also prevented men from resigning or retiring from the police without the Chief’s permission.

Younger policemen were then issued with an arm band worn with their uniform, to show that they had been entered in the Derby scheme, it prevented the embarrassment of the “white feather treatment” which was meted out to men thought to be avoiding conscription. [20]

At the start of the war Plymouth had no Policewomen, the wives of constables were employed on a ad hoc basis to search and over see detained female offenders. Representations were made to the Council that women should be appointed to serve in the Police, foremost in these, came from the Womens Co-operative Guild when the Watch Committee decided not to employ women, various other women’s organisations joined the campaign, providing ladies to accompany the police on patrol, “to give advice to young soldiers found in the company of prostitutes, or to offer guidance to young women of the flapper type” In June 1919 two women were appointed Inspectress CARNEY and Policewoman TAYLOR. [16]

The port was also the point of landing and embarkation of Empire troops, on their way to and from the Western Front, and also a major centre for V A D Hospitals treating the wounded and injured.

In February 1917, the Chief Constable Joseph SOWERBY retired and Herbert SANDERS was appointed in his stead.

At the start of the war the Council was generous towards its men who had joined the colours, this generosity did not stretch to its “Temporary Constables” or its men who had completed their pensionable service, and were not allowed to retire due to the war. In most police forces these men were treated as “Temporary Constables”, paid their pension and re employed at the rate of a temporary. But in Plymouth the men were paid the rate for the rank and did not draw their pension, from February 1918 these men did receive 8 shillings a week extra. The Temporary constables did not often receive the war bonus paid to policemen. [17]

Plymouth had the second largest Co-operative Society in the U K , they had numerous retail outlets, and were involved in every aspect of trade and life, they had recently built warehouses and other installations on their own quay and harbour. The Co-op was the major importer of coal for the town, and most industry was dependant on it for supply. They were the largest employer in Plymouth, except for the Royal Naval Dockyard. In 1918 in an unprecedented action the Co-op staff went on strike.

In September, 1918, there was a strike in the Metropolitan Police, led by a recently formed Police Union, whose membership nationally, had grown in that month from about one thousand to 50,000.

On 25th., September 1918, all Plymouth ranks, Inspectors and below, called a meeting to discuss pay and conditions. The Chief Constable advised the Watch Committee that, the meeting had taken place where it had appointed a group to make representations on matters regarding pay and conditions. [18]

After the London police strike the Government established the DESBOROUGH Commission which examined all aspects of the police service, set a national rate of pay and conditions of service, removing a great deal of local variation in policing 


Outside the Stonehouse police station, which was part of the town hall in Emma Place. Date unknown


Point duty, Union Street. (Photograph courtesy Derek Tait)


Plymouth special constabulary, date unknown. (Photograph Courtesy John Capp)


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 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, who had previously been a Divisional Detective-Inspector at New Scotland Yard. [9]


On May 21st 1919 it was resolved by the Plymouth Borough Council that two policewomen be appointed. On June 18th Miss Audrey J Canney was appointed Inspector and the other officer was Isobel F Taylor. [10]


The first motor fire engine of Plymouth Borough Police (Fire Brigade), c1920.


Plymouth Police fire brigade. (Photographs courtesy John Capp)


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


When policeman went investigate suspicious movements in a Plymouth club, he found man, named John Eyres, on the rafters. Eyres told the constable that if he was wanted he would have be fetched, so the officer climbed the rafters. Seeing that he was likely be captured. Eyres went through a skylight window, and the constable followed. He was just within reach of his man when the roof gave way, and the two men were thrown the ground 20 ft. below. To avoid arrest, Eyres tried to leap into the harbour, but he was seized, and was sentenced to two months’ hard labour. (Illustrated Police News, February 22, 1923)


Five Constables, Plymouth Borough Police, on arrival at Cardiff Railway Station to perform duties in a coal strike, 1923. The four officers at the front are: Constables Brady, Williams, Powton and Thomas. (Photograph: South West Police Museum)


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'. [11]


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. [11]


Police box that once stood in St Budeaux Square. (Photograph courtesy Derek Tait)


A tram and police box at Prince Rock. (Photograph courtesy Derek Tait)


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 [12].


Point Duty, Derry's Clock junction. Date unknown


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


Principal Source:

Dickaty, Ernest A, "From Rattle to Radio", manuscript history of the police in Plymouth deposited with the Plymouth Local Studies Library, Plymouth, October 1977.


Other Sources:

[1a] "The London Gazette", issue 19306, dated September 11th 1835.

[1b] Plymouth Borough Council, Watch Committee minutes 1836, held at the Plymouth & West Devon Record Office, Plymouth, accession number 1648/143.

[1c] "'Watchers' of Plymouth: Growth of Town's Police Force", Western Morning News, Plymouth, September 7th 1928. Unfortunately the newspaper managed to get the year of the formation wrong: they state '1826' but it was in fact 1836.

[1d] "Borough of Plymouth: Borough Police", notice, Plymouth & Devonport Weekly Journal, Plymouth, September 15th 1836.

[1e] "Borough Police", Devonport Independent and Plymouth & Stonehouse Gazette, Devonport, September 24th 1836 and almost the same announcement in the Devonport Telegraph & Plymouth Chronicle, Plymouth, September 24th 1836.

[1f] Plymouth street and trade directories for 1844 and 1847, Plymouth Local Studies Library.

[2] 1851 Census, HO107/1878/550/29.

[2a] Plymouth street and trade directory for 1857, Plymouth Local Studies Library.

[2b] "Local and District News: The Plymouth Police", Western Morning News, Plymouth, October 28th 1861.

[2c] "Swearing in of Constables", Western Daily Mercury, Plymouth, October 28th 1861.

[3] Hutchings, Walter J, "Out of the Blue: History of the Devon Constabulary", Mr Walter J Hutchings, Newton Abbot, Devon, 2nd edition, 1957.

[4] 1871 Census, RG10/2121/99/43.

[4a] Planning application (no drawings), Plymouth & West Devon Record Office, Plymouth, accession number PCC60/1/3947.

[5] "List of Subscribers, May 1892", Western Counties & South Wales Telephone Company Ltd, Bristol, May 1892.

[6] Biography, "One Hundred Portraits from the Plymouth Comet", Mr James H Keys, Plymouth, 1895 + correspondence with Mr Owen Sowerby. the Great Grandson of Mr J D Sowerby.

[6a] "Plymouth 'Chief': Mr Sowerby Retires To-day After 25 Years", Western Morning News, Plymouth, March 31st 1917.

[7] Plymouth Borough Council, "Rates of Pay", a comparison between that on December 28th 1896 and on January 26th 1906, previously held by the Plymouth Local Studies Library but currently missing.

[8] Plymouth Borough Council, Watch Committee, minute number 966 dated January 24th 1906.

[9] "1917 in the West: Plymouth", Western Morning News, Plymouth, December 27th 1917.

