History of the Brighton Police 1838-1967

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Mr Charles Griffin
Copyright County Borough of Brighton Police
Part of the Brighton Police vehicle fleet, 1928. The motorcycles were introduced in 1921, and can be seen here along with the Chief Constable's "fast" car and two ambulances, one of which doubled as a prison van.
Sussex Police photo Archive 1928
3 new E class trams outside Lewes Road Depot
During the National Coal Strike of 1926, many forces sent officers to mining areas. This photo shows the 52 officers from Brighton Police force
Old Police Cells Museum

Inspector Gerald W Baines of the Brighton Police compiled this history

The Twenties

On 5 June 1920 Mr Charles Griffin succeeded Sir William Gentle as Chief Constable. His force comprised 200 men and the population of the town was approaching 142,000. This year saw the end of the oil lamps used by the police for many years, when the Chief Constable reported that they had become worn out and that it cost £100 a year to keep them supplied with oil. He recommended ‘as more efficient and very much more economical, electric lamps at 30/- each’ and the Watch Committee approved his recommendation. The new lamps were square in shape, powered by accumulators which required periodic charging, and they were to remain a feature of the police scene until after the second world war. Another of Mr Griffin’s early actions was to re-form the police band and the new band gave its first performance at the Dome on 18 April 192I.

Four-week period

In 1920 the force worked a four-week period of night duty followed by four weeks of day duty. The men worked from police stations at the Town Hall, Preston Circus and Freshfield Road, the stations at Westhill Road and The Level having been closed in 1919. The force was becoming more and more involved in the control of traffic and in March 192I the Watch Committee presented a series of regulations enforcing point duty control by the police in some thirty of the main streets of Brighton and Preston. Costermongers and hawkers were prohibited from using eleven roads which they had previously used as trading grounds and in 1925 the increasing congestion of traffic at the Aquarium was dealt with by regulations ‘providing for all vehicular traffic to proceed gyratorily at this point’.

The system was also used at other busy junctions, including Preston Circus, Seven Dials (described by Mr Griffin as ‘a most hopeless set of unsymmetrical junctions’) and Fountain Square. In 1927 a semaphore method of traffic control was introduced at the foot of West Street, with electrically operated signal arms showing the word ‘STOP’, operated by a constable in a central stand. The signal arms were automatically illuminated at night. In 1928 these signals were brought into use at Preston Circus and a year later at Seven Dials and Old Steine.

Telephone box system

In 1928 the police telephone box system of beat working was introduced and, with modifications, this system has continued up to the present day. Mr Griffin’s reports indicate that the system was an immediate success. Beat constables booked on and off duty at their beat boxes, instead of parading at a police station and being marched out to their place of duty by their section sergeants.

In 1922 the Fire Brigade had ceased to be a police responsibility and had become a separate entity with its own personnel and its own accommodation. With the introduction of the beat box system of policing there was no longer a need for police stations to be located at strategic points in the town and the force reverted to the original station at the Town Hall, although rooms were retained at Preston Circus for training and recreational purposes.

By 1928 the area of the town had been extended to take in Moulsecoomb, Patcham, Rottingdean and Ovingdean, and the larger area, coupled with the fact that the new beat system had de-centralized the patrolling policemen, gave an increasing need for a greater degree of mobility, which was met by the introduction of motor vehicles.

Motor cycles had been used for police purposes in the town as early as 1921, on the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales to unveil the Indian Memorial at Patcham, but apart from the ambulance the first record of a vehicle being acquired for permanent use was in 1922, when Mr Griffin informed the Watch Committee that he had provided himself with a motor car ‘the better to supervise the police on duty’. The record shows that ‘after a brisk discussion’ he was granted £100 a year towards the maintenance of the vehicle.

Motor vehicles were purchased for general police

It was not until 1928 however that motor vehicles were purchased for general police use and by the following year the force was equipped with one Morris van and one ‘fast car’ in addition to the ambulance and a ‘combined ambulance and prison van’.

Some idea of the need for greater mobility can be gathered from the fact that on one day in August 1928 no fewer than 623 coaches visited the town – 280 being accommodated on Madeira Drive and the remainder at Brighton races. This figure has never been equalled even when coach traffic was at its peak after the second world war.

The General Strike

The remaining outstanding event of this period was the General Strike of 1926, and in particular an incident on 11 May of that year which came to be known as ‘The Battle of Lewes Road’. A report in the Brighton and Hove Herald of 15 May describes it as follows:

‘Outside the tram depot in Lewes Road, police and strikers came into violent collision. A great crowd, mostly of well-intentioned people, but with an infusion of dangerous and despicable roughs, found itself in conflict with the forces of law and order … ‘

A large force of regular police and Special Constables, stated to number about 300, was present under the command of the Chief Constable. The report states that they were pelted with bottles, stones and bricks, and
goes on:

‘It was a deplorable sight, such as has not been equalled in the memory of the oldest inhabitant … I t was also an unforgettable sight to see the steady advance of the police, in a wedge formation that widened out until it filled the roadway. At the head walked the Chief Constable, Mr Charles Griffin. He was heard calling out to the strikers to disperse and not to use violence. His attitude was firm and conciliatory. He seemed quite indifferent to his personal danger’.

After scenes of considerable disorder, peace was eventually restored, but not until 17 men had been arrested and several police officers injured- one seriously.

From 21 October to I December 1926 a detachment of 52 members of the force was sent to South Wales to assist the Glamorgan County Police during the industrial unrest in that part of the country, and the depleted force in Brighton was augmented by the Special Constabulary, who performed duty for a considerable portion of the afternoon and evening hours over this period.

The decade closed on a note which was to be repeated frequently through the ensuing years in endeavours to obtain better accommodation for the force, when the Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Leonard Dunning, made a number of adverse comments on police accommodation in the town. Steps were taken to improve matters, but it was to be many years before a new police headquarters could be provided.

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