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Brian Wolfe

British Police Headgear (***MODERATORS' RECOMMENDED)

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I would like to start this topic of British Police Headgear off with a discussion of the Custodian Helmet and it is with hope on my part that other members will add to it. It is the intention that in time all forms of British headgear will be dicsussed and displayed here.

The most easily recognizable and iconic piece of police headgear in the world has to be the British Police Helmet. The Bobbies helmet of more correctly, the custodian helmet, as we know it today, was developed around the turn of the last century. Prior to the custodian helmet, the headgear worn by British Police resembled a top-hat. The reason for the top-hat design was to prevent the police force from being mistaken as a Para-military group. One account that I have read suggests that the design for the custodian helmet was influenced by another iconic piece of headgear, the German Pickelhaube. I'm not convinced of the German pickelhaube connection. As a fellow member of the GMIC and the author of the book, "The Policeman's Lot" by Mervyn Mitton, states on page 118 of his book, "The top-hat was worn for 34 years, but, in 1863, a new style was tried experimentally, based on the military helmet of that period, and from 1865 this became the standard headgear".

In support of this hypothesis I offer the work of another author, also a member of the GMIC, Stuart Bates, who states in his book, "The Wolseley Helmet In Pictures From Omdurman to Alamien", by Stuart Bates with Peter Suciu, the following. "The origins of the Wolsely helmet are shrouded in mystery although it appears, on the photographic record, first in the 1896-98 campaign in the Sudan". To my way of looking at this the Wolsely helmet certainly was designed before the suggested date by the photographs of 1896-98, therefore the design dtae for the custodian helmet has a military contempory already in the United Kingdom upon which to base the design, without the need to use the German pickelhaube as inspiration.

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I offer this suggestion (last page) as a source to the design that influenced the custodian helmet, however, this is not to say that this is the only, nor even correct, answer to the question. As always this post is meant as a platform for discussion. If other members would like to weigh in with their theories and opinions please feel free to do so, you views are always welcomed.

Today we see three styles of custodian helmets in use, the comb (or coxcomb), the boss (or rose) and the ball top. The comb style is the most common with 21 out of the 43 police forces in the Home Office Territorial Forces of England and Wales using the comb style. This is followed by 18 using the boss style and only 4 using the ball top style.

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A variation of the custodian style helmet was the "Noddy" that was used for a short time on the Velocette (motorcycle) of the 1960s era. This helmet was strenghtened and had a cork lining to add more protection for the Velocette rider. These also have a sturdier leather chin strap. These were soon replaced, (as were the Velocettes), with a helmet similar to the motorcycle helmet commonly seen in use today.

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An early helmet that deserves mention here is the Glamorgan Helmet of the early 1900s. This is a rare helmet and quite sought after by collectors. It featured a metal chin strap that could be slung across the top of the helmet. This helmet is not one that graces my modest collection so with kind permission from Mervyn, from his book, the following photograph was taken.

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In the past custodian helmets, or ones very similar, were worn by the police forces of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America. Outside of the United Kingdom today the custodian style helmet is still in use by some Italian Municipalities while the officer is directing traffic.

Most countries discontinued the use of custodian helmets when the officers were issued automobiles rendering the custodian helmet difficult to wear in the vehicle. To my knowledge the custodian helmet, in the United Kingdom, is worn only while on foot patrol. The helmets were replaced by the now familiar forage cap. I have included two examples of forage caps here. One is from Staffordshire and the other from Peel Region Police Services here in Ontario Canada.

I know the Canadian example is out of context for this topic but it is only to show the similarities even though most reading this post will already be aware of that. Please only post British headgear in this section and forgive my transgression of the proposed conventions.

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There seems to be a love/hate by British Police Officers both past and present regarding the wearing of the custodian helmet. I've read posts on another forum that some love the helmet while other hate it. Some say it is outdated and uncomfortable to wear and should be discarded. Others say that is gives them an easily recognizable symbol for the public as well as other officers. Some hold to tradition while others claim to be wanting to move on to be in step with more modern times.

I would really like to hear from past and present police officers on this topic and of course I'd like to see any headgear in your collections whether you are a police officer or not.

Thanks for reading through this very long post, I hope you felt it worth your time.

Regards

Brian

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Brian,

the helmet in post #6 would appear to be a Home Service Helmet as used by the British Army 1878 - 1914.

The "comb" style of top-piece would probably have originated from the air-pipe helmets of the 1850s as worn by the British Officers in India.

I have been on the periphery of interest in police helmets but their similarity to army helmets, as described in this thread, has certainly sparked a real interest.

Stuart

Edited by Stuart Bates

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Brian - some very interesting research and a long time since I've seen the history of Police Helmets thoroughly explored. There should be many more threads to be added - including Women Police and New Zealand and Gibralter.

