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Florence Cole as a child

Policemen on the streets
in London in the early 1900s

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Policemen on the beat

Policeman blowing his police whistle to bring assistance from nearby policemen, mid-1900s

Policeman blowing his whistle to bring assistance from nearby policemen. Screen shot from an old film.

Policemen, known as 'bobbies', were common sights on the streets in the early 1900s because they 'walked the beat'.

They walked alone rather than in pairs and were well-known in the local community. They knew the families and the families knew and trusted them.

Even when I was a child, much later in the 1940s, if I was travelling with my mother and we were uncertain of directions, there was always a policeman to ask.

At that time of course the policeman on the beat had no radio but if an emergency arose and they needed help from other policemen, all they had to do was to blow their whistles.

That other policemen were near enough to hear the whistle bears witness to how many policeman there were on the streets!

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The beat

According to Iris and Mark Bailey, the 'beat' consisted of a section of local streets. Each constable was allocated his own beat which he was required to patrol on a regular timed sequence. The duty Police Sergeant would then meet up with him from time to time, to check that the he was doing his duty.

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Policemen directing traffic

Part of the jobs of policemen was to direct traffic. There were no traffic lights in the UK in the early 1900s.

A London policeman directing horse-drawn traffic, early 1900s.

A policeman directing horse-drawn traffic. Photo courtesy of Viv Nunn.

Police whistles

According to Steve Sleap, police whistles were twin-toned, like two whistles in one - which was what gave them their distinctive sound. It was illegal for the public to own them. (Before the police had whistles, the 'peelers', as they were called, would whack their truncheons on the pavement to summon back up.)

According to Iris and Mark Bailey police whistles had a particularly deep tone which was quite unlike any other kind of whistle. Although it was illegal for members of the public to them, similar whistles, albeit with a slightly different tone were available, and were acquired by more than one old lady just in case! (A sort of fore runner of the modern personal alarm.)

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Policemen's uniform

A policeman's helmet in the early 1900s

A close-up of a policeman's helmet from the early 1900s - a detail from the adjacent photo.

A policeman's uniform in the early 1900s

Richard Smith, policeman from Surrey in the early 1900s. The photo, which is courtesy of Don Billing, shows his wife's grandfather.


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