History of the Brighton Police 1838-1967

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Henry Solomon instructing Mr White and other senior officers
Old police Cells Museum
East facade of the Town Hall as in 1844
Copyright County Borough of Brighton Police

Inspector Gerald W Baines of the Brighton Police compiled this history

From 1838 to 188l

The early years of the force were not without their difficulties and for many years the discipline book was to contain entries relating to men found drunk or asleep on duty. Most offences against discipline at this time were punished by relatively small fines and the early Chief Constables appeared very tolerant – perhaps of necessity – of offences which later came to be regarded as fatal to a police officer’s career.

27 January 1842

The Brighton Herald of 27 January 1842 contained a report of an incident which must have been exceptional even in those times. A woman had been committed for trial from a parish near Chichester for concealing the birth of her child, and she was sent to Lewes to appear at the Assizes, with a parish constable as her escort. They travelled via Brighton, where the constable was found by a Brighton policeman, hopelessly drunk and incapable of taking care of his prisoner. They were both taken into custody and the next morning the constable was fined five shillings and was then permitted to continue his journey to Lewes with his prisoner.

March 1844

In March 1844 the first Chief Constable of Brighton met his death in circumstances which must be among the most dramatic in the history of the British police. A man named John Lawrence had been arrested for stealing a carpet from a shop in St James’ Street and he was brought to the police office at the Town Hall, where he was seen by Mr Solomon. Lawrence snatched a poker from the fireplace and struck the Chief Constable a severe blow on the head. Mr Solomon died the next morning and Lawrence was subsequently tried, convicted of murder and executed.

The second Chief Constable, Thomas Hayter Chase, was appointed on 22 May 1844 and remained in office for nearly ten years, retiring on the eve of the town’s incorporation. He was succeeded by Mr George White on 2I December 1853. When the town was incorporated in 1854, the population had increased to about 70,000 and the force consisted of a Chief Officer, two Superintendents, seven Inspectors and 5I Constables. The minimum wage was then 20/- a week.

Newly formed Corporation

One of the first acts of the newly formed Corporation was to increase the size of the force to 7I men and in the following year the uniform was change from dress coats to frock coats. The conditions of service were still basically unchanged, but men absent from duty through sickness were, at the discretion of the Watch Committee, allowed two-thirds of their pay if recommended by the Chief Constable. A police surgeon was appointed and the Criminal Investigation Department came into being when the Council decided to furnish one detective officer with a suit of plain clothes.

Population expansion

The town continued to expand and the population in 1861 was over 77,000. The police force increased in size as the town expanded and by 187I, with a population of over 92,000, the force had a strength of 108 men. Three years earlier, in July 1868, the Council had decided to supply their police with helmets instead of hats – a notable step in the evolution from the watchmen of the 1820s to the constables of the I960s.

On 7 December 1876 Superintendent Owen Crowhurst was appointed Chief Constable on the death of Mr White. Mr Crowhurst was one of the original members of the force formed in 1838 and, on his death in 1877, he was succeeded by another long-serving officer, Superintendent Isaiah Barnden, who joined the force on I December 1839.

The appointment of these officers to the post of Chief Constable gives added weight to the following note to the conditions of service of 1876:

‘Every Constable in the police may hope to rise by activity, intelligence and good conduct to the superior stations; it must be his study to recommend himself, by a diligent discharge of his duties and strict obedience to the commands of his superiors; recollecting that he who has been accustomed to submit to discipline will be considered best qualified to command … ‘

The conditions of service were still very largely the same as those framed by the Commissioners in 1838, but by 1876 the constables were graded into three classes, with a weekly rate of pay of 20/- for a third class constable, increasing by 2/- a week for the second and first class. Upgrading appears to have been based on service and on recommendation by the Chief Constable, while down-grading was used as a means of punishment for disciplinary offences.

Preston had been incorporated with Brighton in 1873 and by 1881 the population of the town exceeded 107,000 and the police force had grown to a total of 130 men. When Mr Barnden relinquished his office in April 1881 he was succeeded as Chief Constable by a Superintendent whose knowledge of the force must have been second to none, having served for no less than 37 of the 43 years the force had been in existence. He was Superintendent James Terry.

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