[10] Plymouth Borough Council, Minute 2741 dated June 18th 1919.

[11] Plymouth Borough Council, Minute 722 dated December 17th 1924.

[12] Plymouth Borough Council, Minute 724 dated December 17th 1924.

[14] Plymouth Council minutes 10.8.14
[15] Plymouth Council Minutes 16.11.14
[16] Plymouth Council minutes 30.11.14, 22.12.15,24.1.17, 20.6.17, 19.6.18, 9.2.19
[17] Plymouth Council Minutes 26.1.16 
[18] Plymouth Council Minutes 23.10.18
[19] Plymouth General Orders 15.10.17
[20] Plymouth General Orders 8.12.15 24.2.166
[21] Plymouth Museums pamphlet “Controlling the People” issued 2014


Plymouth City Police


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


Chief Constable Archie Wilson. 1929 - 1932


Sometime in 1929-32 motor cycle patrols were started with 2 Sunbeams.


On December 18th 1930 the "Western Morning News" reported that three vehicles were to be purchased to provide motor patrols. [1]


A new police car, a Rover Meteor, was to be purchased from Messrs Humm & Company, Plymouth, for £305 15s in April/May 1931. [2]


Tribute to colleague Mr J R A Treeby at his funeral. Over 150 past and present officers, October 1931. (Photograph courtesy John Capp)


Sunday January 24th 1932 started quietly for the Plymouth Police and possibly the Chief Constable was the only person who had any inkling of what the rest of the day was going to bring. Just after midday on the Saturday he received a telephone call from the Governor of Dartmoor Prison hinting that the services of the Plymouth force might be needed soon. The call came just after 9.30am that Sunday morning, when the Gate Officer telephoned to say that prisoners had started a mutiny and that assistance was urgently required. [3]


At around 10.30am a Western National bus filled with thirty-one Officers left Plymouth for Princetown, preceded by the Chief Constable, Mr A K Wilson, in a Police car. Although the bus was legally limited to only 30mph it is said that the driver, Mr C Webb, pushed its speed up to 45mph where ever possible. A contingent from the Devon County Police, led initially by Superintendent Smith from the Crownhill Police Station, also made its way to the Prison. [3]


Once at the gates of the Prison, the Chief Constable tried to negotiate with the prisoners but this failed and so, with the words: 'In you go lads, it's them or us, so spare no mercy', 31 Police Officers carrying only their truncheons poured through the gates. [3]


The mutiny was quelled by mid-afternoon and the Officers were able to have their first meal of the day, dry bread and a pint of beer, before boarding the coach for the slower return journey. [3]


Searching the river, 1930s. (Photograph courtesy Derek Tait)


In March 1932 Mr Archibald Wilson left Plymouth to become Chief Constable of the City of Liverpool Police. He was replaced by Mr William Clarence Johnson. [3]


On November 24th 1933 the tender of Mr J W Spencer (£28,751) was accepted for the conversion of the old prison at Greenbank into new headquarters for police, fire, magistrate's court and weights & measures office. [4]


The police ceased to supervise car parks in Plymouth after 1934.


What was described at the time as 'One of the most important steps in the history of Plymouth's administrative life..' was taken on Thursday February 28th 1935 when the Mayor of Plymouth, Alderman J E Pillar, opened the new Fire Station and Mr A L Dixon, Assistant Under-Secretary for the Home Department, opened the new Police Headquarters and Magistrate's Court at Greenbank. [5]


Plymouth Contingent, H.M. The Kings Review of Police. Hyde Park, London. July 20th 1935. (Submitted by: Bill Mallett).


Mr William Clarence Johnson left to become Deputy Chief Constable of Birmingham City Police was replaced on Monday March 23rd 1936 by Mr George Sydney Lowe from Newcastle-under-Lyme. During his short time in Plymouth Mr Johnson had overseen the transfer of the headquarters from the Guildhall to Greenbank and instituted a comprehensive network of police boxes and telephone pillars throughout the City. [6]


Traffic Division was formed in 1937.


Point duty George Street, 1937 (Photograph courtesy Chris Robinson)


On September 11th 1940 the tender was accepted from Mr J W Spencer, building contractor, in the sum of £498 for the conversion of the Wolseley Road Cinema into an Auxiliary Fire Service and Police sub-station. The premises taken rented from Messrs H & G Simonds, brewers, of Reading, Berkshire, on a 7-years lease terminable at the end of the War by 3 months notice. The rent was £60 per annum. [7]



During a major raid on the Royal Dockyard at Devonport on April 30th 1941, recently promoted Sergeant Edward Harold Gibbs, was killed while on duty at the corner of Corondale Road and Beacon Park Road. His brother, Mr Sydney James Loveys Gibbs, the Head ARP Warden, and Sydney's 15-years-old son Master David Edward Gibbs, an ARP messenger boy, were killed at the same time. [8]


The Police telephone exchange at Greenbank Police Station was reported as being out of order at 9,21pm on the night of March 20th 1941. This was due to a high explosive bomb having exploded a short distance from the Police Station. This also knocked all but five of the Police Telephone Boxes and Telephone Pillars. The Devonport telephone system was not affected. [8a]


Following the bombing of the Greenbank Police Station, approval was given on June 11th 1941 to Widey Court being taken over as a Police Reinforcement Base from May 21st 1941. [9]


Police van JY 5283 was wrecked in an accident on June 19th 1941. The insurers paid out £50 as compensation. [10]


The new police station in Wolseley Road, Camel's Head, was operational by July 1941. [11]


On November 30th 1941 the Chief Constable, Mr George Sydney Lowe, resigned to take up a post as Chief Constable at Sheffield, Yorkshire. He was replaced by Chief Superintendent William Thomas Hutchings (1892-1943) upon promotion. [11a]


Tuesday March 3rd 1942 was a very special day for a number of City of Plymouth police officers who, on that day, attended an investiture at Buckingham Palace when HM King George VI presented them with the British Empire Medals (BEM) for their bravery and gallant conduct during the heavy bombing raids of March and April 1941. They were: Inspector Herbert Beswick; Police Constable Robert Eakers; and Aircraftman (formerly Police Constable) Alan John Hill. Among those in the audience were 2-years-old Wendy Hill and 9-years-old Beryl Eakers. [12]


Following the bombing of Greenbank just after midnight on June 11th 1943, the headquarters were moved to Widey Court and then back to Greenbank.


On duty outside the Blitzed Aggie Weston building in Fore Street, Devonport. (Photograph courtesy Derek Tait)


On June 21st 1943, Mr John Fawke Skittery (1907-1968) became Chief Constable following the sudden death of Mr William Thomas Hutchings (1891-1943). Mr Skittery became the first of Plymouth's Chief Constables to wear the Crown on his uniform rather than the City crest, as did all his officers. [13]


The Plymouth City Police Force memorial to those officers who fell in Plymouth or in service overseas during World War 2 bears the names of:


Regular Police - W J Brooks, R A Chilcott DFC, J T G Gerretty, E H Gibbs, R W Sandover, W T Sandover, K J Walters and N E West; 


First Police Reserve - W J Cheek and A E Crosby; 


Special Constabulary - S J H Baker, W J A Beer, S J B Hannam, A E Harris and W J K Hutchings; 


Police War Reserve - W D Stribley, L C Vickery and W White.


