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Thursday, 30 June 2011

WWI Metropolitan Police Special Constables

Gatton Park

In August 1914 at the outbreak of war 24,000 Special Constables were sworn in to serve with the Metropolitan Police. The Special Constable’s book for Banstead survives within the Metropolitan Police and contains a suprising amount of personal information. Here are just a few examples showing that the Specials came from all walks of life:

Kingswood Court, Kingswood

Trevor Gaulter BENSON was sworn in on 14 August 1914 and given the warrant number 0013518. He was 22 years of age and described as a Gentleman of Kingswood Court, Kingswood. He resigned on 29 June 1915 for private reasons. Benson was the son of Mr. Alfred Benson of Gatton Park and had attended school at Eton. The reason for resigning from the Specials was probably to enlist because in 1919 his name is amongst those who were awarded the OBE for military operations in Italy.

Alfred Valentine DYE joined on 8 January 1915 in Hammersmith and transferred to Banstead on 2 February 1915. He was 28 years of age and was shown as being a Chauffeur of Kingswood Court, Kingswood – no doubt he was Mr. Trevor G. Benson’s chauffeur! DYE transferred back to London to B Division on 27 June 1915. This was two days before Mr. Benson’s resignation from the Specials and if Benson was about to enlist it would have meant that he had no further requirement for a chauffeur.

Charles William EVANS joined on 18 February 1915 and given the warrant number 0040569. He was 35 years of age and shown as being the Head Gardener at Kingswood Court, Kingswood. He resigned from the Specials on 20 July 1915 just one month after his employer.

Walton-on-the Hill

Robert Edward BASSINDALE was sworn in on 28 August 1914 and given the warrant number 0029302. He was 23 years of age and worked as a Clerk in the Post Office at Walton on the Hill. He resigned on 18 March 1916 in order to enlist. The National Archives holds a medal card for a Robert E. Bassindale showing that he served as a Driver with the RFA – service number 219953.

Burgh Heath

Alfred William FURLONG joined on 19 October 1914 and given the warrant number 0035875. He was 33 years of age and shown as being a Barrister of “Picktree”, Waterhouse Lane, Burgh Heath. He resigned to enlist in the Anti-Aircraft Corps on 3 May 1915. At the end of the war he was a Lieutenant with the RGA.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Constables Garner & Snell

No, this is not the name of a comedy act but the story of yet another two brave Police Officers.

One summer’s night in 1884 a felon named Wright donned a set of false whiskers, armed himself with revolver, knife and jemmy and set out on his night’s work in Hoxton. He met up with an accomplice named Wheatley and they broke into a furrier’s shop and made off with several sealskin bags, some opera glasses and various items of clothing. In the wee hours of the morning they concealed themselves in the yard of a nearby school where they considered what to do with their loot.

Police Constable G429 Garner was patrolling his beat at 5am. He entered the churchyard of Holy Trinity to have a look around and suddenly noticed movement in the adjacent schoolyard. He leapt (or maybe clambered) over the railings and managed to “collar” Wheatley. As the constable fought to subdue one thief the other made off. Wright turned to see if his accomplice had managed to free himself but on seeing that he was pinned down he raised his gun and fired. The shot missed its target. A few seconds later he fired again and this time the bullet hit the constable in the thigh. He made off down the back streets of Hoxton hoping to make his escape. But suddenly his way was blocked by two police officers and a crowd of people. He warned them to stay away or he would shoot and with that PC Snell rushed him with his truncheon drawn. Wright fired and made off down an alley. The police officer fell to the ground shot in the stomach.

When Wright reached Nile Street he climbed over rooftops in order to evade his pursuers. It was all in vain because minutes later the block was surrounded by fifty police officers. He would have fired but he had damaged his gun whilst clambering up walls so he threw whatever came to hand. Eventually he was arrested and dragged off to the Police Station.

Meanwhile, back in the schoolyard police had come to PC Garner’s assistance and Wheatly was arrested. The two injured constables were taken off to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital where they remained for at least a month. They were visited by The Commissioner who recommended that both officers be promoted to Sergeant.

