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Ladies/Gents,

Can anyone advise me on whether officers in the Victorian era wore medal ribbons on their tunics when conducting routine duties? I've seen photographs when they can be seen wearing their campaign and jubilee medals (I assume for the purpose of the photograph). But would medal ribbons have been worn on everyday uniform?

 

BJOW.

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19 hours ago, Dave Wilkinson said:

Yes they would.

Dave.

Thanks Dave! Has anyone got any photographs of Officers doing such? I particularly interested in the 1888-1891 period.

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Yes, I agree and I suspect that has always been the case. I worked with an old Sergeant many years ago who was a well decorated soldier from the 1939-45 war. He refused to wear medal ribbons on his tunic saying that it was an unpleasant period of his life that he wished to forget. I recall seeing him taking part (as a duty) in a remembrance day parade and he was bare chested. No medals or ribbons and he was clearly unhappy at being required to take part.

Dave.

Edited by Dave Wilkinson

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I'm going to say a slightly different answer in yes they clearly could and photos/pictures exist of such, but ribbons on uniforms for normal/routine duties in the late 19th century doesn't seem to have been the usual practice, and is much more an early 20th century onwards thing.

It was much more common in the late 19th century to wear your actual medals for any sort of dressy occasion (which is why typical campaign/Jubilee medals of the period are often polished to death and/or dented through repeated contact wear). As the 20th century turned the practice increasingly changed, and medal tend to be reserved for more special occasions (and thus more point showing what medals you're actually entitled to with ribbons most of the time).

From my own photographic references I could find virtually no images of ribbands being worn until about 1900-1905, when you suddenly get a proliferation of Boer War and similar campaign medal ribbons seen on Police officers, with the various 1902 and 1910 Coronation Medal, etc, ribbons. Prior to that (with the 1887 and 1897 medals in particular) it generally seems to be the medals themselves or nothing.

Also, the 1912 Police Code under Medals states:

"...3. Only medals authorised by the Sovereign should be worn, and, when worn, should be fastened on the left breast, the ribbon not exceeding one inch in length.

4.  Medals authorised by a society for bravery in saving human life may, if authorised, be worn on the right breast. They should only be worn on dress uniform when directed on special occasions, but the ribbons of medals or decoration may be worn by police in other uniform on all occasions" (my emphasis).

That's the earliest one I have and fits the evidence of the period, maybe another member has an earlier version to see if the wording is different to reflect the earlier period?

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Unless I'm mistaken, the "Police Code" you refer to was not an official document as such but was simply a publication setting out advice, and published by the "Police Review" or similar. Insofar as uniform and insignia and order of wear was and is concerned police forces in England & Wales were and continue to be very much their own masters. Over the years, the Home Office and the HMI's tried on several occasions to impose standardisation, but with minimum success. So, to reiterate what has already been said, whether an officer wears medals/ribbons depends on the force and personal choice. I think the "personal choice" factor has been paramount since day one.

Dave.  

Edited by Dave Wilkinson

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5 hours ago, Dave Wilkinson said:

Unless I'm mistaken, the "Police Code" you refer to was not an official document as such but was simply a publication setting out advice, and published by the "Police Review" or similar. Insofar as uniform and insignia and order of wear was and is concerned police forces in England & Wales were and continue to be very much their own masters. Over the years, the Home Office and the HMI's tried on several occasions to impose standardisation, but with minimum success. So, to reiterate what has already been said, whether an officer wears medals/ribbons depends on the force and personal choice. I think the "personal choice" factor has been paramount since day one.

Dave.  

I stand by what I said - the question was whether ribbons were routinely worn in the period under discussion, not WW2 or later when the rules had become established, and the evidence says they were the exception not the rule at the time. Plus the only piece of Police Code specifically listed as not for official republication by any Police document was the opening address - not the main bulk of the book (including the medals section).