It concludes with the verse:

'And two things have altered not

Since first the world began

The beauty of the wild green earth

And the bravery of man.'


Regular wireless patrols were started on January 1st 1946 operating for 16 hours per day. A car could reach any part of the City in 4 minutes.


When at Midday on Friday November 29th 1946 23-years-old Miss Iris Martin of 33 Bridwell Road, Weston Mill, Plymouth, stepped out into the middle of the road at Hyde Park Corner, Mutley Plain, she earned her place in Plymouth's local history as the first Woman Police Constable to perform point duty in the City. [13a]


Devon County Police first used wireless patrols in 1948 in 'H' Division (Plympton & Roborough); this was made possible through the co-operation of the Chief Constable of Plymouth allowing them to use the Plymouth wavelength. Within a matter of weeks a car was stolen from Milehouse and the owner reported its loss to Greenbank Police Station. Its details were put over the radio and received by a Devon County car operating on Roborough Down. Practically the first car they saw was the stolen vehicle and it was stopped and the thief arrested. [14]


In May 1948 a young man by the name of Frederick Davey joined the City of Plymouth Police. Fifty-seven years later he has supplied some reminiscences of the beat organisation over the years.


Plymstock beating the bounds ceremony, 1951 (Photograph courtesy Derek Tait)


The Chief Constable's pay was increased from December 16th 1955 to £2,160 pa. [15]


The 1964 Police Act proposed the abolition of certain police forces. The Home Secretary issued a programme of enforced amalgamations on May 18th 1966. [16]


Mr John Fawke Skittery (1907-1968) retired on Wednesday June 30th 1965. He was looking forward to spending his retirement at Postbridge, on Dartmoor, looking after his bees, breeding whippets, and following the Hunt. Sadly it was not to be, as he collapsed and died at Postbridge on Wednesday March 20th 1968. [17]


On July 1st 1965, Mr Ronald Gregory became Chief Constable.


The final parade of the City of Plymouth Police Force took place on Friday May 12th 1967.


The City of Plymouth Police were amalgamated with the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary from Thursday June 1st 1967. The last Watch Committee meeting was held that day. Many of the City officers reserved their right not to serve outside the City and they also declined to change their style of uniform, although this was by choice rather than by right.


Three former Plymouth City Police officers (Now in their Devon and Cornwall uniform). Far right; Constable Michael Frederick Johnson, Centre; Sergeant William Brookes. Photograph taken on a twin visit to Brest in 1974.  Submitted by: Samantha Perrott.


It must be recorded that the Plymouth Police was never a Constabulary as that title was reserved for County police forces.


Principal Source:

Dickaty, Ernest A, "From Rattle to Radio", manuscript history deposited with the Plymouth Local Studies Library, Plymouth, October 1977.


Other Sources:

[1] "Plymouth Traffic Control: City Entitled Three Special Vehicles", Western Morning News, Plymouth, December 18th 1930.

[2] Plymouth City Council, Minute 2270 dated April 22nd 1931.

[3] Dell, Simon, MBE, "Mutiny on the Moor: The Story of the Dartmoor Prison Riot of 1932", Forest Books, Newton Abbot, Devon, 2006.

[4] Plymouth City Council, Minute 131 dated November 24th 1933.

[5] "Landmark in Progress of Plymouth: New Headquarters Opened", Western Morning News, March 1st 1935.

[6] "Police Chief: Mr Johnson's Departure From Plymouth", Western Morning News, Plymouth, March 21st 1936.

[7] Plymouth City Council, Minute 3311 dated September 11th 1940.

[8] Plymouth City Council, "Civilian Roll of Honour 1939-1945", copies held by Plymouth Local Studies Library and Plymouth & West Devon Record Office.

[8a] "City of Plymouth: Air Raids March 20th/21st 1941: ARP Controller's Report", held by the Plymouth Local Studies Library.

[9] Plymouth City Council, Minute 1774 dated June 11th 1941.

[10] Plymouth City Council, Minute 1069 dated February 18th 1942.

[11] Plymouth City Council, Minute 2127 dated July 21st 1941.

[11a] Plymouth City Council minutes 2722 and 2723 dated October 29th 1941.

[12] "Kiddies See Hero-Fathers Decorated: City Firemen and Police at Palace", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, March 5th 1942. With thanks to PC Hill's daughter, Julie, for drawing attention to this Investiture. He went on to serve for 28 years in the Royal Air Force.

[13] Dickaty, Ernest A, "From Rattle to Radio", manuscript history deposited with the Plymouth Local Studies Library, Plymouth, October 1977.

[13a] "Plymouth's First Woman To Do This: Police Point Duty on the Plain", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, November 29th 1946.

[14] Hutchings, Walter J, "Out of the Blue: History of the Devon Constabulary", Mr Walter J Hutchings, Newton Abbot, Devon, 2nd edition, 1957.

[15] Plymouth City Council, Minute 454 dated May 30th 1956.

[16] Critchley, T A, "A History of Police in England and Wales", Constable, London, 1978.

[17] "Lord Mayor's Tribute to Mr Skittery: Gift from Watch Committee", Western Morning News, Plymouth, June 30th 1965 + "Former Chief Constable Dies", Western Morning News, Plymouth, March 21st 1968.



Devonport Borough Police


In June 1808 a Bill was prepared to be laid before Parliament proposing the creation of a Police Office in Plymouth Dock. The preamble to the Bill made clear the reasons for this: 'Whereas great Frauds and Depredations upon the property of the Public and of Individuals are frequently committed in His Majesty's Dockyard at Plymouth Dock, and elsewhere in that town and its neighbourhood ...' The proposal was based on the successful establishment of such a police office, the Thames Police Office, in the parish of Saint John, at Wapping, in the county of Middlesex. That was a privately-funded venture by merchants who were anxious to put a stop to the thieving from their ships moored along the river. The Dock proposal was to enable His Majesty to establish the police. [1]


What is interesting about the Plymouth Dock proposal is that the area this police force was to cover included the whole of Plymouth Sound, the rivers Plym and Tamar, all harbours, bays, creeks or arms of the sea, within that area and 'upon the land at any place within the said Counties of Devon and Cornwall ...' It's jurisdiction would therefore have been huge and it is hardly surprising that the proposal came to nothing. Plymouth Corporation, given their views about Plymouth Dock, would not have liked the Dockers to have powers over their territory and possibly the county landowners also disliked the idea. [1]


Although the Bill never got enacted it could be said that this was also the precursor for the establishment of the Metropolitan Police in the Royal Dockyard.


