History of the Brighton Police 1838 -1967

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Inspector Gerald W Baines of the Brighton Police compiled this history

The force of 1838

The police force established in May 1838 consisted of two Superintendents, one Night Constable, three Inspectors and 24 Watchmen, under the command of a Chief Officer, Mr Henry Solomon. The Commissioners prepared a list of regulations for the new force and in the preamble it was stated that the force was appointed ‘for the guarding, and watching, and keeping, and preserving, the peace of the town’ and to be employed ‘for the purpose of keeping watch and ward within the said town both by day and night’. The force was divided into three Divisions, each consisting of one Inspector and eight men. Two-thirds of the force were required to be on duty during the night and one-third during the day, and the division on day duty was relieved by a night duty division on the first Friday in each month.

The town was divided into 16 beats for night duty and six beats for day duty, and the men for duty were required to assemble at the Town Hall ‘when they will be inspected by the Inspector, that he may ascertain whether they are sober, clean and correctly dressed and in a fit state to go on duty’. One of the Superintendents was required to be on duty at all times ‘visiting the men on their respective beats, so as frequently to hear from them the state of all parts of the town’. For their part, the men were clothed in a uniform similar to their predecessors, armed with a short staff or baton, and when on night duty with a rattle, and they were required to ‘diligently perambulate the whole of their respective beats’ and to remain on their beats until the arrival of the Inspector with the relief.

Conditions of service

The conditions of service were harsh by present day standards, with no provision for leave days or rest days, and no provision for pensions or pay during periods of sickness. Each man was required to devote his whole time to the Service, to appear at all times in his complete police dress, whether on duty or not, to promptly obey orders and to ‘conform to all the regulations which may be made from time to time for the good of the service’. The pay of a constable was 18/- a week and he was only paid for such days as he was actually on duty.

The following scale of uniform was provided:
1 greatcoat
1 cape
I coat
I pair of trousers
I hat
1 hat cover
I stock
2 pairs of duck trousers.

Every member of the force was liable to immediate suspension by the Clerk to the Commissioners and subsequently to be dismissed by the Commissioners for unfitness, negligence or misconduct. The regulations prepared by the Commissioners in 1838 contained detailed instructions to all members of the force on their duties and responsibilities, including the following advice on the use of the alarm rattle: ‘If at any time he requires immediate assistance and cannot in any other way obtain it, he must spring his rattle, but this is to be done as seldom as possible, for such alarm often creates the inconvenience, which it is intended to prevent, by assembling a crowd, thus giving an opportunity of escape to criminals.’

The force established in 1838 under these regulations served a population of about 45,000 in a town which had expanded westwards to the present boundary, northwards to the site of the present Preston Circus and east- wards to Lewes Crescent and Arundel Terrace. The force operated from accommodation in the newly-built Town Hall, which was to serve as its headquarters and principal station for the next 127 years.

Gerald W Baines

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