Jump to content
Gentleman's Military Interest Club

Recommended Posts

There are many items that we hear about - or, for that matter, come into contact with - but, which we know little about from the historical context.

Truncheons would certainly come under that heading for most people - and why should they need to know more then that it is a defensive/offensive weapon carried by the Police.

However, like many things, when you go into their background you find a wealth of interesting history - customs - and associations.

The word Constable is held - by many - to come from the old Roman name 'Comes Stabulii' - or, Count of the Stables. He carried a staff - or Baton - to show his authority and this has followed down in history through many different ranks. The title is still used and The Queen appoints a Constable of the Tower of London - usually a retired high ranking officer.

We are dealing here though with the Police connection - which in England can be traced back to early Saxon times - probably the 6 and 7th Century. The equivalent of a present day Magistrate's Court was the Folk Moot and this consisted of the 'Eldermen' of the settlement. Councils still appoint Aldermen as a mark of distinction. I have said many times - very few Countries have such an unbroken line of customs and expressions.

Obviously, there was no official body of men at their disposal - although a 'head borough' or Tything Man could be appointed to carry out the wishes of the Community. Did he carry a truncheon ? The short answer is - No ! However, the weapon carried by everyone outside of Knights and their armed Sergeants, was a five to six foot long wooden staff(150cm-180cm) - known as a quarterstaff. Perhaps you have seen a Robin Hood film where 'Little John' defeats Robin on the wooden bridge, using such a staff ?

These were not to be taken lightly - they were quite capable of killing or, maiming an opponent and because they were in regular use, the users were experts.

King Richard 1st. introduced a system of Magistrates in the 12th.Century and it is thought that at that time they each had a small body of men carrying these staves and that they were probably painted at the top part to show Royal Authority. We can't prove this - however, there are mentions in early writings.

Decorated staffs (or,staves - a plurality word) continued as weapons and authority through the many layers of Parish Constables and Watchmen - and indeed right down to the early 1800's. Sometimes the full staff was considered unwieldly - and then it would be shortened to about 3 feet (90cm) and the decorated end was used. Notices of that time for calling out the Constables would often specify 'short' or 'long' staffs.

Edited by Mervyn Mitton

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have taken this illustration from the internet as it shows - in proportionate scale quarterstaffs in action. Could those marks on the staff for the man on the right indicate markings ? Perhaps it is showing an early Constable in action ?

Edited by Mervyn Mitton

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a long staff for the Town of Hull - which is on the North Sea. Overall it is 5feet 4 inches long (165cm). The background is painted black and only at the top are there the decorations showing Royal Authority. On the reverse - shown here - is the Constable's number '20'.

This will date from the early part of Queen Victoria's reign - about 1840. The Permissive Act of 1839 gave a choice to Towns to set-up a Force on the basis of the Metropolitan Police. Hull must have decided to wait for the Obligatory Act of the 1850's.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Crown and Royal Cypher are at the top - the word CONSTABLE in a band under this and then below that the Town Badge of Hull - Three Crowns. Attack the man carrying this and you would have seven extra years Transportation. This is a rare piece.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So - how did the staffs of a previous year - which had no handgrips - come to change shape. There is no published order that we know of - just a natural progression to a simpler and easier weapon. I was fortunate to buy - many years ago - one of the transitional truncheons. This came from the area of the New Forest in Hampshire in England and was probably from one of the big estates in the area. Tipstaffs - which were separate from staves - had the job of showing the person's authority and power - this transitional speciman, is both a truncheon and a tipstaff. I can't really explain just how rare it is - one of my more treasured possessions - and only a collector will see it's historical importance. I suppose it dates from the 1780's - 1790's and it's quality immediately shows that it was to be carried by a Gentleman - probably a local magistrate.

The III above the Crown are for George 3rd. - 1760 - 1820

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The reverse - with the Royal Cypher for King George 3rd. He lost America - so, that puts it into an historical context...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This transitional period must have been very short - the Bow Street Constables in 1810 had truncheons similar to the later style.

The ones shown here all date from around the 1850's - and are heraldically painted. By about 1880 they stopped the painting.

On the left a County pattern - middle, a Town Truncheon and on the right, a Special Constable's truncheon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×