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The point I make is that there were no "rules". It was a matter for each individual force and the officer concerned. So, yes ribbons were routinely worn during the period in question, if the officer chose to and his force sanctioned such wear. I have several hundred period photos and the practice whilst not common was fairly widespread. The "Police Code", the title is something of a misnomer and wrongly suggests official sanction, was a private publication. That said, I'm at a loss to see how its content has any bearing on the question originally asked. 

Dave.

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3 hours ago, Dave Wilkinson said:

 I have several hundred period photos and the practice whilst not common was fairly widespread.

Thus answering the OP's question as I said - NOT routine. There are always exceptions to the rule, but that does not make them routine.

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"From my own photographic references I could find virtually no images of ribbands being worn until about 1900-1905, when you suddenly get a proliferation of Boer War and similar campaign medal ribbons seen on Police officers, with the various 1902 and 1910 Coronation Medal, etc, ribbons. Prior to that (with the 1887 and 1897 medals in particular) it generally seems to be the medals themselves or nothing."

 

So medal ribbons prior to 1900 are out, I assume then that the below Bobby wouldn't be seen walking his beat wearing all this lot?

...........and that Colour Sergeant Vaughan wouldn't have really worn his medals when fighting off the Zulus?

 

H Div Medals.jpg

ZULU film.jpg

Edited by bigjarofwasps

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4 hours ago, bigjarofwasps said:

So medal ribbons prior to 1900 are out, I assume then that the below Bobby wouldn't be seen walking his beat wearing all this lot?

...........and that Colour Sergeant Vaughan wouldn't have really worn his medals when fighting off the Zulus?

If you think about it logically, on routine Police work how many hand-holds do you want to afford to a potential assailant? One of the problems with the older-style 18 inch chains used on the whistle of the period was that (although looking great when polished up and lying flat down the front of a tunic) it presented something readily grabbed in the heat of the moment, risking damage to kit and injury to the officer. Just one reason to try and keep the uniform to the most practical minimum for ordinary use, and save the bling for best.

As to Colour Sergeant Bourne (who I presume you meant , since that's his character in the still ;)), whilst Zulu is a great film, good history it is not necessarily. The uniforms in particular are inaccurate in many respects. One of my favourite bits of trivia is that Nigel Green was 40 when Zulu was made - he portrayed Bourne as a grizzled veteran, despite still being really only 24 at the time (having been promoted Colour Sergeant aged only 22, gaining the nickname "The Kid" as a result)! He relative youth meant he was the last survivor of the battle, not dying until 1945.

 

Edited by ayedeeyew

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:blush: Vaughan Bourne.........duly noted!!!!

Point taken re whistle chains and no medals for the same reason makes perfect sense, HOWEVER, in my defence the Victorians were never ones for practicality of uniforms and attire..... I mean who sends their troops to the heat of the African plains wearing thick red woollen tunics, gold braiding, etc,etc :speechless:

 

 

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On ‎14‎/‎12‎/‎2015 at 14:53, bigjarofwasps said:

Point taken re whistle chains and no medals for the same reason makes perfect sense, HOWEVER, in my defence the Victorians were never ones for practicality of uniforms and attire..... I mean who sends their troops to the heat of the African plains wearing thick red woollen tunics, gold braiding, etc,etc :speechless:

Well said! As for whistle chains, they were an insignificant problem if indeed they were a problem at all. My original force which I joined in the early 1970's issued heavy greatcoats and reefer jackets which were required to be adorned with the long whistle chain hanging down from a top button with the whistle tucked into a small pocket. Essentially, the design of the coats had not materially changed (apart from an open neck at the collar) since Victorian times. It was not a problem. Anybody grabbing hold of the chain would have simply pulled the whistle out of the pocket. Going back to Victorian days, the greatest danger to the Victorian bobby was his leather belt which could be grabbed hold of from behind by a would be assailant and used to pull the officer to the ground. That said, in the 1980's what do many British Police forces do? They issue overtly worn equipment belts which pose the same risks as outlined above! We could go on and on.......

Dave.      

