History of West Sussex Police 1857 - 1967

Classic British Police Motorcycles - Velocette. 1950s
Paul Townsend
Red Police Lamp in Horsham When the West Sussex Police Headquarters was based in Horsham the Chief Constable decided that the standard blue lamp was not fitting for his building. A red lamp was commissioned and placed on the front.
Sussex Police
The County Police Act of 1856 was the motivation for the formation of the West Sussex Constabulary. On 8th January 1857
Old Police Cells Museum
The cars were used from 1965-67 by West Sussex Constabulary, and the Chief Constable of the time thought it would be "great for recruitment".

Acts of parliament allowed for paid Police forces to be set up around the country in the 1830’s.


West Sussex could have set up a police force in 1839 but for some reason it was deferred until January 1851. The formation of the Constabulary was discussed on the same day that Richard Netley, a 14-year-old labourer was sentenced to 3 months hard labour for stealing a pound of mutton, a harsh sentence indeed.

The Force when it was first set up comprised of 70 men, one officer for every 1,500 population and the Headquarters was established at Petworth. The Superintendents and sergeants were recruited from other Forces. Superintendent Kemmish, the deputy chief Constable had been a sergeant in Hampshire Constabulary. Captain Frederick Montgomerie, late of the 99th Regiment was appointed as the first Chief Constable on a salary of £300 plus another £100 for a home and expenses. The Force was equipped with six horses and carts and by April 1857 the Force was fully operational.


In 1872 the Force had adopted a uniform consisting of a serge tunic with high collar, eight buttons at the front and a patent leather belt. The first pattern helmet plate was a black oval band within a laurel wreath bearing the inscription ‘West Sussex Constabulary.’ The County shield in silver was in the centre and the oval band was surmounted by a Victorian Cross.

In 1879 Captain Montgomerie died and was succeeded by another retired Army officer, Captain George Drummond MVO under whose command the strength of the Force rose to 145 men by 1901.

Speed checks

By 1914 motor traffic had started to become popular and the Force published an instruction book giving clear guidance for carrying out ‘Timing of motor vehicles.’ (We now know this as ‘speed checks’) Two Officers did the timing with a chronograph and a third officer did the stopping of the vehicle.

Traffic control at the Goodwood Races presented the Force with a particularly tough problem and another problem involved the officers themselves. This necessitated the Chief Constable to issue the following instruction,’ Betting – no officer on duty is to place a bet at a race meeting. The Chief Constable is dead against betting by members of the Force and absolutely forbids it whilst an officer is on duty.’

Discipline in the Force was strict in the early days of the 20th Century; for example an officer wishing to leave the county for any reason being on or off duty had to give three days notice to the Chief Constable.

In 1922 the Force headquarters had been moved to Chichester but moved again to much larger premises in 1933.

The 1950’s saw huge strides in policing both in mobility and communications. Riley and Jaguar motor cars were purchased as well as Velocette light weight motor cycles to be used for patrolling the rural beats. The force also produced a quarterly magazine called ‘Parade’ which kept everyone informed about duty and social matters.

The centenary of the Force

The centenary of the Force in 1957 was celebrated by a sports day and a tattoo which was held at the Manor Sports Ground in Worthing. A Pageant was held which depicted the changes in uniform and equipment over the past century. The event almost started with a disaster when Pc Mills, winner of the ‘baton of honour’ was almost struck by a falling flagpole which had been dislodged by high winds. In the best traditions of the Police Service Pc Mills remained at attention as the pole narrowly missed him.

In 1964 the last Chief Constable was appointed, Thomas Christopher Williams who succeeded Captain Ronald Wilson OBE. KPM who had been Chief Constable for 30 years. He became the first Chief Constable of the newly formed Sussex Constabulary on the 1st January 1968.

The strength of the Force towards the end of 1967 had grown to 678 officers and was known as an efficient Force. At midnight on 31st December 1967 West Sussex Police Force was finished after 110 years.

www.amazon.co.uk/ DavidRowland

Welcome to the Finsbury Publishing

David Rowland has just launched his 15th and final book, “The Spirit of Winsome Winn II”, all about the B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed at Patcham after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Germany.


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