The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 allowed previously unincorporated towns like Devonport to become Boroughs, with a Mayor, Aldermen and Common Council. Devonport was granted this status in 1837 and one of its new powers was to be able to have its own police force, which it formed in 1838.


Mr William Brockington was the Superintendent of Police in 1850-51 and lived at 36 Clowance Street, Devonport. [2]


Apparently the Superintendent of the Devonport Police in 1857 was Mr Robert Hitchman [3].


One of the Constables who joined the Devonport Borough Police in 1862 was Mr John Matters. Thirty-one years later he became the Chief Constable. In 1862 the pay of a First Class Constable in Devonport was 19 shillings per week but Mr Matters never achieved that, receiving, for some unexplained reason, only 17s 6d per week. It is most likely that he was a Second Class Constable. However, he did attain the rank of Sergeant only two years after joining and then received £1 1s per week. When he joined there were only 40 men in the Force, covering an area of some 1,700 acres and a population of around 40,000. [4]

In 1867 the Inspector of Constabularies, Captain Edward Willis, reported that 'Devonport possesses a constabulary of 46 persons, 51 acres to each constable. The force is well clothed and equipped and is efficient'. [5]


Visit to the Dockyard doctor, 1878 (Photograph courtesy Chris Robinson)


Whistles became standard issue from September 1881 although Plymouth had them in 1880 and the Devon force, covering Stonehouse, were not issued with them until 1892. [6]


During the year 1882 Superintendent John Lynn had a force of three inspectors, five sergeants, two detectives and forty constables for a Borough population of 48,939 people. One of the highest crimes in the Town were against the Elementary Education Acts, which were presumably not sending their children to school or allowing them to be absent without good reason. There were 62 convictions. There were 21 convictions for common assaults and 92 for drunkenness or being drunk and disorderly. 18 of those convicted were whipped. The longest sentence was one case of imprisonment for between 3 and 6 months. Of those taken to Court, 490 were males and 160 were females. [7]


The Superintendent of the Borough Police in 1891 was 59-years-old Mr Samuel Evans. Born at Bigbury, Devon, in around 1832, he had been an Inspector back in the late 1860s when Mr John Matters was a sergeant. [8]


Mr John Matters had been promoted to Inspector in 1870 and in 1893 he was appointed to the newly created post of Chief Constable. He retired on Wednesday April 1st 1908, having served in the Devonport Borough Police for 46 years. He was succeeded by Mr John Henderson Watson, from Congleton, in Cheshire. [4]


Devonport Borough Police,1903


Devonport officer on duty at the Doris Gun war memorial, 1904. (Photograph courtesy Derek Tait)


At the end of 1908 the strength of the Devonport Borough force was recorded as a Chief Constable, a Chief Inspector, five Inspectors, nine Sergeants and 71 Constables. [9]


Devonport Police had a mounted section. This consisted of six officers but when the Watch Committee met on Thursday April 20th 1911 they were informed that they 'have a very ragged appearance' and were only used once or twice a year. The Committee resolved that the mounted section be discontinued. [10]


Devonport Borough Police, boat crew, c1910

Back: PCs D Batters, A Saunders, W Billing, Det Sgt F Irish

Seated: PC C Braund, Chief Constable J H Watson, Sgt D Moore (coxswain), Insp J H Dain, PC S Giles 


Devonport Borough Police,1912


Detachment of Devonport Borough Police at the Mid-Cornwall clay strike, September 1913

Back: PCs T Rogers, E Harper, C Hewings, D Collett, C Osborne, F Rogers.

Middle: PCs C Bawden, C Selley, H Healey, B Steer, A Heath, T Lang.

Front: PCs G Warwick, B Harper, N Holbeton, Insp J Voss, Sgt D Moore, PCs G Greep, S Bright, C Palmer


The last meeting of the Devonport Watch Committee took place on Thursday October 15th 1914, prior to the amalgamation of the Three Towns on Monday November 9th. [11]


The last surviving member of the Devonport Borough Police Force, Mr Frederick John Boundy, died on Wednesday February 23rd 1977, just four days before his 90th birthday. Although born in Plymouth, he had joined the Devonport Police in 1911. During the Great War he had served in the Royal Artillery in France. After ten years in the Criminal Investigation Division, he was promoted to Inspector and was in charge of the Devonport Division until 1942, when he was promoted to Chief Inspector at the Greenbank Police Headquarters. He was in the building when it received a direct hit from a 1,000 pound German bomb: luckily it failed to explode. He retired from the Force in 1945. The funeral service took place on Monday February 28th 1977 at the Church of Saint Barnabas and he was laid to rest in Ford Park Cemetery. [6]+[12]



[1] "A Bill To enable His Majesty to establish a Police at Plymouth Dock, in the County of Devon", Ordered to be printed 25th June 1808.

[2] 1851 Census. HO107/1881/351/18.

[3] Plymouth street and trade directory for 1857, Plymouth Local Studies Library.

[4] "Chief Constable Matters: Retirement To-morrow", Western Morning News, Plymouth, March 31st 1908.

[5] Hutchings, Walter J, "Out of the Blue: History of the Devon Constabulary", Mr Walter J Hutchings, Newton Abbot, Devon, 2nd edition, 1957.

[6] Dickaty, Ernest A, "From Rattle to Radio", manuscript history of the police in Plymouth deposited with the Plymouth Local Studies Library, Plymouth, October 1977.

[7] "Devonport Police Returns", Western Morning News, Plymouth, October 30th 1883.

[8] 1891 Census, RG12/1741/33/21.

[9] "1908 in the West: Devonport", Western Morning News, Plymouth, December 28th 1908.

[10] Devonport Borough Council, Minute dated Thursday April 20th 1911.

[11] Source not recorded.

[12] "Ex city police chief dies", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, February 28th 1977.



Metropolitan Police


Royal Marine Police (Civil)

Admiralty Civil Police


Admiralty Constabulary

Ministry of Defence Police


Devonport Dockyard


Plymouth has been used as a naval base since the days of Edward I and his wars with France and the port was vital in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Devonport Dockyard, originally known as Plymouth Dock, on the Hamoaze (the name for part of the River Tamar), is the largest Naval dockyard in Western Europe and dates from 1693 when a wet and dry dock was built, followed by the construction of workshops, stores, and more docks.


Eventually some 54 acres formed the area known as South Yard. The dockyard was extended over the years with the addition of Morice Yard which provided ordnance, powder and shot to the fleet, and in 1844, by the Steam Yard. From 1700 a new town had been built around the dockyard and in 1824 it broke free from its older neighbour to become Devonport.


Most of the dockyard is now in private hands as a commercial enterprise and the remainder, occupied by the Royal Navy, is known as the Plymouth Naval Base.