At the trial Wright stated that “I am the man that’s done this. I carry the revolver not to frighten but to FIGHT them”. Wright was sentenced to life whilst Wheatly got 20 years.

Constable Garner was promoted to Sergeant and transferred to P Division in South East London. On 15 December 1892 he blew his whistle to summon assistance as he was trying to arrest a prisoner in Howson Road near to where he lived. As he was doing so he suffered a heart attack and fell to the ground dead right opposite his house. The coffin of Police Sergeant P6 Garner was carried to the grave by eight of his fellow sergeants.

I eventually managed to find Sergeant Garner’s grave in an overgrown part of the cemetery. The grass grows tall and at times I was surrounded up to my waist – but I did not give up the search. A policeman mentioned in the Met’s Book of Remembrance and on the National Police Memorial Roll of Honour is always worth searching for.

Further pictures of Sergeant Garner’s grave can be found on my Flickr site:

In 1886 Police Sergeant Snell had to retire on medical grounds. He retired with his family to Croydon but died in December 1894 just two years after his colleague David Garner. At the time of his death it was reported that most of his £41 per year pension must have gone on medical bills. To bring in a little extra money his wife was working as cook at Thornton Heath Police Station.

Ex-Police Sergeant Snell was buried at Croydon Cemetery in grave number 26495 Section BB Square 3. I have tried to find his grave but the location is now just a grassed area. The entry within the burial register shows “Reverted common as P.G. uncoloured”. As I am unable to bring you a picture of his grave I will include instead his portrait.

If you have a Metropolitan Police Ancestor in your Family History then you will find Metropolitan Police Service Records at The National Archives. Graves, on the other hand, take an awful lot of searching for.

If you are unable to get to London to check out the MEPO series I am always here to help – at least for the next year.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Metropolitan Police History - Detective Sergeant Joseph Joyce

At the age of 21 Joseph joined the Metropolitan Police and spent most of his early service in south east London. Late in the evening on a summer’s night in 1876 Joseph happened across a woman who said “I have killed my child, it is quite dead, I have done it”. Whilst leading PC Joyce back to the house the woman rambled on about an argument with neighbours. It turned out that Caroline Goody was co-habiting with John Guthrie and looking after his three children. Caroline was often a little worse for drink and noisy arguments were not uncommon.

On this particular night John had gone out and left Caroline alone with little Charlie who was just 3 ½ years old. the neighbours heard Charlie screaming and called the police. PC Clark arrived and had to crawl through a window to get into the house. There he found little Charlie bleeding profusely from a deep gash in his throat. About the same time PC Joyce arrived at the house with Caroline and seeing the injured child he immediately took her off to the station to be charged. PC Clark rushed the child to the nearby Seaman’s Hospital where he was found to be unconscious from loss of blood. Fortunately for Charlie the knife had just missed his main arteries and he did recover – although he was in hospital for the best part of a month.

Once Caroline was in custody PC Joyce returned to search the house. He found a knife covered in blood under a stool in the kitchen. There was a pool of blood on the kitchen floor and he had seen blood on Caroline’s apron. Case solved !

Caroline was found guilty of unlawful wounding and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

Later in his career PC Joyce was transferred to the Detective Department and promoted to Sergeant. One day in June 1892 a baker from Dalston reported that a man named John George Wenzel had stolen money from him. Detective Sergeant Joyce accompanied the baker to Sandringham Buildings in Charing Cross Road to look for Wenzel. From items found in Wenzel’s room it was apparent that he was the thief but as Joyce was about to arrest him he pulled out a gun and started shooting. The Detective was shot in the abdomen and arm but continued trying to restrain Wenzel until more police officers arrived. At the hospital he was told that he was in a very dangerous state and asked to say how he met with his accident. He could hardly speak but managed to slowly whisper the words “I was catching a thief when the prisoner in custody fired at me in Charing Cross Road” with that he lapsed into unconsciousness and died a few hours later.

Wenzel was later found guilty of the murder and sentenced to death. Detective Sergeant Joseph Joyce was buried in Abney Park Cemetery. Over a century later his headstone still stands proud but it is sad to see that the grave is subsiding and the stone has toppled to one side. Perhaps the Detective is telling us – “this is how I fought with the man”.

