Rough and rowdy: The origins of policing in Norwich

Horses on parade for this inspection at Chapelfield Gardens.

Most of the horses on parade for this inspection at Chapelfield Gardens had been hired for the day. - 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.

Police and cycles on parade in Chapelfield Gardens.

Police and cycles on parade in Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich, for the annual inspection in 1914. Note the officers are wearing cycle clips. - Credit: Force archives

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.

Senior officers in around 1909 when a moustache was the order of the day.

Senior officers in around 1909 when a moustache was the order of the day. That’s Chief Constable Winch in the centre. - Credit: Force archives

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.

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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.

Constable Arthur Cooper Claxton joined the force in 1886.

Constable Arthur Cooper Claxton joined the force in 1886. He was a giant of a man and reported to be the only officer to patrol rough and tough Ber Street in Norwich unaccompanied. He retired in 1912 and died in 1940. - Credit: B Huntingdon

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.

Inspector Harrison has his horse patted by HM Inspector  Leonard Dunning.

Inspector Harrison has his horse patted by HM Inspector Leonard Dunning. Watching on is Chief Constable Edwin Winch who weighed 25 stones by the time he retired in 1917. - Credit: Force archives

A Norwich police constable in Norwich in 1850. 

A Norwich police constable in Norwich in 1850. - Credit: Force archives

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.

Robert Hitchman, the first undisputed Chief Constable of Norwich.

Robert Hitchman, the first undisputed Chief Constable of Norwich, serving for a record 38 years from 1859-97. - Credit: Force archives

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.

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