Marking two centuries of the Thin Blue Line in Preston

Winners of the Coronation Medal in 1911
Winners of the Coronation Medal in 1911
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This year marks the bi-centenary of policing in Preston, writes local historian KEITH JOHNSON.

This year marks the bicentenary of official policing in Preston, 200 years that have seen much change and advances in the matters of law and order in the town that became a city.

Crowd control outside the Labour Exchange in 1914

Crowd control outside the Labour Exchange in 1914

In the early 19th century the streets were guarded, at night, by watchmen, who used to shout out the hours, half hours and the state of the weather as they did their rounds.

Preston Borough Police force was established in 1815, more than 60 years after Henry Fielding established London’s Bow Street Runners in 1749.

In Preston, Thomas Walton – a reed maker by trade – was appointed Superintendent or Chief Constable of a town with a population of around 20,000. Besides himself, Mr Walton had an inspector and five constables to patrol the streets and keep the peace.

His position was quite lucrative, with a salary from all sources of about £250 a year.

Major Little, the Chief Constable from 1882 to 1908

Major Little, the Chief Constable from 1882 to 1908

Among perks of the job was a 20 shilling payment for each deserter apprehended within old borough boundaries.

The first station was in Turks Head Yard, off Church Street, and then in 1832 a new station opened in Avenham Street.

To mark the opening the Mayor of Preston John Addison presented the police of Preston with their first official uniform, deemed so precious it was only to be worn on a Sunday.

Altogether Thomas Walton served the town for 21 years and upon his retirement the role of chief constable was taken over by Samuel Bannister.

Earl Street Police Station

Earl Street Police Station

Although Preston was well ahead of the matter in 1836 the Municipal Reform Act was introduced, and 170 Boroughs were obliged to organise independent police forces controlled by a local Watch Committee.

The number of constables increased as the population rose dramatically, due mainly to the great influx of workers in the cotton industry.

By 1850 there were 15 constables – a decade later Preston Borough Police force was 60 strong. Mr Bannister retired on a pension in 1853 and Joseph Gibbon took control for the next decade, being replaced by James Dunn in 1863.

Mr Dunn held the post of Chief Constable until his death in 1872, when Joseph Oglethorpe took control.

Police manhandle Preston Suffragette Edith Rigby

Police manhandle Preston Suffragette Edith Rigby

This was a turbulent time in the town’s history, and in May 1878 the Riot Act was read as the area of New Hall Lane and London Road became the scene of civil unrest with windows smashed and property damaged.

A detachment of the 17th Lancers finally helped restore order by riding up and down the principal streets. As the storm blew over, according to Historian Anthony Hewitson, the soldiers and police concentrated on ‘eating good victuals, drinking beer, smoking pipes of tobacco and making love to cooks and servant maids’.

Mr Oglethorpe joined the police pensioners in July 1882, shortly after the conclusion of the Annie Ratcliffe murder case that shook the town, with her killer John Simpson being hanged.

He was succeeded by Major Francis Little. By that time the police force was almost 100 strong and the annual budget including his £350 salary was £9,000.

Events that occupied his time in the early years included the robbery of £500 worth of rings from Mr Yates the jeweller on Friargate, and the fatal stabbing of Patrick McGinty in Lawson Street by Anthony Henry. The culprit fled never to be seen again.

In May 1858 at a cost of £3,000 the Earl Street police station, that faced on to Lancaster Road and included a magistrates court, had been officially opened.

This station, clad with Longridge stone and incorporating seven holding cells, was besieged in 1863 by starving workers rebelling against the town’s rulers during the Cotton Famine.

Only the intervention of Joseph Livesey, the highly regarded leader of the Temperance Society, was able to quell the angry mob as they threatened to ransack the station.

Interestingly enough the Lancashire County Constabulary was formed in 1839 and they set up their headquarters in Preston in premises in Grimshaw Street.

A ballot among county magistrates led to the appointment of Captain John Woodford of Preston at the head, and within months 66 constables were spread throughout the old county.

Within a couple of years there were 660, although many fell by the wayside being indisciplined and unsuitable for the 18 shillings per week appointment.

In truth, Preston in those formative years of the county force wanted little to do with them, being content with their own policing methods.

By 1845 the county force had premises in Preston on Stanley Terrace, Church Street and Chapel Street. Outside Preston they were going from strength to strength having 1,350 serving officers by 1880.

It fell to Major Little to take Preston’s police force into the 20th century and year on year he was reducing the crime figures after taking over during troublesome times.

No doubt there were reflections on the early years when the 20th century dawned.

There had been Election rioting on a number of occasions particularly in 1837 and in 1841, and in August 1842 terrible scenes in Lune Street when the Mayor Samuel Horrocks junior, read the Riot Act and at least eight unarmed rioters were shot dead by the military, four of whom fatally.

This day PC Samuel Norris made less nefarious history, by arresting, single handed, 26 of the rioters.

At the time of the Preston Guilds it was inevitable the criminal fraternity would descend on Preston in their quest to pick a pocket or two.

At the Guild of 1902 no less than 91 known thieves were met at Preston Railway Station and advised to return from whence they came.

So well policed was that Guild that the Watch Committee paid each constable an extra 10 shillings in their wage packet in appreciation.

The year 1903 saw the passing of the Road Traffic Act and the Watch Committee passed a resolution that the speed of a motor car driven within the Borough, should not exceed 10mph.

Major Little remained in control until 1908 when Lionel Everett became Chief Constable.