I am not sure that I agree with the Wolseley helmet being the catylist for this new helmet - they came much later. I have always understood that the British Army adopted a pattern of helmet from Prussia - presumably the old blue spiked helmet - and that the Metropolitan Police experimented. Once they adopted it , then other Forces copied - but it took time.

The Met. Police pattern is known as a Bell pattern and the top metal crown is the Rose. However, the pattern used after Top Hats had an upwards turned peak - sadly, no examples have survived.

I do agree with Stuart that the ventilation on the Coxscombe helmet could have come from the airpipe type Wolseley. The Home Office laid down that only these three pattern helmets could be used.

I hope that members with helmet collections will start posting some examples - even if they have been on before your Post will give reference.

Well done - Mervyn.

This drawing shows the first of the new helmets - with the tunic that took over from the swallow tailed coattees. (credit to Bob Marrion for drawing)

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I do agree with Stuart that the ventilation on the Coxscombe helmet could have come from the airpipe type Wolseley.

Mervyn,

the air-pipe helmet was around at least as early as the 1850s so I don't think the Wolseley gets a look in here, and it certainly never had an air-pipe for ventilation. Much more likely is that the police helmet was modelled on the forerunner to the Colonial Pattern shown in post #1, although a much earlier version than the one pictured which is 2nd Boer War. Below is an illustration of an early air-pipe helmet. I took post #1 to be referring to the Colonial pattern even though Brian mentioned the Wolseley helmet.

Stuart

Edited by Stuart Bates

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I had posted these a couple of years ago, but thought I'd add to the discussion. Hope no one minds.

1. Portsmouth City Police

2. Constable-Suffolk Constabulary

Edited by speagle

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A couple more

1. Chief Inspector

2. Scotland-Female Constable to Sgt

Edited by speagle

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I had posted these a couple of years ago, but thought I'd add to the discussion. Hope no one minds.

1. Portsmouth City Police

2. Constable-Suffolk Constabulary

Mind? By no means, your submissions are more than welcomed.

Thanks for adding to what I hope will be a popular topic.

Regards

Brian

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Hi Brian, this is a white helmet from the Isle of Man. They were worn by a small number of other forces mainly during the summer months. Ian

Edited by Ian Shepherd

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Hi Brian, this is a white helmet from the Isle of Man. They were worn by a small number of other forces mainly during the summer months. Ian

Very classy, thanks for posting this interesting helmet Ian.

Regards

Brian

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Brian,

I am intrigued as to why the three different styles of top-pieces. Unless I am mistaken I can see vents in each one for ventilation. Any possibility of interior shots? Did they have ventilation between the headband and the helmet shell?

Stuart

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I am fascinated by the Isle of Man symbol of three legs with spurs and joined at the thigh. I just did some googling and it appears to have originated as early as 370BC.

"Variations on the Manx triskelion are still in use on the coats of arms belonging to the different branches of the ancient Norwegian noble family that ruled Mann until the 13th century. This particular version belongs to the Skanke family. The name stems from skank, the Norwegian version of the word shank, or leg. So that's where "skanky" comes from :D

Stuart

Edited by Stuart Bates

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Brian,

I am intrigued as to why the three different styles of top-pieces. Unless I am mistaken I can see vents in each one for ventilation. Any possibility of interior shots? Did they have ventilation between the headband and the helmet shell?

Stuart

Stuart

I'm still looking into why there are three different styles so I can't give you an answer yet. All of the top-pieces are vent covers and the sides of the helmet have two holes on each side to assist with the ventiliation. I'll try to post photos of the ventiliation when I get back home this afternoon (your morning). :lol:

I was also intending to do a short write up regarding the construction of the custodian helmet as well so perhaps I'll attempt both in the same post.

Regards

Brian

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Ian,

Loved the Isle of Man white helmet. I know that Brighton Police wore the white summer helmet and when you seen the newsreels from back in Mervyns day of the Mods and Rockers fighting you can see the white helmets wading in.

Who else wore this summer helmet?

Craig

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Ian,

Loved the Isle of Man white helmet. I know that Brighton Police wore the white summer helmet and when you seen the newsreels from back in Mervyns day of the Mods and Rockers fighting you can see the white helmets wading in.

Who else wore this summer helmet?

Craig

Peterborough Combined had a White Cox Comb Helmet, the tunic was only worn for one day so I have been told as they kept being asked for ice cream's. Not sure how long the helmets where worn for.

Alan

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There were quite a few police forces that wore the white helmet. Here is a list :

Birmingham

Brighton

Isle of Man

Leeds City [Traffic]

Margate Borough

Peterborough City

Salford

Southend-on-Sea

Stockport

Joe

Ian,

Loved the Isle of Man white helmet. I know that Brighton Police wore the white summer helmet and when you seen the newsreels from back in Mervyns day of the Mods and Rockers fighting you can see the white helmets wading in.

Who else wore this summer helmet?

Craig

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Victorian Halifax Borough Chief Constables helmet. I put this one on the forum some weeks ago but think that it should also be on this post. Ian

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