If you have a Metropolitan Police Ancestor in your family then you will find service details at The National Archives.

If you would like some help with your Metropolitan Police Family History then I am always pleased to help. I can be contacted on the following e-mail address - but you will need to type this into your E-mail as it is not a direct link:

Monday, 20 June 2011

Police Constable Robert WRIGHT - a Croydon Hero

Robert was born in Scredington, Lincolnshire in December 1864 the son of Robert and Mary Wright. At the age of 17 he was working as an “indoor” servant for John Leak a farmer in the neighbouring village of Helpringham. At the age of 25 he journeyed to London and joined the Metropolitan Police Force. He was issued with warrant number 75017 and posted to “W” Division where he can be found on the 1891 census working at Croydon Police Station.

In the summer of 1892 Robert married Bessie Buckhurst and the following year a daughter, Ada Ellen, was born. On Saturday 29th. April Jane Buckhurst, Bessie’s sister-in-law came to visit the new brand new baby. In the evening Robert walked Jane to West Croydon Station and then he went off to work. About the same time a local oilman closed up his shop at 99 North End and rushed off to catch the 11pm train to Gravesend to join his family.

In the early hours of Sunday morning a man came running into the police station saying there was a fire down the road. PC Bond went to investigate and as soon as he saw the flames he blew his whistle to raise the alarm and summon help. PC Nunn was despatched to the Fire Station whilst PC Bond started to evacuate the neighbouring houses. Other constables arrived on the scene including PCs Wright and Bennett who went round the back of the premises. Once they had broken in they noticed the gas was still turned on at the meter so that was quickly turned off. The shop stored colza oil, linseed oil, turpentine, mentholated spirits and paraffin – all highly combustible ! The constables thought they heard a shout from inside the premises and went in further to investigate. Burning oil was dripping through the floor and they were driven back by smoke and fumes. Suddenly flames burst through a door and they were nearly thrown off their feet. Fortunately at that point a window blew in and they managed to reach it. Another constable was standing outside and shouted for them to jump. Barnett did just that, landing on a “hot tin roof” in the process. Wright did not make it in time and disappeared from view. At this point the first fire engine arrived – some thirty minutes after the alarm had initially been raised. As the hoses were plied on the flames Inspector Lemmey and a fireman went round the back to see if there was any hope of rescuing Constable Wright. They did find his body and he was rushed off in an ambulance but was found to be dead on arrival. The cause of death was given as suffocation.

At the inquest the Coroner stated that the Police had acted “with admirable courage, judgement and decision of character and the fact that more damage had not been done was owing to the promptitude with which they acted in the first instance”. One astonishing fact to come out at the inquest – at least astonishing by 21st. century standards – was that apparently it was an unwritten law that firemen wanting refreshment during the course of a fire applied to the police to open a public house. This fire was no exception and the Engineer applied to Inspector Lemmey stating that “his men could not work unless they had some brandy”. The inquest heard that when the men started their work they were all in a fit and proper state. At the end of the night two were drunk !

The funeral of Police Constable 538W was held on 5th. May and was a very grand affair. The streets of Croydon were crowded with residents wanting to pay their respects and in the central avenue of the cemetery the crowd stood 7 – 8 deep. The W Division Band headed the procession, followed by the open hearse carrying the coffin which was concealed from view by masses of beautiful flowers. Next came 300 men from W, A & P Divisions marching four deep to the slow strains of the band. Three mourning coaches followed carrying PC Wright’s relatives. These were followed by Inspectors and Sergeants of Police. The Croydon Volunteer Band came next their uniforms showing up bravely in contrast to the sombre uniforms of the constables. The rear of the procession was made up of firemen, their helmets shining brilliantly in the sunlight. First were the men of the LCC Brigade with their manual engine, followed by a full muster of Croydon firemen. They were followed by the Croydon steamer and then by a detachment of men from Forest Hill. Men and manual engines from South Norwood & Merton and firemen from Carshalton, Sutton, Thornton Heath, Broad Green and Epsom brought up the rear. Mr. A.C. Howard, Assistant Commissioner of Police & Major Gilbert, Chief Constable walked in the procession.