Since 1834 five police forces have policed the Devonport Dockyard and under special circumstances up to five miles outside of the Dockyard. They are: Metropolitan Dockyard Police, Royal Marine Police (Civil), Admiralty Civil Police, Admiralty Constabulary and the Ministry of Defence Police.


Steam fire pump photo at the Naval Base South Yard. The Officers are Metropolitan Dockyard Police, 1863


Sergeant Alfred James Evans, Metropolitan Dockyard Police, c.1912. (Submitted by: Granddaughter Lois Newman)


Metropolitan Dockyard Police, Sergeant Alfred James Evans, bottom row, 3rd from right c.1912. (Submitted by: Granddaughter Lois Newman)


Metropolitan Dockyard Police, Sergeant Alfred James Evans, 2nd from right c.1912. (Submitted by: Granddaughter Lois Newman)


Metropolitan Police Band - Devonport, 1920

Top row: Constables Brooks, Gould, Corrick, How

Second row: Constables Duncan, Beer, Rothwell, Fuggle, Dry, Beard,

Third row: Constable Libby, A Sgt Burkin, Constables Gould, Brooker, Forrest, Farndell, Morey, Titcombe, Seaman

Sitting: Sgt Jackson, Mr Coventry (Bandmaster), Supt Sewell, C Insp Richardson, Sgt Chinn, Constable Gomer


Metropolitan (Devonport) Dockyard Police, Sergeant 11. (Submitted by: Ray Ricketts)


Dockyard police station


Watch and Ward in East Stonehouse


Although it is claimed that something called the East Stonehouse District Police Force was formed in 1836 there seems to be no evidence to support the statement. [1]


That statement implies that it was formed as a result of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, like the Devonport Borough Police Force, but East Stonehouse was never made into a borough and thus had no legal right to run a policed force.


The truth lies in a report made by the Devon county police committee at the Quarter Sessions on June 30th 1857. Referring to East Stonehouse it said: 'in this parish constables have hitherto been appointed under the act for lighting and watching and therefore until notice has been given by the Chief Constable that he is ready to undertake this charge, this parish is also exempt from police rate.' [2]


In other words, at the time of the formation of the Devon Constabulary the parish of East Stonehouse appointed parish constables and had done so under the authorisation of three local acts of parliament: the Plymouth and Stonehouse Bridge Roads Acts 1805 and 1821 and the Plymouth, Stonehouse Bridge and Plymouth Dock Roads Act 1822. (The Royal Assent of the last-named was May 15th 1822).


This is further supported by the fact that the 1851 census lists 62-years-old Mr Aaron Nathan as Superintendent of the Watch Force. He and his wife and two daughter lived in Fore Street, East Stonehouse, and on the night of the census they were apparently accompanied by six 'Watch Constables On Duty in the Open Air', all pensioners from the Royal Marines, and one prisoner, 24-years-old Mr Joseph Richards, a Private in the Royal Marines. [3]


The Watch Constables were [3]:

Mr William Nancarow, aged 51, of St Agnes, Cornwall;

Mr Charles Hadley, 43, of Franckley, Worcestershire;

Mr Patrick Kenedy (sic), 50, of Ireland;

Mr Thomas Bell, 40, of Whitcombe, Somerset;

Mr David Carey, 46, of Alcombe, Somerset; and

Mr Walter Willcocks, 43, from Tamerton Folliott (sic), Devon.


East Stonehouse had evidently been brought under the control of the Devon Constabulary by October 12th 1857, when the Quarters Sessions ordered that cells, living quarters for one sergeant, and a charge room must be provided in the parish, which was then a part of C Division. [2]


[1] "About the Force", Devon & Cornwall Constabulary website,

[2] Hutchings, Walter J, "Out of the Blue: History of the Devon Constabulary".

[3] 1851 Census, HO107/1880/150/2.



Devon Constabulary 'H' Division


The Devon Constabulary was responsible was policing the parish and urban district of East Stonehouse and the districts of Plympton and Plymstock that are now within the City of Plymouth.


On January 6th 1857 the Court of Quarter Sessions for the County of Devon made a resolution that a County Constabulary should be formed and that it would consist of a Chief Constable; four Superintendents; nine Inspectors; twenty-three Sergeants; sixty First Class Constables; 130 Second Class Constables; and seventy-three Third Class Constables. The Inspectors were to be mounted. The Chief Constable, Mr Gerald de Courcey Hamilton, had already been appointed at am annual salary of £400 and by April 7th 1857 he had recruited 225 other ranks. The Constables were to receive between 16 shillings and one pound a week and the Sergeants would get £1 3s. [1]


The Devon Constabulary was divided into four Districts, with Plympton, East Stonehouse and Jump - later known as Roborough - included in Division C. On June 30th 1857 it was recorded that...'in this parish constables have hitherto been appointed under the act for lighting and watching and therefore until notice has been given by the Chief Constable that he is ready to undertake this charge, this parish is also exempt from police rate.' On October 12th 1857 the Quarter Sessions ordered that cells, quarters for one Sergeant and other police rooms be provided in East Stonehouse; that a Petty Sessions court, three cells and quarters for two Constables be provided at Plympton Saint Mary; and two cells and quarters for two Constables be provided at Jump. The subsistence allowance for providing prisoners with meals was 4d. per meal. Subsequently they ordered that a Petty Sessions Court be added to the facilities at Jump. [1]


On June 29th 1858 it was reported to the Devon Police Committee that a portion of the Saint George's Hall, in East Stonehouse, was to be rented as a police station at the rate of £40 per annum from August 2nd next (1858) until a more permanent arrangement could be arranged. [1]


Today we know the village of Jump as Roborough. Although it is outside the City of Plymouth, those readers who used to journey through the village before the by-pass was built will remember the Court House that stands on the eastern side of the Tavistock Road, near the Lopes' Arms Public House. This was designed and erected by Mr George Marshall during the summer of 1859 and brought into use early in December. The building contained twelve rooms, eight of which formed the residences for a Sergeant and Constable. There were also two cells and a public waiting room. Prior to the erection of this building any persons arrested in the area had to be taken to Stonehouse to be kept in the cells and returned to Jump for their court appearance. [2]


The use of part of the old Mayoralty House at Plympton for a second-class police station and lock-up was authorised by the magistrates of the Plympton Division on February 28th 1862. The cost was £160, which was £10 higher than the alternative site near Plympton Church. [3]


On June 27th 1864 the Chief Constable reported that the Stonehouse District, part of 'H' Division, comprised a 2nd Class Sergeant and twelve Constables, two of whom were on loan in connection with military building at Staddon Heights. The Superintendent in charge of the Division, Mr George Ross, was based at East Stonehouse and he had 1st Class Sergeants at Plympton and Roborough plus seventeen Constables covering both places. [1]


