Rough and rowdy: The origins of policing in Norwich
- Credit: M Dixon
It was on this day, Tuesday March 1, in 1836, when a group of uniformed gentlemen stepped out onto the streets of Norwich… to enforce law and order.
At the time the city was a rough and rowdy place, where criminals ran riot, and honest folk had had enough.
In 1820, the “owners and occupiers” met at the Guildhall and demanded action and protection from the rogues and scallywags who stole whatever they wanted.
It took a while but eventually, the council was in business, a Watch Committee was formed, and the call went out for men, aged between 25 and 50, with a minimum height of 5ft 6in and in good health.
The starting number was 18, backed up by 32 night watchmen, who already operated within the city walls, and by 1839 the police were increased to 24.
The new force operated under Superintendent Wright but, as Maurice Morson former head of Norfolk CID, pointed out in his book A Force Remembered published in 2000, there was little fuss at the time and it was not a good start.
Some of the newly-appointed constables headed for the public houses rather than get on with their job. A love of the drink was to curse the force for many years.
- 1 Norwich cocktail bar and restaurant relaunches with new name and menu
- 2 Everything you need to know about the Sweet Briar Road closure
- 3 Sewage seeps through floorboards and blocks sinks in apartment block
- 4 Supporters' fears that Spurs game at Carrow Road may turn nasty
- 5 Two men charged in connection with Class A drug dealing in Norwich
- 6 Finishing touches added to new Tesco store in city centre
- 7 Huge 'magazine worthy' bungalow near Norwich is back up for sale for £1.1m
- 8 Fashion boutique to shut with FOUR MONTH closing down sale
- 9 Why NR3 is being dubbed the 'new Shoreditch'
- 10 Jailed in Norfolk: Drug dealer and man who raped teenage girl
Pay for the new constables was 15s (75p) a week with 1s (5p) stopped for clothing, they had to buy their own trousers, which had to be ankle strapped and of a uniform matching colour.
Three sergeants got an extra 2s/6d from 1837.
They were issued with a dark blue swallow-tailed coat, a leather top hat, greatcoat, cape, belt, lanthorn, truncheon, rattle and handcuffs. Notebooks and whistles followed.
These officers served a lawless city and were often attacked. This was a time of industrial decline, ale was cheap, vagrancy rife, fights and riots not uncommon.
Hanging and transportation were among the punishments meted out by the courts and public hangings outside the castle attracted huge crowds. The last public hanging in Norwich was in 1867.
The first criminal statistics, from December 1837 to December 25 1838, show the police dealt with 69 felonies, 56 assaults, 113 disorderly persons and five cases of uttering false coins.
When the force was inspected at St Andrew’s Hall in 1848 the Watch Committee was so impressed it ordered each man should receive a pint of beer!
Look out for secondhand copies of A Force Remembered: The Illustrated History of the Norwich City Police 1836-1967 by Maurice Morson. A good read.
For more old photos and articles about Norfolk history and heritage, subscribe to our fortnightly Through the Decades email newsletter. Sign up by clicking here.