History of East Sussex Police Force 1840-1967

Lt Col Henry Fowler Mackay, Chief Constable 1840-1881
Sussex Police

Research and preparation carried out by Chief Inspector K. Angel

The East Sussex Constabulary was founded in September, 1840, when Captain, later Lt.Col. Henry Fowler MACKAY, Paymaster to the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, was appointed Chief Constable.

In December of that year, three Superintendents were appointed. They all appear to have had previous experience with the Metropolitan Police. At the same time, eighteen Constables were appointed for the County also one Sergeant and three Parish Constables, already serving in Lewes, were merged with the County Constabulary with the proviso that they should not be employed away from Lewes except on the most pressing emergency. It is interesting to note that in April, 1841, the first known reference to the Force was reported in the Sussex County Advertiser, which read:-

“EAST SUSSEX POLICE. – As it was a matter of doubt in the. minds of the public, whether the establishment of a small body of Police in East Sussex would be attended with practical benefit, it is but due to mention that their efficacy was strikingly shown at the Assize held at Lewes last week. No person can read the report of the Bexhill burglary, without being struck with the tortuous nature of the evidence which it was necessary to search out in order to complete the chain of information by which the conviction of that desperate gang was secured. This was most admirably performed, and could not have been traced so effectively as by a well organised force.

There were other cases also in which the county police showed themselves adepts in detecting those depredators of the isolated parishes of East Sussex, in which much fear in consequence prevailed. These alarms are now fast subsiding, for gang after gang of villains have been brought to justice, and in a short time we hope that the whole of them will be broken up. The good which has already been effected compensates the county for the expense.

As the police is now constituted, it is less a direct preventive than a detective force. It is true, after experience proves the improbability of a robbery being effected without  detection following, the commission of crime will be checked, but this result cannot be expected yet. Much has been done by the present numerical strength, but “watch- and ward” is not yet perfect, and it is even less so than we could wish it to be, owing to the reluctance with which local constables join the police, and the difficulty of finding parties calculated to fulfil the duties of local constables. All this, however, will be remedied in time by the active exertions of the Chief Constable and his valuable and indefatigable Superintendents.

It is cheering to us to receive, as we have done, information that many of the “suspicious characters”, who, for years have subsisted by poaching, smuggling, and we much fear sheep stealing, are about to emigrate voluntarily to the Colonies, under the assurance from the fate which has befallen their companions, that their vocations by night must otherwise terminate ignominiously to themselves We are also informed that the means for expatriation will be supplied with right good will by the parishes to which they belong. “

Watch- and Ward

In the history of policing the Watch and Ward system was the first organized attempt at policing the masses. The Watch and Ward was codified in the Statutes of Winchester in 1285. The system was used for the next 600 years and was taken to the English colonies by those who settled in cities such as New York and Boston. By the time the system had reached the court of Henry VIII it had become well established in London and had taken on a ceremonial role in addition to its traditional role of keeping the peace. The system was eventually replaced in the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829, which paved the way for the modern police system developed by Sir Robert Peel, who is cited as the father of modern policing in the West.

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