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15 hours ago, Dave Wilkinson said:

Well said! As for whistle chains, they were an insignificant problem if indeed they were a problem at all. My original force which I joined in the early 1970's issued heavy greatcoats and reefer jackets which were required to be adorned with the long whistle chain hanging down from a top button with the whistle tucked into a small pocket. Essentially, the design of the coats had not materially changed (apart from an open neck at the collar) since Victorian times. It was not a problem. Anybody grabbing hold of the chain would have simply pulled the whistle out of the pocket. Going back to Victorian days, the greatest danger to the Victorian bobby was his leather belt which could be grabbed hold of from behind by a would be assailant and used to pull the officer to the ground. That said, in the 1980's what do many British Police forces do? They issue overtly worn equipment belts which pose the same risks as outlined above! We could go on and on.......

Dave.      

Oh dear, where to begin with the above...

Given the OP was asking about tunics in the 1880's/90's, I was talking about tunics in the 1880's/90's. Not greatcoats in the 1970's. Since it apparently requires explaining, they are two quite different things.

Your typical Police greatcoat of the post-WW2 period usually has buttons spaced 4 to 5 inches apart, therefore there is a reasonably large access point to get to the whistle, meaning it is indeed relatively easy for the whistle to come out of where it was stored. The same cannot be said for the tunic of the period under discussion.

This would have been the 8-button tunic which the Metropolitan Police had adopted in 1864 (and most forces soon adopted) to replace the swallow-tail coat. Excepting the lowest two buttons being slightly wider (to facilitate the wearing of a belt) the button spacing on these is a bare 2-inches apart. After the adoption of whistles in 1883 (replacing rattles completely over 5 years in the Metropolitan Police) a small pocket between the third and fourth buttons was also provided to carry the whistle when not in use. This pocket whilst measuring only a couple of inches deep is accessed through an interior slit parallel to the buttons measuring about 2.5 inches wide. This doesn't seem particularly bad - until you realise this does not directly line up with the 2 inch gap of the buttons. With the tunic buttoned up in normal use this leaves you with a slit barely 1.5 inches wide through which to remove and replace the whistle. It is no easy task to remove it when you want it, and requires a degree of care - it certainly does not fall out of its own accord. "Anybody grabbing hold of the chain would have simply pulled the whistle out of the pocket" simply does not follow, and the risk of damage of a result is very real. I invariably find it safer easier to physically undo the fourth button if I wish to remove and replace the whistle when showing the kit.

Also, "Essentially, the design of the coats had not materially changed (apart from an open neck at the collar) since Victorian times" is wrong on so many levels. I had myself been looking for a suitable coat to use with my late 19th/early 20th Police kit for over three years. Post-WW2 Police greatcoats are very common on Ebay in particular - and completely unsuited even for conversion due to the sheer number of differences.  It was only recently I located something very suitable but still requiring some minor work, and that a piece of kit fossilised in Army dress use.

To illustrate, here are a couple of pictures:

Typical very late 19th century illustration:

http://postimg.org/image/vrp409yy7/

Metropolitan_Police_lamp_on_right.jpg

London Police c.1903:

http://postimg.org/image/f738ynppv/

London_Policeman_in_greatcoat_1903.jpg

Typical slightly later version (late 1900's/early 1910's):

http://postimg.org/image/ijqmxi3bb/

Metropolitan_Policeman_c_WW1_in_greatcoa

Some typical WW2 or later Police greatcoats can be seen:

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/SERGEANTS-ESSEX-POLICE-GREAT-COAT-WARTIME-/252132217453?hash=item3ab440526d:g:cgcAAOSwo0JWJNpf

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/GLOECESTERSHIRE-WW2-POLICE-TOP-GREAT-COAT-/121837920898?hash=item1c5e1b2282:g:nVcAAOSwHQ9Wasbu

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/LEICESTER-POLICE-GREAT-COAT-/121772689713?hash=item1c5a37c931:g:zkQAAOSwVL1WCVfy

The main change to a typical Police greatcoat over the turn of the century largely seems to be the fashion for wearing it cut with front increasingly wider at the top (most obvious in the buttons spreading further apart on the front from the bottom up). Most of the features of a typical WW2-onwards coat begin appearing in dribs and drabs from the 1920's/30's onwards.

