From Tram Conductor to Chief Inspector: The Police Registers of Great Yarmouth and Kings Lynn

From Norfolk Record Office documents C/PO 1/58 & C/PO 1/46

Brief History of the Police Force

The first official police force was the London Metropolitan Police set up by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.  The County and Borough Police Act 1856 required a national system of policing throughout England and Wales and towns such as Kings Lynn (KL) and Great Yarmouth (GY) would each have their own forces.  Smaller town forces did not merge until the 20th century.

Registers Held at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO)

The NRO holds personnel registers for the GY and the KL police forces.  The first dates from 1871 to 1924, the second from 1845 to 1920.  The KL register has suffered water damage making some entries difficult to read. 

There are many similarities between and some differences between the two registers.  No native place is given for GY but is for KL but not all of the GY police came from the local area – see the story of Edith James below.  GY’s register gives a date of birth whereas KL’s register gives the age but each enables you to calculate the missing information.

A typical page from the GY register.  George King served in the force until his retirement.

Offences and Awards

Both registers comment on good and bad behaviour.  GY records meritorious conduct and complaints while KL records Rewards and Promotions and Offences. Many awards were given for stopping runaway horses; the traffic dangers of the day and many were punished for being drunk.   James Hardesly served in the GY force for six years until, in 1877, he was fined 5 shillings for being absent from night duty & found at home in bed – drunk”.  He went on to become a chief inspector.

Poor conduct of Henry George Anguish at GY.

Good Conduct

There were many awards for good conduct.  James Scott served in the GY force for 26 years and was a constable throughout his career.  His record shows a weekly wage of £1 3s 0d rising to £1 13s 0d after fifteen years of service.  He retired in 1921.  He was commended for his behaviour on more than one occasion:

Previous Occupations

Most had had previous occupations before joining.  But a career in the police force would provide long term security for themselves and their families.  Many had served in the military but the majority of them did not last very long.  Perhaps they encountered a mismatch of expectation between military life and life as a police officer. 

James Hammond from Griston joined the 37th Foot Regiment in 1859 as a private and left as a corporal in 1878.  At the end of that year he joined the KL force but only lasted six months. 

William James Colman from Lowestoft joined the GY force in 1910 after leaving the Royal Horse Artillery. He resigned after two months.  He returned to the army in 1914 and was demobbed in 1919.

Died while serving

Charles Algar.  Lowestoft Journal 21 August 1909

There are seven records of officers who died whilst in the force, not always as a result of their police work.

Constable Charles Algar was 37 when he was murdered in the execution of his duty.  While attending a domestic incident in Gorleston he was shot by Thomas Allen a rat catcher.    Inspector Walter Moore approached Allen to get the gun from him and Moore’s record reads: courageous conduct in arresting Thomas Allen for the murder of PC Charles Alger at Gorleston . . . Presented with the King’s Police Medal by HM King George V at Marlborough House 2.7.10.  There was no posthumous award for Algar.

Algar’s murder was widely reported in the press and thousands came to attend his funeral.  He is buried in Gorleston.

No less tragic were the deaths of James Brown and Arthur Wright.  James John Brown, of the GY force, died after slipping on orange peel whilst on duty.   Arthur Wright had served in the KL force since 1893.  He lived in Kings Lynn with his wife and eight children.  In 1913 he was promoted to Inspector.  In 1916 he died on Monday 28th August from a bullet would self inflicted whilst temporarily insane. 

Edith Annie James

There are a total of 279 names in the registers but only one female is recorded, Edith Annie James. Women police officers started to be recruited into the force from the start of the First World War largely working with women and children.

Edith, born in 1883 in Harefield, worked as a nursemaid for a London family.  At the outbreak of the First World War she went to work at HM Gretna, the largest cordite factory in the world.  HM Gretna employed 30,000 which included a Women’s Police Force which Edith joined as a constable.  She was later promoted to sergeant.  At the end of the war Edith joined the GY force on a salary of £2 a week, the same as the men.  She never married and died in GY in 1931.

Edith Annie James. Daily Mirror 29 March 1919
(from Find My Past accessible at the NRO)

Long Service and Promotion

Both registers suggest that the full length of a police career at the time was around 26 years.  A police pension would have given great financial security at the time.  William Kirby was a fisherman from Cromer when he joined the force in 1874 at the age of 28.  He retired in 1899 on an annual pension of £45 5s 2d.

First World War

Several police officers left the force for the duration of the war and returned after demobilization.  Three, however, did not return.  William Edward Ellis from GY joined the RAMC in 1915.  He died in France in 1918 at the age of 27.  Frederick Charles Johnson form GY had previously served with the Grenadier Guards and was recalled when war broke out.  He died on 1 September 1914 at the age of 23 and is buried at Guards Grave in France. Harold John Badcock, originally from Hertfordshire, joined the KL force in April 1914.  He joined the Norfolk Regiment and was killed in action on 18 October 1916.  He was 28.

The Police Registers

These registers can stand alone as personnel records but they also open up many doors for further research especially for those researching their local area or family history.

Daryl Long.  NRO Blogger

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