A Policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy One

“A Policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy One” was a popular song from The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert & Sullivan, since 1880.  I am sure Grandad Beck, heard this and chuckled, he loved his job and working in Dorset but others were not so happy.

Grandad Beck was promoted to Sergeant in 1908, while the family were living at Upwey.  As a police constable he would have been working long hours, 7 days a week, the family must have only seen him for short periods each day.  While his promotion would not have effected the hours he worked, it would have meant a modest increase in pay. Police Officers had 5 days annual holiday, for Lionel and May it must have been strange to see their father out of uniform.  The newspapers reports of the Joint Standing Committee meetings (1909-1914), shows how this was all to change.  The police Weekly Rest Day Act of 1910 was to give all policemen 1 day off per week, this was voluntary for the police forces until becoming mandatory on 26th July 1914, just before war was declared.

The request for policemen to assist the military in 1910 came as Dorset, along with other force, were having problems retaining and recruiting men. Young men, including Great Uncle Ernest, were joining the Metropolitan Police as they paid more.  First a report about mounted police, which gives me an excuse to show you this photograph of Grandad Beck again. This was taken in the 1920s when he was a Superintendent at Beaminster.

Supt. in uniform on a horse
Grandad Beck riding one of the horses at Beaminster Police Station

Mounted Policemen

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Problems for Dorset Police Force During WW1

Grandad Beck was promoted to Superintendent of the Blandford Division of the Dorset Constabulary in June 1915 nearly 11 months after the start of World War One.  This promotion came at a difficult time for the Dorset police force as reduced police numbers and rising costs caused major problems.  Reading the Dorset Standing Joint Committee reports in the Newspapers, the wages that the men received were constantly being reviewed, as the price of food and other essential commodities rose.  At the same time the Chief Constable, Captain Granville, was reporting on police strength, how many policemen had been released to the military, and the deaths of former policemen in the fighting.

War Bonus

Policemen were paid weekly, each week they would have walked or cycled to their Divisional headquarter, saluted their senior officer and received the cash due to them.  As the war progressed their wage was not enough for them and their families to buy the basic necessities of live.  To overcome this the Standing Committee, along with other police forces, issued a War Bonus, awarded until peace was signed.  The first bonus of 2s (shillings) per week for all ranks of Dorset policemen, was issued in April 1915, by the end of the war the bonus had risen to 10s.  In September 1917 The Food Controller stated that the cost of living had increased by 101.7% since the start of the war.

Many policemen, who had retired on pensions, rejoined to replace those joining the military.  These men were getting their police pension and their wages.  In July 1917, 4 Sergeants and 9 constables had reached retiring age since the start of the war. These men were unable to retire and claim their pensions, unless medically unfit. All policemen had to work extra hours. By 1916 constables were working 14 or 15 hours a day instead of 9, with one day off a fortnight instead of one day a week and since July 1915 all leave had been cancelled.

Allowances

It was not only pay that was an issue with increasing costs. Policemen’s boots had nearly doubled in cost (from 11s to 21s) by November 1917. Therefore the committee increased the boot allowance from 6d (pence) to 1s per week for all ranks.  Bicycles were being used more by the rural districts due to increased hours, larger beat areas and making lots of enquiries for the Army. In November 1917 this allowance was increased from £1 to £3 per annum, in specified areas, for Sergeants and constables.

Superintendent’s also had problems with their allowances for feeding their horses and prisoners.  In October 1916 the superintendents allowance for the subsistence of prisoners whilst in custody was discussed.  They were given half-pence per hour while a prisoner was in custody, which was not enough to cover the increased cost of the meals.  Each prisoner received 12 ounces of bread and 2 ounces of cheese three times a day, 8am, 1pm and 5pm.  A pint of tea or coffee at 8am and 5pm.  The committee agreed to double the allowance. I wrote about the forage for the horses last week in Locomotion for Dorset Superintendents.