The Chief Constable reported on the strength of the Constabulary on March 31st 1878. 'H' Division, based at East Stonehouse, was headed by Superintendent Edward Brutton with 1st Class Sergeants at Plympton and Roborough, seventeen Constables and one vacancy at Holbeton. The East Stonehouse District was covered by a 1st Class Sergeant and thirteen Constables. [1]


Helmets were introduced into the uniform in January 1879. [1]


Mr Gerald de Courcey Hamilton, the Chief Constable of Devon, retired on December 31st 1891 and Mr Francis Randolph C Coleridge, formerly a District Inspector in Dublin, was appointed to replace him. [1]


Although police whistles were issued in Plymouth in 1880 and became standard issue from September 1881, they were apparently not issued by the Devon Constabulary at East Stonehouse until after the end of June 1892. [1]


On November 9th 1896 parts of Compton, Eggbuckland, Laira and Pennycross were amalgamated in to Plymouth. One Sergeant and two Constables were retained at Compton, the remaining Constable staying with the Devon Constabulary. The Constable based at Crabtree in the parish of Eggbuckland was transferred to Saint Budeaux. [1]


From April 1st 1907 Captain Herbert Reginald Vyvyan took over as Chief Constable of Devon. [1]


East Stonehouse became part of the Borough of Plymouth on November 8th 1914 and one Inspector, two Sergeants and fifteen Constables transferred to the Plymouth Borough Police Force. Only the biggest and strongest men were selected for East Stonehouse as they had to be able to deal with drunken sailors and this resulted in the pick of the Devon Constabulary being moved to Plymouth. As a result, Plympton became the headquarters of H Division. [1]


From January 1st 1921 the headquarters of H Division was transferred from Plympton to the Police Station at Crownhill, where the superintendent was stationed. [1]


Captain Vyvyan retired as Chief Constable of Devon on April 1st 1931 and the following day Major Lyndon Henry Morris took over. [1]


A new police station was provided at Plympton in March 1939. [1]


The Chief Constable of Devon, Major Lyndon Henry Morris CBE MC DL died on November 7th 1946. He was greatly respected by his subordinates because he respected them. He was responsible for two innovations for which he would be long remembered. Unlike his predecessors, he accepted that a policeman's house was not just an official residence but also his home. Because of that he always knocked or rang the bell and waited on the doorstep to be invited in. And secondly he dispensed with the requirement for a Constable planning marriage to provide references as to the character of his prospective bride. [1]


From April 1st 1950 Tamerton Foliot was amalgamated into the City of Plymouth but the Constable who had been stationed there remained with the Devon Constabulary and moved to a new location. [1]


On April 1st 1967 Plympton and Plymstock were amalgamated into the City of Plymouth. This was quickly followed by the disbandment of the City of Plymouth Police Force on May 31st 1967, when the Devon Constabulary, the Cornwall Constabulary, the City of Exeter Police Force and the City of Plymouth Police Force were amalgamated to form the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.



[1] Hutchings, Walter J, "Out of the Blue: History of the Devon Constabulary", 1957.

[2] "The New Lock-up at Jump", Plymouth & Devonport Weekly Journal, Plymouth, December 8th 1859.

[3] "A Police Station for Plympton", Western Daily Mercury, Plymouth, March 5th 1862.



Devon and Cornwall Constabulary


On 1st June 1967 Plymouth City Police merged with Exeter, Devon and Cornwall to become the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.


Police car at Tamerton Foliot, Plymouth, 1970s (Photograph courtesy Derek Tait)


Beat Memories


Mr Fred Davey MBE, who joined the City of Plymouth Police in May 1948, has kindly supplied information on the old policing system in the days of the City of Plymouth Constabulary.


He joined the force in 1948. At that time they worked a system of three shifts: the early turn was from 6am until 2pm; the late turn was 2pm to 10pm, and the night shift was 10pm to 6am. Starting from a fortnight on early turn, there would then be a week on late turn, followed by two weeks on nights. This would be followed by a week of late turn before returning to the two weeks early turn.


During each shift there was a 45-minute break for a meal. Before the Second World War, and perhaps during the War, the night duty officers had their breaks in shop doorways. The station reserve officer would then carry around some coffee to these men and because of this the night-duty meal was for a long time known as “coffee”. This terminology continued even after things became more civilised and they returned to the police station for their meal breaks.


Those were the days of the six-day working week, of course, with only one day off in lieu of Sundays. For the police this meant a different day each week and only once in every seven weeks did you have both a Saturday and a Sunday together. This was referred to as ‘a long weekend’.


Then the Chief Constable, Mr J F Skittery, brought in a seven week system with the intention of spreading the manpower over the 24-hour period and putting more men on duty at the times they were needed. The seven shifts were then: 6am to 2pm; 8am to 4pm; 9am to 6pm; 2pm to 10pm; 4pm to Midnight; 6pm to 2am and 10pm to 6am. The 9am to 6pm shift had a longer meal break than the others and was used mainly for traffic control duties.


This arrangement lasted for a short while but then the shifts were reduced to six in number, doing away with the 9am to 6pm one. Both these shift patterns were popular with the men because they did away with the 8-hour changeover and gave them more time with their families when they were off duty. The day off for those on day shifts was always a Sunday.


At some time during this period there was an increase to a day and a half off per week. This was fine but when this was further increased to two days a week, two things happened. The first, as Fred Davey himself puts it, was ‘that the higher ranks in the Force thought the end of the world had come!’. More practically, it meant that the number of shifts was reduced to four, the three traditional ones plus a new 10am to 6pm one.


Plymouth’s ‘A Division’ covered Greenbank and the City Centre police stations, the latter being located after the War in a temporary building in Westwell Street. There were 20 beats. Number 1 covered an area to the west of Mutley Plain; number 2 was Mutley Plain itself; number 3 was to the east of Mutley Plain; number 4 was the west of Tavistock Road, number 5 to the east of Tavistock Road; number 6 was Mount Gould and number 7 was Laira. The man on this beat was provided with a pedal cycle and later a motor cycle.


Beats 8 and 9 covered Prince Rock and Cattedown. Beat 11 covered just Royal Parade and the south side of New George Street while a colleague on beat 12 covered the other side of New George Street and Cornwall Street. The remaining beats covered the Hoe and Barbican.


Not all beats were necessarily covered as Fred refers to one Saturday night when he was Acting Sergeant covering both stations that he had 18 police constables on duty covering 20 beats.


The system used in ‘working the beat’ was that at the start of the shift the Sergeant would instruct the Officers to walk their beat in either the left or right direction from their starting point. The rule would apply throughout that shift. The idea was that the Sergeant should be able to walk the beat in reverse and meet the Constable part way round.


Perhaps the more useful rule was that a Constable should ring in to the police station once every 45 minutes from one of the blue pillar telephones or boxes.


