History of the Brighton Police 1838-1967

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Sir William Gentle
Copyright County Borough of Brighton Police
BRIGHTON BOROUGH POLICE, PC 176B, A.V.J.EVANS Wearing a WW1 trio with a 'Mons Star'.
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Inspector Gerald W Baines of the Brighton Police compiled this history

Sir William Gentle

The force acquired its first degree of mobility in 1907, when a pedal cycle was purchased for use by patrol sergeants, and by 1912 a cycle was provided at each of the six stations for use in cases of emergency by constables and by Inspectors and Sergeants when directed by Superintendents for patrolling’.


The first record of regular employment of women in the force appears on 1 April 1909 when a Mrs Birkett was appointed police matron – ‘he remuneration will be 10/- per week in lieu of fees. She will be required to provide and pay a deputy to act in her absence’. Two other entries in force records of this time are of interest. It is surprising to find that pocket books were not taken into use until 1 January 1910, and a modern policeman will wonder how his predecessors fared without them.

The instruction which introduced them stated that ‘officers and men will provide their own pencils’. The second interesting entry shows that on 21 November 1912 the Brighton Council agreed to a weekly rest day for the force, a measure which was not generally introduced until legislation was passed in 1914.

World War 1

During the first world war a total of 101 members of the force joined the armed services and 1I were killed or died through injuries received in action. During this period the force was considerably depleted and consisted mostly of men over service age, ably assisted by members of the Special Constabulary.

In 1916 the Chief Constable was knighted for his services to the community – the first serving Chief Constable to receive such an honour. The war period also saw the introduction of the first policewomen when Sir William Gentle, in a report to the Watch Committee on 12 June 1918 recommended the appointment of three women as Special Constables ‘at a salary of £1.10.0 per week with uniform’. Two women were in fact appointed but both resigned in 1919.

The orders issued to the force frequently cast interesting side-lights on the times, as may be seen from the following instruction published on 14 January 1910:

‘Police on duty at Polling Stations are under no circumstances whatever to allow any female to enter the Polling Stations. They are to keep strict observation on all males entering as it is probable women may attempt to enter in male attire’.

A letter from the Brighton and Preston Cemetery Company to the Chief Constable reads:

‘I beg to thank you most heartily for the very great service rendered this Company by the assistance of members of the Brighton Police Force you so kindly sent us during the influenza epidemic, which I am glad to find is now rapidly abating. The men without exception worked with a will and rendered excellent service, which I have very greatly appreciated’. This was published to the force on 16 November 1918 under the heading ‘Services rendered by the police grave digging.’

Post war

The period following the 1914-18 war was a critical time in the history of the police service, with growing discontent at the pay and conditions of service, culminating elsewhere in the police strikes of 19I8 and 1919. The following resolution, passed at a special meeting of the Watch Committee on 31 May 1919 shows how effectively the unrest was dealt with a Brighton:

‘The Watch Committee having given serious consideration to the threatened Police Strike, and the orders issued thereon by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and fully recognizing the past loyalty of the Police Force, the Committee feel sure they may rely upon all ranks for the continuance of the faithful performance of their duty, thus protecting themselves from dismissal and the loss of pensionable pay, that must inevitably follow the unlawful withdrawal from their duty. That the Watch Committee in view of the decision of the Government to increase the commencing pensionable pay of the Metropolitan Police to £3.10.0 inclusive of War Bonus as from 1st April last, will recommend the Council at their next meeting to grant a similar increase to the Brighton Police Force’.

Following the report of the Desborough Committee in 1919, the Police Act of that year introduced standard rates of pay and conditions of service, with a common code of discipline for all forces and the police service throughout the country stepped forward into a new and better era.

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