Buckingham Borough

Buckingham Borough Police.

Buckingham Borough Police was formed in January 1836. William Giles was appointed Superintendent of Police at 15/- a week and Thomas Jenkins, James Spicer and John Adkins were 'elected' Constables at 12/- a week 'to act by day and night'. These first constables did not last too long and for one reason or another they were replaced.

Around a year later the constables were issued with uniform. The minutes of the Watch Committee recorded - 'The two policemen be furnished with a blue uniform dress to consist of a coat trowsers (sic) and hat'. In 1839 they were given a rattle, lantern and waterproof capes. Two additional handcuffs were purchased and the policemen were issued with leggings.

It would appear that, in the early years, the entire Force came up for selection annually. In 1838 it was recorded - 'William Giles be re-appointed Chief Constable or Superintendent and George Purcell and George Welch be re-elected constables, to act by day and night for the year ensuing at the same salaries as before'. Similar entries appear for several years after.

It was also recorded that if a policeman went sick 'He shall find a substitute to do his duty as the Superintendent may approve'. This was changed later when a policeman named Walker became ill and unable to perform his duty; the Watch Committee resolved that each policeman pay 1/- for each night he was off sick. A temporary policeman was then paid 1/6 a night. Whatever Walker was ill with, a few days later he was hauled before the committee for 'beating his wife and otherwise misconducting himself'. He was asked if he objected to 1/- being deducted from his pay for a substitute constable. Walker said he would prefer resigning so his resignation was accepted. The Watch Committee were not going to be caught out like that again, so the other two policemen where wheeled in 'and on being enquired of, expressed their willingness to hold office subject to this regulation'. Well they had seen what happened to Walker!

By the 1850's pressure was on the Borough Forces to amalgamate with the County Police and it was proposed to enforce this with the 'New Police Bill'. Vigorous campaigning took place up and down the country by various Boroughs and letters were sent to Buckingham Town Council from the committees of Southampton, York and Portsmouth, expressing concern and seeking support in opposing the Bill before Parliament. Needless to say Buckingham was totally opposed to any such union.

However the new 'Compulsory Act' was passed and by and large the Boroughs escaped the net. One implication was that Boroughs, with a population of less than 5,000, would receive no treasury grant. A letter was received by the council from the Clerk of the Peace suggesting consolidation with the new County Force. They replied that it was not their intention to even think of it. A letter was received later the same year, 1856, from the Home Secretary in which he stated that a Superintendent of Police, as head of a Borough Force, should not be called Chief Constable as this title was reserved for counties only.

In 1866, William Giles, the first Superintendent of Police, retired having reached the age of 73. He was granted a pension of £25 per annum. In discussing the duties of his successor the Town Council agreed that not only should he head the Force but also keep all necessary books pertaining to his office, attend all meetings of the Town Council and Borough Magistrates, and should hold the office of Gaoler and County Lock-up Keeper and his wife (to be) Matron and perform such other duties as the council may from time to time direct. It was recommended that he be paid £65 per annum and be provided a suitable uniform. To fill Giles' place there were originally eleven applicants, but these were whittled down to four, from whom Sergeant Howe of the Bucks Constabulary was chosen. He must have applied himself diligently to his office for shortly afterwards his salary was raised to £75.

There was a change of uniform in March 1868 when there appears in the minutes book of the Town Council the first mention of supplying the police with helmets at 9/6d each. Also trouble must have been expected at the Borough elections as Howe had to order four dozen armlets and staves for issue to Special Constables. However the elections passed peacefully enough.

The HMI was not impressed with the Force, for on his inspection of it the same year he stated "The pay was insufficient for obtaining and retaining good and efficient men. Those who left, speedily found situations in the County Police where they were better paid and where, generally speaking, they remained. I therefore propose that the pay be 19/- per week for men that had been in the police for less than a year and 20/- for those who had been in above that time. The pay of each policeman should increase 1/- per week in each successive year, unless the Council should otherwise direct, until it becomes 23/- per week at which amount it should remain and that the contribution of each officer to the Superintended Fund should be two and a half percent". The council discussed the matter fully and it was thought that police pay should go on as at present.

In 1871 the Annual Inspection of the Force showed it to consist of one 'High Constable' (Superintendent) at £75 per annum, one Sergeant at 20/- per week, one Constable at 19/- per week and one at 18/- per week. There was a population of 3,847 or 96 to each constable, and an acreage of 1.194 to each constable. The Head Constable acted as Inspector of Weights and Measures, Nuisances and Lamps, also as Governor of the Gaol resided in the Prison where there were 13 cells. There were three indictable offences for 1870 and nine for 1871 of which eight were detected. Summary offences increased as did vagrancy. The Inspector concludes in his report "This area is too large for proper supervision. The Force is not efficient".

By 1872, the Council agreed to raise the constables' wages to 23/- and 21/- per week.

In 1878 Howe applied for and got the position of Governor of Northampton Prison. There was a short list of four applicants for the vacancy of Superintendent and Job Denson, aged 29 years, was selected. He came from Aylesbury but there was no indication of his previous occupation. (At about the same time there was a Superintendent in the County Force with the same name, so perhaps they were father and son). At the same meeting a long discussion took place as to whether the Borough should amalgamate with the County but eventually the motion was withdrawn.

Denson must have made an early impression for, in 1879, one year after selection, an outgoing Mayor paid tribute to him saying. " Our Superintendent is a young man, well-behaved and exceedingly courteous and always brings his cases in a straight-forward manner and under the supervision of himself and his men, the public houses have been creditably conducted. He may not be so sharp and keen as a Meiklejohn or a Druscovich but he is going on in the way to make a very good officer. As regards the constables I have found them to be steady, careful, trustworthy men, always attentive to their duties and from the Superintendent downwards I have always received the greatest courtesy and feel bound to speak of them in all these favourable terms". Very nice, especially when you consider that Meiklejohn and Druscovich had recently been the subject of a scandal at Scotland Yard and had received prison sentences for racing frauds!

By 1881 Superintendent Denson was in poor health and, after requesting two weeks leave, sent a letter with a medical certificate asking for further time off duty. This was discussed by the council and some of the councillors thought a change should be made as it appeared that Denson had not been performing his duties satisfactorily, sometimes not seeing his men for weeks on end. A letter was sent to Denson to which he replied giving one month's notice. His resignation was accepted and a successor was sought to replace him and the post of Superintendent was advertised.

There were a number of applications and the council finally chose John Nobes who was a sergeant in the County Police and had 20 years police service behind him - this included service in the Metropolitan Police. Nobes was to be the last Superintendent of the Buckingham Borough Police for on the 17th January 1889 it was reported in the Bucks Advertiser that the members of the Borough Police, with the exception of Superintendent Nobes, attended Winslow Police Station along with the North Western Division of the County Constabulary to be measured for their new county uniform in which they would appear in April.

Upon amalgamation, Nobes decided to be pensioned off from the Police and received a Superannuation of £60 per annum. The last three remaining officers, Sergeant Edwin Sirmon, PC Thomas Woodford and PC George Winterburn carried on serving with the Buckinghamshire Constabulary until the turn of the century.

This was the end of fifty-three years of the tiny Buckingham Borough Police, the passing of which hardly merited a mention in the local papers.

Taken from a pamphlet called

'Buckingham Borough Police 1836 - 1889'

Written by Len Woodley.