To sum up:

- typical late 19th/early 20th century Police greatcoat. Short standing collar. No epaulettes. Number worn on collar. Usually 12 button front. Front not designed to be worn open in any way. No hip pockets. Belt hooks. Better quality melton wool material. Very dark blue-black colour. Highly figured cut. Highly decorative styling to back.

- typical late 20th century/post-WW2 Police greatcoat. Large fold-over collar. Epaulettes. Number worn on epaulettes. Usually 10 button front or less. Front designed primarily to be worn with open lapels. Hip pockets. Usually no belt hooks. Usually rough serge material. Increasing use of lighter blue colour. Barely figured cut. Very functional/plain styling to back.

Different in just about every key respect!

Only yesterday morning on a WW1 related forum I also post on, someone wrote the following:

"I wondered why the more I read the more confusing were the arguments, and for me it was the fact that frequently points were being reinforced by personal experience that obviously is well outside the 1914/1919 time frame.

Now I don't want to take anything away from those who have served their country at any time or in any capacity and all due respect to them for their service. However when I am trying to get an understanding of what was happening in the Great War based on Kings Regulations etc, I don't think that knowing what someone's personal experience in 1956 or any other time expands the matter further, unless of course the regulations remained unchanged from the GW and somehow I doubt that.

May I respectfully suggest that we try and remain within the known structures for the Great War, it will make it a lot easier for beginners like myself".

Change all references from the military to the Police, and Great War to the late 19th century, and the point is just as valid here. 

 

 

 

Edited by ayedeeyew

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You obviously have a great deal of time on your hands which you have put to good use in giving readers chapter and verse on the design of police greatcoats. I'm much obliged to you. A must for the "expert" such as yourself is a copy of "The History of Metropolitan Police Uniforms & Equipment" by Wilkinson & Fairfax. Alas, it exists in manuscript form only and was never published.

Dave.

    

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My grouse with todays police uniforms is that the virtually the only occasion when ribbons can be seen is during ' interviews ' outside New Scotland Yard,or wherever.The officer on the beat ( should we still have them ) appears so overburdened with kit and wears such ' unfriendly' items as woolly pullovers, blousons,bomber jackets,stab-proof vests and etc,that there is little chance of anyone seeing any ribbons should he/she wish to display them.If medals have been awarded my view is that the ribbons should be worn.The post war bobby earned much respect from a chestfull but we live in different times and I shall have to get used to them.

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Not quite a Police man, but one of the Corps of Commissionairs with some nice Military Service pinned to his chest Sudan & South Africa)

King's Men (6).jpg

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Many members of the Corps of Commissionaires still where their medals, we have Korean veteran on our door and when VIPS are coming to some of the other firms he wears his full set.

Paul

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In Cheshire, quite a few of our bobbies wear little enamelled pins showing the ribbons to which they are entitled. As the most common set (Golden Jubilee, Diamond Jubilee, Police LS & GC) are all symmetrical, they are quite often worn upside down, i.e. with the ribbons in reverse order!

When a fire protection officer came to visit our house, handing out smoke detectors, he had such a pin (upside down, of course). So I pulled up the relevant pages on my website and showed him how they ought to be worn :)

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On 1/28/2016 at 17:00, Megan said:

In Cheshire, quite a few of our bobbies wear little enamelled pins showing the ribbons to which they are entitled. As the most common set (Golden Jubilee, Diamond Jubilee, Police LS & GC) are all symmetrical, they are quite often worn upside down, i.e. with the ribbons in reverse order!

When a fire protection officer came to visit our house, handing out smoke detectors, he had such a pin (upside down, of course). So I pulled up the relevant pages on my website and showed him how they ought to be worn :)

This is one of my little pet HATES!!!! You see it all the time, especially when senior officers are giving press releases on the news!!!!!

 

 

Edited by bigjarofwasps

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