Those who read my research blogs will know that barely a week goes by without my visiting a cemetery somewhere or another in search of a “lost” grave. So this was no exception. Staff at the cemetery’s office were extremely helpful and gave me details of the grave and told me roughly where it could be found. However, I was warned that according to their registers the memorial stone was shown as being “sunken” in 1982 when a survey had been conducted. If it had sank into the ground some 30 years ago then there was very little chance of anything being visible to day. But as I always say - “if somebody wants to be found ……….”

I located what I thought was the correct part of the cemetery and as predicted all that could be seen was a grassed area with one or two headstones scattered here and there. My heart fell, but I took some photos anyway. Then I started to play detective. If I could find one or two graves on the opposite side of the path with plot numbers then I would perhaps be able to pin-point the spot more exactly. After 15 minutes I had managed to find three stones with numbers. I stood in front of one and turned around to look across the expanse of grass. Constable Wright’s grave should be in a straight line some 10 yards ahead. There WAS a grave with headstone there but as I approached I could see that the name was not correct and it certainly was not a sunken grave. I searched to see if this had a number anywhere on the surround but was unable to find one. I stood at the back of this grave dejected and despondent. My eyes dropped to the grass and suddenly I saw a ray of hope – or to be more precise what looked as if it might be a flat tablet. But it was covered in dried leaves, dirt and grass. The adrenalin started to flow and I was down on my hand and knees excitedly brushing leaves to one side. There was an inscription there but what was it – the important part was completely buried under a turf of grass. Nothing for it but to literally claw my way through – oh well, my nails will grow again !! At last the inscription was revealed:

dearly loved husband of
Bessie Wright
died April 30th. 1893
aged 28 years

also Bessie
wife of the above
died August 7th. 1929
aged 62 years
At rest

also of E.E.Benyon-Sly
died October 21st. 1947
aged 67 years

and Ada Ellen Benyon-Sly
beloved wife of the above
died August 24th. 1949
aged 56 years.

I was overjoyed that I had managed to find the last resting place of Constable Wright AND his wife Bessie. Ada Ellen was actually the little baby daughter who had only known her father for the first few days of her life. How lovely that they are all buried together. I think I can say that Robert wanted to be found !

Robert's Metropolitan Police service record can be found at The National Archives.

If you have Police Ancestors in your family and would like some help with your Metropolitan Police Research then I am always willing to help. I can be contacted on the following e-mail address (you will need to type this address into your e-mail as this is not a direct link).

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Clerks of the Metropolitan Police

From 1829 until 1864 Charles Yardley worked as Chief Clerk alongside the Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police and was highly respected. The junior clerks worked on the 1st. floor of No. 4 Whitehall Place whilst the Chief Clerk shared the 2nd. floor with the Receiver and his staff. Sir Richard Mayne had the 3rd. floor all to himself. The ground floor was occupied wholly by police – overseen by the Superintendent of A Division, John MAY.

In 1841 a new clerk was appointed to the Candidates Department. This was 20 year old Edmund George MAY, third son of Superintendent John MAY. Edmund’s career was to be with the police civil staff and in 1845 he transferred to the Correspondence Department. Promotion to 1st. Clerk came in 1856 when he transferred to Finance and Accounts. When Charles Yardley retired in 1864 Edmund was promoted to the top job of Chief Clerk. However, the path to the top had not been smooth for Edmund was hot-headed. Inspector Tanner of the Detective Branch had occasion to report Edmund for showing “a want of command of temper” alleging he systematically insulted detectives. Yardley had also reprimand him for leaving the office with work left undone.

As Edmund’s career progressed he became disliked by all around him. His clerks feared his temper; he clashed with the superintendents; and Commissioner Henderson held him in contempt. Considering that Edmund was by now in charge of the Correspondence Department, the Finance Department, the Candidates Department, the Public Carriage Office and the Hackney Carriage Office the atmosphere at No 4 Whitehall Place must have been difficult to say the least !