Pay rises after the war

After the war, Police Sub-Committee had a hurried meeting, in June 1918. The Metropolitan Police were threatening to strike over pay and conditions.  The Met. police went on strikes in August 1918 and June 1919.  It is likely that Grandad Beck’s brother Ernest was involved in these strikes. This resulted, a year later, in a uniformed pay scale for the all police forces in the country.  New rates meant a constable on joining received 70s (at start of war 20s 9b) per week rising after 22 years’ service to 85s (pre-war 24s 9b) per week.  Sergeants, on promotion, 100s (pre-war 26s 10b) per week rising after five years’ service to 112s 6d (pre-war 29s 8b) per week. Superintendents would get £400 (pre-war £138 7s 11d) per year rising to £460 (pre-war £173 7s 9b) after 4 years.  At the Standing Committee meeting in Dorchester, the new compulsory pay scale was implemented. Mr. W. Carter commented, that the Dorset policemen are getting more wages than they actually asked us for, free houses, free clothes and pensions! Policemen are doing well. I have previously written about other changes introduced at this time in Public-Spirited County Policemen – A Difficulty Solved.

Police strength

The Chief Constable had 218 policemen at the start of the war and by the end 57 officers had joined the military, 9 of these lost their lives.  Finding replacements was not easy, the force was only able to employ those over 40 years and some of these men didn’t stay long.  While the pensioners helped, the chief constable told the committee in January 1916,  the pensioners didn’t have the vigour of the younger men and some of them had to resign because they couldn’t stand the work.  By the end of the war the force was 50 men under strength, this included the 11 officers who were employed on duties of a military character. There were 25 men who were entitled to retire, but not allowed to because of the war.

The force had returned to full strength by May 1919 though some of the pensioners were still employed.  In March 1919 the one rest day per week was restored. The Chief Constable told the committee that he would require 60 new recruits. All those men who had serviced in the military were entitled to return to the police force, including those who had been injured, if possible.  Police Constable Sam Coombs had been severely wounded in the war and had a artificial foot, was to be re-employed. The Chief Constable said he was a very deserving young fellow and he proposed to reinstate him as a constable and find work for him as a station constable and telephone attendant.  The committee applauded the Chief Constable to mark their approval.

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Ref: Quotes in italics
Western Gazette:
1919: 21 March p8; 16 May p10; 25 July p8; 17 October p9
1918: 1 February p6; 17 May p3; 19 July p3; 18 October p6; 8 November p5
1917: 2 February p5; 25 May p7; 20 July p6; 19 October p6; 30 November p8
1916: 4 February p5; 20 October p8
1915 22 October p9
Western Daily Press: 1915 26 April p3

Locomotion for Dorset Superintendents

During the First World War transport for the Superintendents in Dorset Constabulary was discussed by the Dorset Standing Committee.  Historically the Superintendents had used horses and carts to get around their areas, these were stabled and looks after by a constable. With the advent of motor bikes and cars, the police looked at these forms of transport to increase their efficiency.  It should be remembered that though motorised transport was faster than horses they were restricted to a maximum of 20 miles per hour.  How times have changed.

Line of Motor Bikes and early cars under trees
This photograph was in the family collection, I have no idea where or why this was taken and kept but perhaps someone will recognise it

Replace Worn-out Horses with Motor-Cycles

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Public-Spirited County Policemen – A Difficulty Solved

During the early 1920’s the question of national police pay and conditions was considered which lead to a recommendation that policemen should work fewer hours and have more holiday, but the cost of providing enough policemen became an issue.  As the financial crisis in the country worsened the Home Secretary instructed the forces to make cuts in the police budget dispute the earlier recommendation.  The Dorset Police Standing Committee and Chief Constable discussed the question of how to satisfy both demands, eventually it was the Police Constables and Sergeants that provided the solution.

Group photograph of policemen
Taken at Bridport Police Station 1921/22
Back row PC 175 Alfred John Wintle ; 101 ?; PC 66 George Peach; PC 143 ?; PC 31 William J Jones; PC 135 ?; PC 64 William Charles Henry Carter
Front row PC 100 ?; Sgt Walter Bown; Supt. Beck; PC 36 William Meech acting Sgt; PC 107 Francis G Vatcher

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The “Vexed Question” of Motor-cars for Superintendents of Police

In this post Photographs of Beaminster Police station 1920 to 1925  I wrote that Grandad Beck may have had two horses to get his trap up the steep hills. From the Western Gazette, January 1920 in a report of the Standing Committee meeting I found conformation of this.  The Chief Constable repeatedly asked the committee to provide the Superintendents with cars, but they thought this unnecessary and extravagant.  We must remember that in the early 1920s the country was recovering from the First World War and the financial situation was difficult.  Prices were fluctuating, up then down. Farmers were having a hard time, especially in Dorset which had one of the highest county rates in the country.