In 1912 it was decided to form the first Police Reserve, consisting of pensioners of all ranks. That same year Mr. Everett was appointed assistant Chief Constable of Liverpool and Captain J. A. Unett took over as Chief Constable.

Before the year was out he had created two outlying stations, one at the Barley Mow Inn on New Hall Lane the other on Strand Road occupying two houses rented for 8 shillings a week.

One group that kept the local police busy in the days prior to the First World War were the Suffragettes. Their protests turned to militant and violent actions, including the tarring of the statue of Lord Derby on Miller Park, marches and chaining themselves to railings.

When Alderman Frederick Matthews was Mayor of Preston in 1924 and the Chief Constable was Mr J. P. Kerr Watson, who served from 1916-37, a Preston Borough Police Handbook was issued by the Watch Committee.

The two great duties of the constables were defined as follows – prevention of crime and preservation of public order.

Mr Kerr Watson caused quite a stir in town in 1935 when he returned from his summer holidays to announce he had seen the Loch Ness Monster while touring Scotland. He even had a rough sketch of the much sought after creature. In fact, his sighting was followed three years later by a similar revelation from the Chief Constable of Inverness.

Coming through the ranks at this time was Henry Garth who joined Preston Borough police in 1911. By the time Mr Kerr Watson retired in 1937, Mr Garth was deemed suitable to become the next Chief Constable. During the Second World War he was also an ARP controller, receiving a OBE in 1943 for his work.

Altogether he served the force for more than 45 years before retiring in 1956.

In submitting his report for 1957 to the Preston Town Council the new Chief Constable Frank Richardsonsaid it had been the busiest year ever for Preston police. His force was 216 strong, including 13 policewomen, and the recorded number of crimes was 1,553 – with 70% solved.

In those years the strength of the Specials was usually about 80 and they were often employed patrolling beats on the outskirts of town, on traffic duties or crowd control, be it at Deepdale for a football fixture or at a matinee performances at the cinemas on a Saturday afternoon.

Two new recruits in 1958 were Ludo and Rinty a pair of young Alsatian dogs who had undergone three months training by Lancashire Constabulary. By 1962 additional local police stations had been opened in Pedders Lane and in Bow Lane with communications established with Earl Street and Stanley Street.

When Frank Richardson became Chief Constable in 1956, the eleventh holder of the title, he would not have thought he would be the last, but so it was. With the merger with Lancashire Constabulary in the pipe line he was assigned to duties at Blackpool as a district commander.

In April1969 the remaining Lancashire town forces were amalgamated with Lancashire Constabulary, at which time Preston had a force 283 strong.

Lancashire Constabulary HQ is now at Hutton and William Palfrey, the Chief Constable from 1967 to 1972 oversaw the amalgamation.

The new force had more than 6,000 officers and was equipped with the latest technology to fight crime.

Mr Palfrey had been involved in the increase in mobile policing with the introduction of the small blue Panda Cars in 1965,

Preston had a dozen such vehicles by 1968. As for Frank Richardson he spent only a short time in his new role, dying aged 58, in August 1969 while on a fortnight’s leave.

Since about 1940 the Preston Borough Police had used the castle-like building on Stanley Street, next to Preston Gaol, as a local station, but it was up for sale in July 1969 with the prison governor keen to acquire it – after all it was once the governor’s residence.

In 1972 Preston was handed its own division within Lancashire Constabulary under the command of Chief Supt. Ronald Booth. From 1976-1980 Chief Supt. Walter Real, who had been recruited in 1946 to the Preston Borough Police force, took control.

After the merger a familiar figure on the streets of Preston was PC Chris Flaherty whose duty it was in the late 1970s to patrol Fishergate.

This was a constable who would foil shoplifters, tackle traffic problems, listen to complaints, give directions and greet folk with a smile. He had captured fleeing murderers, used his in training in midwifery and given a stern lecture to many a wayward youngster.

Towards the end of Guild Year 1972 it was announced that Preston’s policing operations would, in 1973, be run from new premises in Lawson Street. The new HQ a grey, six storey concrete tower, cost £600,000 to build.

With communication rooms, conference rooms, a gym and recreation rooms it was just what the force needed. Less inviting were the basement cells with heavy steel doors along a dark passage. Although the cells did have modern conveniences and led to an exercise yard away from the public gaze. Even the Blue Lamp that had hung over the entrance to the Earl Street station since early Victorian days was renovated and moved to the new location.

If you thought Lawson Street would remain the hub of Preston police matters for generations you were wrong.

It seems that 40 years into its life Lawson Street had become too cramped to cope with changes to equipment, vehicles and the demands of modern policing.

In Guild Year 1992 from Lawson Street they had planned policing of Preston Guild with over 500 serving officers involved, but before the next Preston Guild they had a new home.

Changes nationally in 2004 led to the introduction of Community Support Officers, dubbed ‘Blunkett’s Bobbies’ in reference to the Home Secretary of the time.

The iconic landmark on Preston’s skyline was abandoned in March 2009 some six years after the force was given the go ahead to build a new police station and command centre on the former United Utilities site on Lancaster Road North.

A new custody suite including cells, a criminal justice unit and a senior officer command centre waiting on Moor Lane.

As for the Blue Lamp it now hangs from the wall of the new police HQ. As recently as 2010 when Chief. Supt. Tim Jacques arrived to run the force it was stated that Preston’s crime rate was at its lowest ever level – progressive policing it would seem.

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