First Police Detective in Dorset

“Grandad was the first plain-clothes policeman in Dorset” my father informed me.  Grandad Beck obtained the rank of Sergeant in 1908, 6 months before being made Detective Sergeant.

A descended to the training sergeant at the time, gave me this account of Grandad Beck’s promotion.  “Because my Great Grandfather was the Training Sergeant he was aware of what was required and with the increase in crime, he and the top Senior ranks decided they needed a senior PC to help deal with the serious crime of the day. They looked at all the senior PC’S and quickly worked out that “Percy” would be ideal. He was promoted to Sergeant straight away to make his job easier for all, even though it would have had a small financial impact on the Force, as now there was an extra Sergeant.” Ian Swatridge.

As Dorsetshire’s first and the only Detective between 1908 and June 1915, Grandad Beck was based at Headquarters in Dorchester. He travelled around the county at the request of divisional superintendents to assist in more complex or longer investigations.

Picture of Bargate Southampton
Postcard to Lionel

Dear Lionel

Grandad Beck went to Eastleigh in Hampshire, from the Railway Sub Office he sent this postcard to his 10 year old son Lionel.  This could have been a police business or family trip. Grandad Beck’s sister, Great Aunty Beat or Beatrice lived in the Southampton area, so it may be he was visiting her or he could have been changing trains at Eastleigh which is near Southampton.

Back of postcard
3pm August 7 1909 Eastleigh R.S.O. (Railway Sub Office)
Dear Lionel,
Shall most likely be home tonight. Hope you’ve been a good boy.
Dad

Craft and trade of a detective

Grandad Beck specialised in the criminal and forensic investigation techniques of the time. He went to Scotland Yard, London to learn about finger printing. This was a new technology, first used as evidence in British courts in 1902.  Grandad Beck gave a series of lectures in various parts of Dorset, to his fellow policemen, on this subject.

The family moved to Dorchester, I am assuming after his promotion, in 1908. Lionel would have been 9 years old and May 7 years. From the number of photographs of the children at this age, it is around this time that Grandad Beck obtained his first camera. As we have multiple copies of lots of the photographs I wonder if he also developed his own prints, it is possible he had a dark room at headquarters.

Besides fingerprinting and possibly photography, it is likely he learnt other skills while at Scotland Yard. I have a couple of postcards, written in shorthand, addressed to Grandad Beck at his home. From the post mark these were posted in London on February 1910 and May 1911,

Theft of government metal at Portland

The end of 1908 saw Grandad Beck investigating a case of stolen metal at East Weare Batteries, Portland.  In one of the three batteries, work was being carried out to install electric lights by Messrs. Jesty and Baker. Government buildings and fortifications contractors, engineers based not far away at Castle Town on Portland. Two Weymouth men George Hodges, fitter  and Charles Dodge, labourer, where charged with the theft and appeared before Portland magistrates in January 1909 .  They were accused of stealing 5 stop cocks, which had been found unsuitable for the job.  They broke some of the doors to remove the brass locks and broken copper bolts, which were sold to a marine store dealer in Weymouth.  The fittings were specially made for magazines.  Both prisoners pleaded guilty.  Hodges said that “It is all through the drink.”

The magistrates considered the case a most disgraceful one, particularly with regard to the elder man Hodges, who had been possessed of a good character and was trusted.  To wrench locks of doors, break them up and dispose of them for old metal was deliberate and mean act.  … not only did he steal but he had not the pluck to dispose of the stolen property himself, getting the younger man Dodge to do this.  

Hodges, as it was his first offence was fined £5 and costs 7s and Dodge £1 costs 7s.

Arrest of chauffeur in London

In April 1909 Grandad Beck was at Poole Petty session, telling the magistrates how he had been to London to arrest a chauffeur for stealing money and postage stamps from the Railway Company.  Grandad Beck, with Detective Hull from the Criminal Investigation Department of the Metropolitan Police, had gone to Rye Lane, Peckham to arrest Arthur Philip Alison.  Alison claimed that a perfect stranger had asked him to stand on the railway bridge whilst he broke through a window of the booking office.  Mr Alison told the court that he received half the stolen money and stamps.  According to the clerk he had left £1 12s and half-a-pence in money and 4s and 11 pence in stamps in the office – Alison claimed he received half the money, £1 1shilling for being the look out.  He was traced because he was known to Hampshire constabulary and been seen in the area.  The prisoner was committed for trial at the Quarter Sessions.  Unfortunately I can’t find any record of this trial.

I have come to the conclusion that the role of detective wasn’t a high profile position and therefore Grandad Beck, the detective, often doesn’t appear in the newspaper reports of the time.  I have written about four cases were he gave evidence in court, two above and previously I wrote about the murder case in 1913 and mutiny at Upwey in 1914.

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Ref: Quotes in italics
Western Gazette 1909: 1 January 1909 p9; 23 April 1909 p4
Bridport News 1935 19 July  
Hann, M. (2006) Bobbies on the beat, 1856-2006: 150 years of the Dorset police. United Kingdom: The Dovecote Press. p30

2 thoughts on “First Police Detective in Dorset”

  1. So interesting to hear how Great Uncle Percy rose through the police ranks. Coincidentally the name Swatridge leaped off the page as that was the name of our Head Ranger at Lepe Country Park, he has recently moved to another county but I understand Swatridge is a Dorset name. My mother was named after her Grandmother Beatrice, but mum hated the name and really got annoyed if someone called her Beatty! She usually went under her second name Anne.

    1. Heather, thank you for your comment and reading the posts. So often names get shorted to something awful, at least with a second name you have an alternative. Though one of my son’s is always referred to by his initials, which is very confusing for me! Happy New Year.

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