Superintendents needed to travel around their Divisions not only to supervise the local men but also to attend the local courts and other events.  Grandad Beck attended courts at Beaminster, Bridport and Lyme Regis.  I would assume that appearance of the Superintendent, clean and tidy uniform, was desirable at these occasions. This may have been one reason the Chief Constable was not in favour of motor-cycles, the roads would have been very dusty in the 1920s.

Dorset Constabulary were having to cope with changing priorities and keep within their budget. In 1920 Weymouth had its own police force which merged with Dorset Police Constabulary in the interest of greater economy. We also learn that a Police Constable looked after the Superintendents horse or in Grandad Beck’s case horses.  It seems that it was the shortage of PC’s, that eventually lead to the horses being fazed out. I will write more about this next week.

Supt. Beck in uniform with his wife in a pony and trap
Superintendent (Grandad) Beck in uniform with his wife Rebecca in a horse and trap C.1920

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Dorset Standing Joint Committee Decisions

I have posted about the meetings of the Dorset Standing Joint Committees as reported in the local Newspapers before, 1930-35 here.  The reports of the committee meetings enables us to get a insight into the Dorset police force, as they are responsibilities for the police budgets.  Using newspaper reports gives us an impression but can be incorrect or give the view of the reporter and therefore need to be read with care.

I have chosen items that help to build a picture of the life of the policemen in Bridport Division between 1925 and 1929. I think Grandad Beck would have been typical of his generation and agree that Dorset did not require policewomen but welcomed an extra police constable and better equipment for his men. He would have “run a very tight ship” and any officer found socialising in the local pubs would have had, at the very least, a stiff talking too.

Supt. Beck in uniform
Supt. Beck was known for giving “a right earful” if an officer or family member didn’t live up to expectations

More Policemen but no Policewomen

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There is no need for Police Houses to have Telephones

I wrote about the Standing Committee as they debated the police budget during a recession. Dorset Police Pay and Promotion during the Great Depression.  In this post I looked several other issue that had been reported in the Western Gazette during the first half of the 1930s.

The Home Office wanted the police to have telephones in all police houses, to facilitate communication within the force and with the public. But the Dorset Standing Committee didn’t agree, partly on cost and partly because they considered it unnecessary in a rural area. This was discussed many times over the years.

The Dorset force was more compliant when the Home Office instigated motor patrols around the country to, among other duties, rigorously monitor the speed of motor vehicles. Dorset started with motorbikes before buying cars. Superintendents provided their own motorcars and were given an allowance for the use their cars for police duties. From the list given in 1933 Grandad Beck was the only one who didn’t own a car.

Improvements to both Bridport and Beaminster police stations were considered necessary. A new police station was considered for Beaminster which caused Beaminster people to be concerned that they would no longer have a local Justice court. After much discussion it was decided to keep the station in Prout Hill – now the youth centre.

Justices Hall Beaminster c1930 Decorated for Christmas? I think there is a tree at the back.
Justices Court, Beaminster c.1920-30 Decorated for Christmas? I think there is a tree at the back.

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Dorset Police Pay and Promotion during the Great Depression

The local Newspapers regularly report on the meetings of the Dorset Standing Committees. Among other responsibilities this committee is responsible for the police budgets, including major purchases and expenditures. The reports of the committee meetings enables us to get a insight into the Dorset police force in the 1930s. Using newspaper reports gives us an impression but can be incorrect or give the view of the reporter and therefore need to be read with care.

We can not look at Grandad Beck’s life and work without considering the wider context. In 1930 Britain was hit by a world recession caused in part by the stock market crash in the USA. Britain was less effected than other countries and here in the South West the depression wasn’t has bad as in the North of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Nevertheless Grandad Beck and the people of West Dorset would have felt the effect. The Police were effected directly when their pay was cut, twice. Yet despite these cuts the pay of Dorset policemen had significantly increased since World War One due.

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