Policemen on the beat
A street scene from the early 1900s: a policeman on the
Policemen, known as 'bobbies', were common sights on the streets in the early
1900s because they 'walked the beat'.
Iris and Mark Bailey report that 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.
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 blowing his whistle to bring assistance from nearby policemen.
Screen shot from an old film.
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
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
That other policemen were near enough to hear the whistle bears
witness to how many policeman there were on the streets!
Policemen directing traffic
A policeman directing horse-drawn traffic. Photo
courtesy of Viv Nunn.
A close-up of a policeman's helmet from the early 1900s
- a detail from the above photo,
Richard Smith, policeman from Surrey in the early 1900s.
The photo, which is courtesy of Don Billing, shows his wife's grandfather.
Jim Clarke in the uniform of a special constable in Edmonton,
about 1914. I had thought that it was his truncheon in his hand, as this
is still in the wider family, but Iris and Mark Bailey have pointed out
that it looks more like a rolled flag and that a truncheon was kept in a
special pocket in the right leg of the uniform.
Somewhat surprisingly my mother did not include anything on policemen in
her recollections from the early 1900s. This page is stimulated by a photograph
from my father's family of his father (my grandfather), Jim Clarke, who was
a special constable in the 1914-18 war. His regular job was in insurance, but
presumably he became a special constable because so many regular policemen of
fighting age were away fighting at the front.
A special constable's long-service medal from the early
1900s. Photo courtesy of Iris and Mark Bailey. The medal was awarded to
Philip Richer who served as a special constable in Edmonton around the same
time as my grandfather.
If you have further information or an old photo
which illustrates this page, I would very much like to hear from you.
Pat Cryer, webmaster
The two sides of a special constable long-service medal
from the 1914-18 war: For faithful service in the Special Constabulary.
In those days it was the custom (as with military medals) to have the name
of the recipient engraved around the rim, and Philip Richer's name is engraved
round this rim. The practice was discontinued in World War Two. Photo courtesy
of Iris and Mark Bailey.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.