History of the Brighton Police 1838-1967
Inspector Gerald W Baines of the Brighton Police compiled this history
Sir William Gentle
On 26 September 1901 Mr William Benjarnin Gentle took office as Chief Constable of a force of 150 men, serving a population of over 123,000. The headquarters of the force was still at the Town Hall, but five other police stations had been opened over the years to provide facilities for an enlarged force in a still-expanding town. These additional stations were at Freshfield Road, Westhill Road, The Level, Preston Circus and Preston Village, and with the exception of Preston Circus, all the buildings are still in existence. The station at Freshfield Road had been opened in 1885 to replace disused premises at the top of Grafton Street. All the emergency services were the responsibility of the police, and fire fighting equipment was kept at the police stations and a proportion of the force was trained and employed as firemen.
The force was divided into territorial divisions operating from the six police stations and the men’s uniforms carried the divisional letter as well as the officer’s number. By 1902 the conditions of service had improved and constables were granted ten days’ annual leave in addition to a monthly rest day. The pay of a constable ranged from 21/- on appointment to 32/- after twelve years service, and an earlier superannuation scheme had been replaced by pensions granted under the Police Act of 1890 for approved service of 15 years or more.
It was at this period that a motor ambulance and fire engine were acquired for the use of the force, but there were no other motor vehicles available for police purposes and the transport of drunken or violent prisoners must often have given rise to difficulties. An instruction book issued in 1902 gives the following advice on this subject:
‘Whenever it is necessary to convey to the station drunken or disorderly persons, and who are unable or refuse to walk, the practice known as the “Frog’s March” is not to be adopted except in cases of absolute necessity, when a full report of the circumstances is to be submitted. The ambulance kept at the station is to be sent for, and the person firmly strapped thereon.’
The ambulance was a form of hand-barrow on which the prisoner was trundled through the streets. Although mechanically propelled vehicles were still in their infancy, there was enough traffic of other kinds to make the streets busy and it had already been found necessary to station a constable at the Clock Tower to control the junction.
Beards and hair properly cut
Another instruction issued in 1902 helps to build a picture of the police of that time. It required that ‘the police are to have their beards and hair properly cut, so as to appear smart and clean, and so as not to conceal the number and letter on the collar of the coat’ and it is amusing to reflect on the circumstances which may have given rise to another instruction that ‘police in uniform are not to carry umbrellas’.
Then, as now, the police played an important part in the life of the community, and in 1902 the Chief Constable inaugurated a charity known as the ‘Police-aided Clothing Scheme’ for the purpose of distributing clothing to the deserving poor and officers were instructed to ‘keep observations during the winter months upon ill-clad children in the streets and question them as to their condition and if satisfied the case is one for relief, fill in a form and hand it to his Sergeant or Inspector who will see the case is gone into with a view to relief being given’.
So far as discipline within the force is concerned, the following extracts from the records scarcely need comment:
24 DECEMBER 1904
‘The Chief Constable wishes every member of the force a pleasant Christmas and a happy New Year and confidently appeals to every man to carefully guard against doing anything that will reflect discreditably on the force during this festive season.’
11 JANUARY 1905
‘In recognition of the excellent conduct of all ranks during the Christmas and New Year season, there having been no report against any member of the force, the Chief Constable has been pleased to recommend the Watch Committee to grant all ranks an extra day’s leave of absence which they sanctioned.’
It would, however, be wrong to suppose that the Chief Constable’s principal problem lay in keeping his own men out of trouble. The force records of the time contain many letters of appreciation concerning the kindness and gentleness of police officers and these letters often enclosed more tangible expressions of gratitude which in those days were passed on to the officers concerned.