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My Early Police Days ....... Part 6

Mervyn Mitton




I saw on TV that London has been subjected - yet again - to public disorder. I suppose a
capital City will always be a target.

Probably the worst riots that London ever saw were the Gordon Riots of 1780. Lord George
Gordon stirred-up a great deal of sentiment about the Catholic Relief Act of 1778. This
allowed Catholics to join the Army without taking the religious Oath. The British Army was
short of men, being actively engaged in the United States War of Independence , plus other
areas, this Act was intended to help recruiting.

Demonstrations turned into violence and attacks on property and three prisons were broken
into and the inmates allowed to escape. This made the situation even more violent and after
three days the Guards and other Regiments were ordered onto the streets. Their order,
discipline - and firepower brought things quickly under control. 285 rioters were killed. This was
a lesson not quickly forgotten.

GORDON RIOTS - painting by John Seymour Lucas

During the Industrial Revolution - aprox. 1800's to 1850's - the Midlands and Northern Regions
suffered from many outbreaks of violence and destruction. With really only the isolated
local Constables, many Parishes swore in Special Constables from their citizens - often in the
hundreds. They were usually equipped with a truncheon.

Peterloo Massacre - 1819 - by Richard Carlile

When serious trouble occured and the Constables and Beadles lost control - the alternative
was the Militia. The 16 August 1819 saw a very bad disturbence in Manchester - with many
thousands in the crowd. The local authorities lost their nerves and ordered the Cavalry
to charge. This became known as the infamous Peterloo Massacre - you cannot have a
cavalry charge on men, women and children - mainly unarmed - without serious consequences.
15 were killed outright and between 400 and 700 maimed and injured.

These two outbreaks of lawlessness - even though 40 years apart - caused the Government
to think seriously on the reform of Policing in the Country and eventually the Home Secretary,
Sir Robert Peel - with the backing of the Prime Minister , the Duke of Wellington and from
the Lord Chancellor , the Lord Lyndhurst - introduced the Act which led to the formation
of the Metropolitan Police and their going on duty in 1829.

People often ask me how the Met. Police can be regarded as the first Civilian police force ?

Dublin and Glasgow did pre-date the Met. - however, there were also numerous small towns
who had formed Town Forces. Many of their truncheons still survive. However, none of
these worked in the same way as London - or, with an Act of Parliament (apart from Dublin ).
The organisation that was created to administer such a big area and with so many men, was
a totally new concept.

London and the Metropolitan Police can rightly be considered the first Civilian Police - and
with it's distinctive style, was copied throughout Britain and very many other Countries - this
also, included cities in the United States.

London must still be the only City of it's size, where the greater majority of the Force do not
carry firearms. For me, this must be a main criteria for a 'civilian force' - and, of course,
this applies to most - if not all - of mainland Britain. Our Police are citizens of their
communities and are probably the mainland defenders of our British way of life.


Finally - week 13. We had exams to taken and - of course - all of the assessments made on us during the course were taken into account. I seem to remember that I came 2nd. or, 3rd. -
really, it was not important - we had all come through together.

Class Photo - I am 3rd.row - on right.

We were issued with our truncheons and whistles at this point - to be followed with our
Divisional numbers and Letters when we knew where we would be posted. We also had the
class photo taken.

The truncheon was 17 inches long (37cm), with a wrist strap at the end. Sewn into your trousers
on the right side was a long pocket - this was behind the usual pocket. Most of our class
could be seen - after issue - practising 'quick draws'. They looked like something out of the
old 'wild west'. I was lucky to be issued with a dark coloured 'stick' - as they were called.
Made from heavy lignum vitae - a South American wood - it probably dated back to the 1880's,
as did my whistle.

We had been asked to write down our Division of choice - however, it was explained that the final decision would be on which area needed replacements. Parts of the Met. area are quite rural
- so, it is the Central Divs. that are preferred by most younger Constables.

I had asked for 'B' Div. - that is the Knightsbridge area (Harrods !). I thought it would be
interesting. What did I get - 'H' Division - London's East End. They nearly had my letter of
resignation the same day............
Fortunately I didn't and it was a great place to work - always something happening.

Epaulette insignia were now issued - they had to be on the uniform when you first went to the
Divisional Station. Each letter and number had to be pushed through the cloth and then
screwed-on - with so many jackets and coats it took forever. I expect they have a better way
now ?

I had become Police Constable 'H' 639. A number that was to become well known.

I think my Course finished in Dec. 67 and I reported for duty early in January 1968. The
acting Div. Station was Arbour Square Police Station - and it adjoined the famous Thames
Magistrates Court. Commercial Street Station had been closed and the new Div. Station
was being built at Leman Street. A very old street and a very old name. A Leman was the
medieval word for a prostitute - very fitting..........
Leman Street has now been closed and my old station has been moved and is now the new
Div. HQ.. Don't you just hate-it when you get old and everything keeps changing !

I think that there were three of us there that first morning - and the Chief Superintendent
saw us separately - a very courteous thing to do. He explained that I was to be stationed
at Bethnal Green Station - which was probably the heart of the East End. He also told me
that I would have a room at Moylan House - Police section house - named after a former
Commissioner. I was to be there for about eighteen months.

'H' Division was fairly small - approx. 2.5 miles x 2 miles (approx. 4 Kms x 3). Very denseley
populated and at my time , still mostly 'cockneys'. Many have now moved to Essex and the
'Green' now has a very mixed population - with the famous Brick Lane area being mostly
of Bangladashi descent.

For my next 'thrilling' episode - Jack the Ripper - and, I meet Reggie and Ronnie - the
infamous Kray twins.

My original epaulettes for 'shirtsleeve order'



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