Former Police Constable Simon Dell recalls seeing the beat lists displayed in police stations. The beat was rigid and only an emergency, or to make an enquiry that the Sergeant knew about, would be accepted as justification for leaving the set route. It was also very complicated. For example, on even dates the officer might go one way around his beat but on odd dates he would take a slightly different route. It could even vary between shifts. The only thing that was important was that the officer was at a particular spot, usually a police box, telephone post or major road junction, within ten minutes before and ten minutes after a specific time so that his Sergeant knew where to find him if required. This was also used as a form of discipline, of course, to check that the officer was doing his duty. Old newspapers are full of reports of police officers being found asleep or even drinking in public houses, for which they were usually dismissed.



Greenbank police headquarters


What was described at the time as 'One of the most important steps in the history of Plymouth's administrative life..' was taken on Thursday February 28th 1935 when Mr A L Dixon, Assistant Under-Secretary for the Home Department, opened the new Police Headquarters and Magistrate's Court at Greenbank, which had previously been the Borough Prison.


After the ceremony, which followed the opening of the adjacent Fire Station, and the speeches in the parade room, the Police had a very busy night. Some 40,000 files appertaining to various branches of work in the Plymouth police were transferred overnight from the old headquarters in Catherine Street, alongside Saint Andrew's Church, to the new building. So efficient was the organisation that with minutes of their arrival at Greenbank, the files could be consulted once again, as though nothing had happened.


Even the Black Maria was pressed into service. It was twelve years old and a familiar sight around the City. It was claimed it had never been out of service for more than two hours at a time. But shortly after this event it was replaced by a brand new 20 horse-power prison van of the very latest type. It was still capable of 40mph even to the end, apparently.


The contractor for the conversion of the old prison buildings was Mr J W Spencer of St Lawrence Yard, Plymouth. The architect is not known. Messrs Penrose & Son, of Mutley Plain, Plymouth, installed the heating and plumbing; Messrs Vincent J Pope & Company dealt with the electrical work; Messrs Harris & Sons, of George Street, were responsible for the decorating; the Western Counties Brick Company Ltd did the brickwork; the West of England Joinery Company carried out the joinery work; Messrs Fouracre & Son, of Chapel Street, Stonehouse, supplied the kiln burnt glass and coats-of-arms; and other materials were supplied by Messrs Henry Ede & Son and Messrs J F Moore Ltd. To complete the acknowledgements given, Messrs A C Turner Ltd of Austin House, Plymouth, supplied three Austin cars for police use and Messrs W Mumford Ltd had constructed the new prison van at their Billacombe works.


An entrance from Longfield Place led to the charge-rooms. Down one corridor were rooms for the superintendents, a recreation room for the men and the "nerve centre" of the Station - the telephone room, lined with coloured telephones, plugs and lights, where specially trained operators took the emergency calls.


One wing of the first floor was taken up by a new venture for the Plymouth police - a section house. Here unmarried police officers could lodge. In addition to the comfortable bedrooms, there was a small dining-room, an even smaller dining-room for officers, a kitchen, lounge and bath-rooms. The Chief Constable's office was immediately above the charge room: presumably he could hear everything that went on beneath him. Along the corridor were the photographic room, laboratory and what they then called the crime index room.


The former prison chapel on the first floor had been converted into the magistrate's court, entered from Greenbank Road, and in the west wing of the building was housed the weights and measures office.


Despite the air raids of the early part of the Second World War, especially those in March 1941, Greenbank managed to stay intact until the early hours of Monday June 14th 1943, when there was a short but heavy raid on both Plymouth and Plympton. It only lasted a half hour but Twyford describes it as 'one of the liveliest half-hour's Plymouth citizens spent.' Between 70 and 80 high explosive bombs of between 250kg to 1,000kg were dropped but, luckily, about half of them failed to detonate. However, one of the biggest crashed through the roof of the centre of Greenbank Police Headquarters, bringing tons of masonry crashing down, but then lay unexploded on the landing of the first floor outside the magistrate's court and over the prison cells and control room. The reserve headquarters at Widey Court had to be brought in to use until the bomb could be removed and the damage repaired.



Devonport and Plymouth police officers


The following names and details of officers serving in the Plymouth Borough Police, the Devonport Borough Police and the City of Plymouth Police Force have been extracted from the Plymouth and Devonport Watch Committee Minutes in the course of more general research. It is not exhaustive and is published on the web for its limited use. The number in brackets after the name is the person's police number.


PC Charles Clarence Avery (208) - transferred to Gloucester 8/11/1954.

PC George Edmond Bell - confirmed as PC 21/9/1954

PS William Body - continued beyond retirement 5/1915.

?? Hazel Mary Bossom - ceased service 3/1/1955.

PC Cedric Bowden (165) - promoted to PS 11/11/1954.

PC John Northcote Brewer - appointed on probation 28/5/1956.

PC Richard Cornelius Brown (327) - appointed on probation 1/11/1954; confirmed as PC 31/10/1956.

PC Claude Bryant - resigned 11/7/1954.

PC Gilbert John Bryant - appointed on probation 28/12/1954.

PC Peter Casey (215) later Superintendent (last officer to join Plymouth City)

PC William Charles Champion (285) - promoted to PS 9/8/1954.

PC Albert Chapman (329) - appointed on probation 4/11/1954; confirmed as PC 3/11/1956.

PC Kenneth Roy Chappell - appointed on probation 30/7/1956.

PS Arthur Wilfred Charles - promoted to Inspector 14/6/1954.

Chief Inspector Charles Clifford Clingan - promoted to Superintendent (II) 31/12/1956.

PS Arthur Edward Collier - retired by [15/9/1954]; died 28/7/1956.

PC Walter Collings (78) - continued beyond retirement 5/1915.

PC David George Collins - appointed on probation 25/6/1956.

PC Richard Terence Cook (63) - appointed on probation 3/5/1954; confirmed as PC 2/5/1956.

PC H R Colwill (175) - injured on duty 7/6/1929.

PC David George Cox (131) - appointed on probation 3/5/1954; confirmed as PC 2/5/1956.

PC Alfred Desmond Damiel - appointed on probation 28/12/1954.

PC James Graham Douglas (186) - promoted to PS 17/1/1955.

PC Brian Downing - appointed on probation 23/4/1956.

PC Roy Wilfred Drake (141) - appointed on probation 24/5/1954; confirmed as PC 23/5/1956.

?? John Charles Dugdale - ceased service 20/3/1955.

Superintendent William Dustow - retired 30/12/1956.

?? Eric Pascoe Edwards - ceased service 24/1/1955.

PC Spencer George Fellowes - retired 5/9/1954.

PC Alan Hooper Fleet - confirmed as PC 21/9/1954

PC Terence Stanley Ford - appointed on probation 28/2/1955.

PC Derek Ronald Friend (166) - appointed on probation 21/6/1954; confirmed as PC 20/6/1956.

PC David James Leigh Gabbitas - appointed on probation 23/4/1956.

PC Norman Frederick George - appointed on probation 28/2/1955.

PC Andrew Gow - appointed on probation 27/8/1956.

