A Victorian Police Constable by Ellen Maki, Ph.D.

Bobby 1892 cropped Police constables in late Victorian London (England) patrolled beats that were on average 7.5 miles (12 km) in length. Patrolling was not limited to daytime, though; beat walking continued on through the night. The night beats were generally shorter – only about 2 miles long. With the appearance of motorised cars in 1890, the policeman’s duties expanded to include point duty: directing traffic. All of these duties had their challenges. Monotony seems to have been an issue, especially during nighttime patrols. There were dangers from motorised traffic getting too close, and injuries could be sustained in the prevention of crime and the apprehension of criminals. And the policeman had to carry out his duties whatever the weather – rain, cold, heat, and smog included.

St_Mary_Haggerston with caption

Those were the prospects that faced 21-year-old Thomas Philip Clarke when he joined the Metropolitan Police Force as a constable in 1893. He was born in rural Stanningfield, Suffolk, and like many others, he had made his way to London in search of employment as a young man. He left a job as a horse keeper for the Great Western Railway, in London, to join the Met, as the Metropolitan force was known.

Using Thomas’s Metropolitan service records, I was able to trace his career. When he first joined the service, Thomas was assigned to the Met’s ‘G’ Division, London’s Finsbury district. About half a year after joining the force, Thomas married Agnes Emily Andrew at St. Mary’s Church, Haggerston, in Hackney, on 9 January 1894.

1912SwiftFor the constable on traffic duty, the perils of work grew with the introduction in 1896 of the Locomotives on Highways Act which raised the speed limit for motor cars from 2 miles per hour (mph) in towns to 12 mph. Twelve mph seems slow by today’s standards, but in 1896 cars were still sharing the roads with horse-drawn vehicles and traffic was controlled by a constable. Twelve mph must have seemed horrifyingly fast to the policeman standing in the midst of the traffic giving directions.

By the time of the 1901 census, Thomas and Emily had a family of 3 children, and were living at 8 New Inn Yard, in Shoreditch. Charles Booth’s poverty map of 1898-99 showed New Inn Yard as being inhabited by those living fairly comfortably. Thomas’s work as a police constable ensured both stability and a reasonably secure lifestyle for himself and his family.

For those constables willing and able to stick with the job of policing, there was the possibility of wage increases and promotion. That would likely have been an appealing opportunity, as it was not something that was available in many other areas of work. Promotion, however, was not available to constables until they had served for a minimum of 5 years. A study of new joiners during the period 1889 to 1909, which is the period during which Thomas signed on with the Met, showed that the average time to first promotion was approximately 9 years.

Waleran Flats Southwark with captionThomas was a little ahead of his colleagues. Having served as a police constable for just under 8 years, Thomas was promoted to sergeant on 25 May 1901. He was transferred from the Finsbury division to the ‘M’, or Southwark, division. He and his family moved house as well. Thomas appears on the 1902 list of electors at 102 Waleran Flats, on Old Kent Road in Southwark. The 1898-99 poverty map shows this area of Old Kent Road as being peopled by the middle class. With his promotion to sergeant, Thomas had joined the ranks of the well-off.

In the meantime, Thomas’s family continued to grow. Between 1901 and 1907, four more sons joined the family, bringing the number of children to seven. Thomas continued to do well within the hierarchy of the Met, and on 10 August 1907, he was promoted again, this time to station sergeant. His new position was in ‘Y’, or Highgate Division. When the 1908 list of electors was compiled, Thomas was living at 1 Newington Causeway in Southwark, another largely middle class neighbourhood. Map of Southwark 1720 with CaptionBy 2 April 1911, when the next census was taken, Thomas and his family were living at 3 Leverton Street in Kentish Town, in the Holloway district where Thomas was working.

Although 68% of the recruits from Thomas’s time period did not rise above the level of sergeant, Thomas was one of the minority who did. He was promoted to inspector in the ‘X’, or Willesden, Division in the northwest of Metropolitan London on 13 May 1911.

The years following World War I were turbulent ones for the Metropolitan Police. A police union was formed in 1913, and this was not well received by management. In 1916 and 1917, and number of police officers were dismissed for holding membership in the union. These events, as well as a demand for a pay increase, led to a strike of Metropolitan Police that began on 30 August 1918. The strike was settled fairly quickly, with some wage concession being granted.

I have no records that indicate whether or how Thomas was affected by the strike. However, about one year after the strike of 1918, Thomas took his retirement. His service records note that he resigned on 22 September 1919, after 26 years of services, and he drew his pension.

Thomas and Agnes, and their younger children moved to the Thurrock area of Essex, on the outskirts of Metropolitan London. Thomas died at Horndon-on-the-Hill in 1939, at the age of 67.

CLARKE Thomas Philip National Probate Calendar 1939


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