Everyone must have sighed with relief as Edmund’s retirement approached. On the morning of 6th. August 1880 Edmund received notice that he was to receive an “excellent pension”. He was living at Rose Cottage in Streatham Place, Brixton Hill and later that same day he came in from his garden, pulled the blinds in his room, rang for a servant and told her to fetch his son for he felt “as if he were going to die”. He fell to the floor – dead.

Those of you who have been following my blogs on Edmund’s brother, Charles MAY,

will know that I delighted in finding the graves of Charles’ family – his widow, his sons and his grandsons. So it should come as little surprise that I will want to know where Edmund is buried. Well, as in life, Edmund is proving to be cantankerous. Can I find his grave? Not at all. He is not buried in the same cemetery as his son; he is not to be found in the same cemetery as his father and sisters; he is not to be found in the same cemetery as his sister-in-law and her family. But Twiglet is tenacious and the search will continue until the grave of grumpy, hot-headed Edmund is discovered. Keep following the blogs to see what happens.

For the in-depth story of the early Metropolitan Police Clerks I can do no better than recommend “From Quills to Computers” by Norman Fairfax.

If you would like some help with your Metropolitan Police Research I can be reached on the following e-mail address (you will need to type it into your e-mail as this is not a direct link).

Friday, 10 June 2011

Metropolitan Police Service Records - Those lost registers 1857 - 1869

Most guides to Metropolitan Police Service records held at The National Archives will tell you that there is a gap in the records from 1857 to 1869. This is very true. There is no getting away from it – from April 1857 to February 1869 there are no Joiners Registers, no Attestation Registers and no Registers of Leavers. Does that mean that it will not be possible to find details of a Constable who joined during this period? Most definitely not. You just have to become a paper detective – or find someone who has spent a lifetime working with the records that are now held in the MEPO series. Here is the story of one Constable who spent 2 ½ years with the Met. back in the 1860s.

William Henry SHEAD had been born in 1841 the son of a Superintendent of Police in Herefordshire. By the age of 20 William had followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the local constabulary. But the family’s roots were in London so William journeyed south with the intention of joining the Metropolitan Police – no doubt a recommendation from his father would have gone a long way to getting him the job. He was successful in his application and joined up on 3rd. October 1864 being allocated the warrant number of 45305 – a number that would stay with him throughout his service. Five months later he was advanced from 4th. Class Constable to 3rd. Class Constable. He was serving on E (Holborn) Division and held the divisional number of PC 67E – this “collar number” would change whenever he changed divisions.

It looked as if William was just the sort of officer the Met. was after for one year later he was promoted to Sergeant and transferred to K (Stepney) Division. After a few weeks he impressed so much that he was upgraded to the Division’s Reserve contingent. Reserve Officers were the elite in any division. They were often put on stand by or “Special Reserve Duty” and during this time they were meant to be at home ready for whatever incident might occur. It was they who were called upon to police special occasions and for this honour they received a small additional allowance – which did not go down too well with their colleagues ! William’s collar number when part of the Reserve was PS 652 AR

The honour must have gone to poor William’s head because just six months later he committed a disciplinary offence and found himself reduced in rank back to 3rd. Class Constable. The offence he had committed was that whilst he was meant to be on Special Reserve Duty he had left his home and had been found in a beershop playing skittles with three Police Constables. His new “collar number” was PC 664K.

A few months later William resigned from the Metropolitan Police in order to work for one of the new Colonial Police forces – far away from the UK. A No. 2 certificate was awarded for “good” service.

Most of these details can be found in Metropolitan Police records held at The National Archives – it just takes a lot of perseverance to find them !

If you need a “paper detective” to find that elusive Metropolitan Police Ancestor then I am here to help. I can be reached on the following e-mail address (you will need to type it into your e-mail as this is not a direct link)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Metropolitan Police History - Porters & Charwomen

Albert E. PIESSE was born in the mid 1860s of Hungarian descent. There was nothing special about Albert he was just a normal run-of-the-mill labourer trying to earn a living in Victorian London. He married in 1892 and then came a lot of hungry mouths which needed feeding. Albert was one of the lucky ones for he managed to gain a position with the Metropolitan Police. The Receiver’s Office employed him as a Coal Porter and no doubt his labours contributed much to the warmth of the world famous New Scotland Yard.