PC Charles Grant - retired 28/12/1921; died 29/11/1924.

?? Leslie Richard Newton Gray - ceased to serve 6/9/1954.

?? Reginald Greenacre - ceased to serve 2/8/1954.

PS Edgar Gullett - resigned 8/8/1954.

Insp John Gulley - widow died 9/1956.

PC S Guscott (54) - commended for prompt action in dealing with a fire in Marlborough Street on 21/10/1924.

WPC Edna Hainsworth - transferred from Nottinghamshire 31/12/1956.

PC Terence Charles Frederick Harrison - appointed on probation 25/6/1956.

PC W Heath (26) - mentioned 1917.

PC Owen Henwood - resigned 18/7/1954.

PC Frank Herbert (98) - promoted to Temporary PS 14/10/1954

PC Derrick Samuel Hill (54) - confirmed as PC 12/4/1955.

PC David Hooper (330) - appointed on probation 29/11/1954; confirmed as PC 28/11/1956.

PC David Stanley John Hussey (264) - confirmed as PC 1/2/1955.

PC Michael Ronald James - appointed on probation 1/11/1954

PC W P Jeffery (10) - due to retire 1917 but still fit so retained.

WPC Muriel Edith Jewell - ceased service 1/1/1957.

PC Alan Herbert Jones - appointed on probation 28/5/1956.

PC Ernest Frederick Jones - confirmed as PC 21/9/1954

?? Eric Charles Keane - transferred from Metropolitan Police 20/12/1954.

PC Thomas King (11) - due to retire 1917 but was still fit so retained.

PC Leslie Richard Mile Kinchin - appointed on probation 30/7/1956.

PC Mervyn Peter King - appointed on probation 31/1/1955.

PC Alan Lane (331) - appointed on probation 29/11/1954; confirmed as PC 28/11/1956.

PC James John Henry Laurie - appointed on probation 30/7/1956.

PC Trevor Frederick John Luxton - transferred from Metropolitan Police 25/10/1954.

PC Samuel Lyle (20) - due to retire 1917 but still fit so retained.

PC Charles David McKenzie - appointed on probation 28/3/1955.

PC J Mann (21) - due to retire 1917 but still fit so retained.

PC Peter John Marsh - confirmed as PC 21/9/1954

PC Robert Stanley Miles - appointed on probation 9/8/1954.

PC Keith Miller OR Milten (?) - appointed on probation 28/2/1955.

PS Reginald Miller - died 9/9/1956.

PC Ian Anthony Moore (191) - appointed on probation 6/9/1954; confirmed as PC 5/9/1956.

PC Robert Morgan (12) - due to retire 1917 but still fit so retained.

Insp R N Moules - returned from Police College 17/6/1956.

DS W Mutton - mentioned 1917.

PC Edward John Newman - confirmed as PC 26/7/1954.

PC Leonard George Nowland (305) - transferred to Preston 22/6/1954.

PC F Osborne (24) - due to retire 1917 but still fit so retained.

PC Thomas Henry Osborne (92) - promoted to Temporary PS 13/12/1956.

PC Leonard William Robert Page (268) - promoted to PS 31/12/1956.

PS John Francis Charles Parish (45) - promoted to Inspector 16/12/1954.

PC Charles Desmond Parker - appointed on probation 9/7/1956.

PS George John Royce Pearce (30) - promoted to Insp 31/12/1956.

Insp Stanley Norman Sydney Pearce - promoted to Chief Inspector 31/12/1956.

PC Rowland Edward Pearne (122) - promoted to PS 13/1/1955.

PC Edward Thomas Pendrey (83) - continued beyond retirement 12/1924.

PC Gerald Francis Pennington (164) - appointed on probation 24/5/1954; confirmed as PC 23/5/1956.

PS Stanley James Perkins - resigned 8/8/1954.

PS J C M Pill - passing reference 10/1954

Ins Harold Charles Poole - retired 16/1/1955.

PC W L Pope - retired 21/2/1923; died 9/4/1928.

PC James Edward Raven - appointed on probation 28/12/1954.

PC Cyril Edwin John Redman (113) - retired 16/1/1955.

PC Bernard James Rendle (320) - confirmed as PC 22/3/1955.

PC James Edward Barham Reynolds - appointed on probation 28/3/1955.

PC Ralph Colin Richards - appointed on probation 28/5/1956.

PC Kenneth William Riggs - appointed on probation 31/1/1955.

PC Malcolm Leslie Rymer Rose - appointed on probation 6/9/1954.

PC Geoffrey Hugh Rowe - appointed on probation 21/6/1954; ceased service 15/11/1954; appointed on probation 14/2/1955.

PC Reginald William Sandover (237) - deceased by [7/7/1954]. Additional information has been supplied by Mr Fred Davey MBE: Reginald Sandover joined the RAF and was shot down during a bombing raid over France on June 13th 1944. This has since been confirmed by Mr Sandover's son-in-law, Mr Edward Hayward, of Amersham, Buckinghamshire. Mr Sandover had been a pupil at the Hoe Grammar School before the Second World War.

PC William Thomas Sandover, of Cornwood, Devon, a cousin of the above, was injured on April 29th 1941 at Fort Austin Avenue, Crownhill, where he lived, and died at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Greenbank, Plymouth, on May 1st 1941. He was 28 years old and stationed at the Crownhill Police Station at the time.

PS William Francis Saunders (37) - promoted to Inspector 17/1/1955.

PS P J Sharpe - seconded to Cyprus [by 11/1956].

?? John William Smith - ceased service 5/4/1955.

PC Peter Michael Thorpe-Tracey (290) - confirmed as PC 21/12/1954; transferred to Metropolitan Police 13/8/1956.

PC Robert William Townsend - appointed on probation 6/9/1954.

PC F C M Tremlett (297) - Disabled, ceased service 17/2/1955

PC E H A Trevena (284) - reference to sick leave 10/1954

PC Joseph Trevithick (22) - due to retire 1917 but still fit so retained.

PC William John Philip Tucker - confirmed as PC 21/9/1954

WPC Iris Vosper - confirmed as PC 28/9/1954

PC Kenneth Stanley Watson (285) - promoted to PS 9/8/1954.

PC Maurice Alfred Webster - appointed on probation 31/1/1955.

PC Albert Thomas Wellington - appointed on probation 28/12/1954.

PC William James Westington - confirmed as PC 21/9/1954

WPC Pamela Christine Whitford - appointed on probation 12/4/1955.

PC Charles Willcocks (79) - continued beyond retirement 5/1915.

PC Ernest Willcocks (23) - due to retire 1917 but still fit so retained.

PC F J Williams - died 17/9/1956.

PC Richard John Williams (84) - confirmed as PC 12/4/1955.

PI Sidney Charles Voden Williams - resigned 22/8/1954.

PS Richard Joseph Smale Willis (3) - promoted to Temporary Inspector 14/10/1954



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