Penzance Borough Police (1836 - 1947)


This small borough force was formed in 1836, along with many other borough forces in the country, following the Municipal Corporation Act of 1835 which required every borough to appoint a Watch Committee with a duty of maintaining a police force.

From the 1 January 1836 it consisted of three constables paid from the borough rate. The first Chief Constable carried the title of ‘Le Yeoman,’ an archaic term taken from Penzance’s second charter of 1614.

The officers were housed in the basement of St John's Hall with their Chief Constable and this remained the pattern until the force was eventually amalgamated into the Cornwall Constabulary.

Great Western Railway

In 1852 the Great Western Railway arrived in Penzance, increasing tourism and the general population considerably. The increase in population brought with it an increase in crime and the Penzance force grew accordingly.

The wars

During the First World War many constables resigned to join the colours and hundreds of ordinary citizens enrolled as special constables.

During the Second World War a large war reserve constabulary was built and formed part of Penzance’s civil defence response to air raids. It was a highly efficient and organised force which was ordered to merge with the Cornwall Constabulary on 1 April 1947.

Nationally, in an effort to reduce the number of police forces with which the military authorities had to deal during the Second World War, the Home Office amalgamated certain of the smaller borough police forces with the local county force. Therefore, in 1943, Penzance Borough temporarily went over to the county constabulary until the 1946 Police Act which abolished non-county borough police forces such as Penzance. As a result, from 1947 the town was policed solely by the Cornwall Constabulary and Penzance became the last of the old borough forces in the West Country to be taken over.

A collection of images

Penzance Borough Police in 1914

Penzance Borough Police in 1914

Penzance Borough Police, in 1914 outside St. John's Hall (image © Mrs Mary Rogers) . On the left is the chairman of the Watch Committee, the forerunner to the modernday police authority. Taken in about 1936, this photograph shows, from left to right, (back row) Constables Symonds, Eddy, Cutler, Beer, Radford and Richards; (middle row) Brown, Hancock, Davis, unknown, Fowler, Lock and Bartlett; (front row) Constable Chegwidden, Sergeants Curnow and Matthews, Chief Constable Kenyon, Sergeant Webber and Constables Carne and Fulford.

Penzance Borough Police July 1939

Penzance Borough Police July 1939

Penzance Borough Police July 1939. Included in the photograph are: (back row) Constables 7 Jackson and 3 Tapping; (third row) Constables 18 Hicks, 16 Botheras, 14 Green, 17 Adamson, 15 Toms, 12 Eddy and 11 Cutler; (second row) Constables 4 Ferris, 5 Davis, 10 Beer, 13 Symons, 6 Hancock, 9 Radford, 8 Richards and 2 Lock; (front row) Sergeants 5 Brown, 3 Bartlett, 1 Curnow, Cllr. F. S. Shaw (Chairman of the Watch Committee), R. C. M. Jenkins (Chief Constable), Cllr. J. Birch J.P. (Mayor), Sergeants 2 Fulford and 4 Fowler and Constable 1 Chegwidden. (Upon promotion to sergeant, the constables had their collar numbers changed accordingly.)

Penzance Borough Police in 1941

Penzance Borough Police 1941

Penzance Borough Police, 1941. During the war years the police were supported, as always, by the volunteers of the 'Special Constabulary'. Like many other police forces, extra 'War Reserve' officers were recruited. These were generally former policemen brought out of retirement and who had 'WR' on their collars. The cap badges of the Special Constabulary can be seen as small crowns, as opposed to the larger star badges of the war reserve officers.

Helmet plate prior to 1938

Helmet plate prior to 1938 (image © Jeff Cowdell). The insignia of the head of St. John the Baptist on a plate was worn by the force in recognition of their station being in St. John's Hall in the town.

Belt buckle

The belt buckle also showed the insignia of the head of St. John the Baptist on a plate. This was also repeated on the buttons. The star shaped cap badge shows the borough crest. (image © Dave Wilkinson)

Helmet plate after 1938

Helmet plate after 1938 (below right image © Jeff Cowdell). After about 1938 the insignia of St John the Baptist's head on badges and buttons was changed in favour of the borough crest. This style of helmet plate and insignia then remained with the force until its amalgamation into the Cornwall Constabulary a few years later.

Several other forces, nationally, at about this time were developing their insignia to reflect coats of arms and crests, which were eventually replaced by the standard 'royal cipher'. At the same time, however, many officers in the small and parochial forces saw these small, but significant, changes as detrimental steps, moving away from their individual character and identity.

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