Albert retired in July 1928 and his pension is meticulously recorded within the ledgers. He received a pension of £26 0sh 4d, a supplementary pension of £17 9sh 3d and an additional allowance of £102 15sh 6d.

Albert drew his pension for nine years before he died in 1937.

So please do not think that just because your ancestor was not a high ranking Superintendent – or even a humble Constable – that nothing will be found. You will never know what might be available if you don’t enquire. I have a multitude of snippets just waiting to be asked for - including details of quite a few charwomen !

If you would like some help with your Metropolitan Police Research I can be reached on the following e-mail address (you will need to type it into your e-mail as this is not a direct link)

Metropolitan Police Archives

Robert Peel's 'New Police' stepped onto the streets of London on 29th. September 1829 and immediately the clerks were busy recording their names and warrant numbers in spidery writing within huge, weighty tomes. Their transfers, promotions and pay advances were all recorded as were pension details.

Detective Inspector Lansdowne retired from the CID in 1889 and later wrote his 'Life's Reminiscences of Scotland Yard' which were contained in 'one-and twenty dockets' - a docket being the term given to Metropolitan Police files from the earliest of times. Throughout the years the storage of these dockets caused concern and DI Lansdowne remarked:

At Scotland Yard, documents and papers have an alarming tendency to accumulate, and they all have to be sorted under the heads of murders, burglaries, larcenies, etc., for convenience of ready reference. How this really gigantic work was satisfactorily done when these dockets had to be stored away on landings and in odd cupboards passes my comprehension, and I should say that one of the improvements which New Scotland Yard will bring about is a better system of safe-keeping these curious records.

In the 1880s at the planning stage for the new headquarters each of the branches submitted details of the accommodation they required. Plenty of cupboard space was required by the Registry and it was estimated that a room 14ft. x 16ft. would provide for the annual increase of paper over the next 20 years. Needless to say when the building was occupied in November 1890 individual branches were allocated much less space than required. In 1902, after only 12 years, the building was bulging at the seams.

In 1908 the Commissioner took an interest in Registry conditions and reported to the Receiver that the older registers were covered in thick layers of dust which no doubt dated back to the occupation of the building some 18 years previously. He thought the dust might contain 'injurious microbes' which would affect the health of the registry clerks and recommended that special steps be taken to deal with the problem. The British Vacuum Cleaner Company were called upon and dealt with the problem most effectively. However, two years later the dust was laying just as thickly as before. This time the Receiver suggested that it would be cheaper to utilise painters employed under the contact for general repairs rather than bring in a specialised cleaning company!

And so it continued through the 20th. century and into the 21st. Throughout the Metropolitan Police District 19th. century buildings were overflowing with 'dockets' and personnel registers. Rarely were they to be found neatly filed on clean and bright racking - the norm. was to find them chucked into cellars, loft spaces, shower rooms, mortuary rooms, coal holes and even disused dog kennels. Unbelievable, but little had changed since DI Lansdowne had written his autobiography over one hundred years earlier.

After a career spent searching through the Dusty Files of various police forces I am happy to take on your Metropolitan Police Ancestor! So if you would like some help with your Metropolitan Police Research I can be reached on the following e-mail address (you will need to type it into your e-mail as this is not a direct link)

Introducing Twiglet.Thomas

I spent a 40 year career working with the police in Hong Kong and London in the fields of Research and Archival Records Management. I set up my own historical research service in 2003 and am a member of AGRA (Association of Genealogists & Researchers in Archives). You will also find me on The National Archives list of recommended independant researchers

From 1996 to 2003 I worked in the Metropolitan Police Archives dealing with family history enquiries. During this time I gained an in-depth knowledge of the Met's archival records held at The National Archives. Joiner's Registers for the period May 1857 - June 1878 have not survived however I have my own database of Joiners which covers much of this time period. Details were obtained from Police Orders and a variety of other sources. Although not a complete record it does go some way towards filling in this gap in the official records.

I would be delighted to assist in the search for your Metropolitan Police ancestor.