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1880s Metropolitan Police Uniform Details

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I was really pleased to stumble across this forum the other day and wasted no time in creating an account. From reading other threads I am hoping there will be someone on here who can help me with some specific questions to fill gaps in my research into the thread topic.Please forgive the barrage of questions; hopefully it will make this an interesting thread!

I have a fairly good handle on the ins and outs of Constable's and Sergeant's uniform and equipment including changes over the period, rattles progressively changed for whistles, Station Sergeants wearing 4 stripes etc. One specific of Sergeants and Station Sergeants uniform I hoped might be clarified, were their stripes/chevrons at the time formed from thin silver russian braid as here;


Or were they formed from a thicker form of flat lace or braid? It is something I have had trouble deciphering from period photographs.

Were the same pattern worn on overcoats?

The greater portion of my questions relate to officer's uniform, some details I am very sketchy on.

Helmet plates raise the first query, I understand that ceremonial helmet plates for officers were like those of Sergeants and Constables but bore either a single, large divisional letter, obviously no number being worn, or in the case of more senior officers the royal cipher; VR. My question is, who wore what? My best guess based upon organisation at the time was that up to Chief Inspector the lettered plate was used and from Superintendent upwards the plate with the royal cipher, could anyone clarify please?

How did officer's helmets differ from those worn by Constables and Sergeants?

Referring to the image I have attached it purports to show a Superintendent W Hammond with his Inspectors, he is wearing dress uniform, similar to the British Army officer's patrol jacket of the time. The Inspectors are wearing their own version of the normal uniform tunic and caps. I realise this image is post-1902 due to the Imperial State (King's) Crowns as collar insignia. However I have been informed the details of the uniform were little changed from the 1880s, even then the image raises more questions than it answers.

- How did officer's dress uniform differ from rank to rank, other than in the helmet plate details already mentioned?

- Did Superintendents and above have a plain every-day uniform more akin to that worn by the Inspectors here?

- It is impossible to tell from the photograph but did cap peaks bear braid rank distinction as today?

Rank insignia is also something of a grey area for me, again referring to the attached image Inspectors left and right of the Superintendent are wearing collar insignia. At left a crown and at right a single star. As I understand it the crown represents a Chief Inspector at the time, the star presumably the equivalent of a pip at the time (it is difficult to tell the shape from the photo) to show a Station Inspector? The other Inspectors are wearing no collar insignia at all it would seem.

The Superintendent seems to be wearing no rank insignia either, how differing rank was displayed on dress uniform is another detail I'd be interested in if anyone has the answer.

If I've got anything wrong in my current understanding please do correct me and thanks in advance for any help you can give!

Edited by SimonLMoore
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Just an addendum with another couple of photos, the first showing a Met helmet plate with the single large letter.

The second shows detail of what I believe the Inspectors are wearing on their belts in the image attached to the first post though it is difficult to see more than the hooks; sword slings. Again if anyone can tell me the situations governing when swords would and wouldn't be worn I'd be very much obliged! Slings seem to be clipped together but still attached to the belt when not wearing swords.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Simon - swords were issued to most Police Stations and kept in a locked rack. They were issued in times of street rioting,

in cases of heavily armed robberies and particularly at night. Officers on grave yard duty - to stop body snatching - always

carried one. You will find examples on various posts on this Forum and I will post a few if you wish.

Swords were supplied by Parker Field & Co. official armourers to the Met. Police from1829. Most of their items were made by

the Birmingham firm of Hiatts. The curved examples were known as Police Hangers, however, the Met. carried a longer

straight sword. The frog of the sword had an overturn at the top to make a loop to suspend the sword from the standard

belt.It was carried on the left.

Most larger Stations also carried a number of firearms in the front office safe - usually a Webley and after 1910 that pattern was

prefered. Again, they were for issue to any officer in emergencies. It is not generally known, but until the 1930's a

Constable had the right to ask to be armed if he was on a dangerous Beat. Mervyn

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Hi Mervyn, thanks very much for the information on Police swords.

I have read some very interesting articles on the history of police firearms and specifically the introduction of Webley revolvers (conveniently known as the 'Webley Metropolitan Police') into the Met from 1884-1885, to be issued on request as you say the regulations regarding this lasting until 1936. As I understand it Webley .38 semi-automatic pistols were introduced after the revelation that many of the revolvers had become unserviceable when they were called upon during the Siege of Sidney street.

The articles are available here as PDFs, found through the links on the left; http://www.pfoa.co.uk/246/mike-waldren-armed-policing-history

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Sidney Street was across Mile End Road from my Home Beat and the original house site had become part of a brewery after

it was demolished. Firearms were very short during the siege and many borrowed shotguns were used m- I suppose the

old police revolvers may have had some jamming from lack of use - but I don't remember it being a big issue. Churchill and

his Guards detachment took most of the headlines. I always understood that the 1910 pattern Webley Revolver served

as the Station weapon for many years.

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  • 2 weeks later...


I have recently with others completed a book trilogy on the station histories of the Met which we started in 1998. Our latest 'Discovering more behind the blue lamp - Policing Central, North and South West London' had an introductory chapter on MP helmets (as did our 2nd), plates and helmet furniture through the ranks. I have attached a very early page from Gaunts pattern book which may be helpful and is illustrated in our book

Also a helmet plate from 1870 - 1876. There are those who think this badge was only issued to Dockyards but this is wrong as I have at least 6 CDVs which I can date to various divisions during this time. The star pattern did not come in until around 1876. I attach a copy of the image

I have also added an Inspectors and Chief Inspectors helmet plate



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  • 1 month later...

Sorry I haven't picked up on this thread before. Going back to the original photo of Supt William Hammond - he was promoted to Supt in March 1893 and served in G Division (Finsbury). He was still serving G Div in 1905 and the men are all wearing the 1887 Jubilee Medal with 1897 bar plus 1902 Coronation Medal (some have additional medals - I can spot at least one Khedive's Star). He had probably retired by 1910 as I can't find him in the Police Directory. So yes the photo was taken post 1902.

I have checked the complement of senior officers for G Div:

In 1899 there was 1 Supt, 1 Chief Insp, 3 Sub Divisional Inspectors, 1 Local (Detective) Inspector and 16 Inspectors.

In 1905 there was 1 Supt, 1 Chief Insp, 3 Sub Divisional Inspectors, 1 Local (Detective) Inspector and 16 Inspectors.

So you only have part of his senior officers here, possibly one sub division. I think the officer with the crown is the Chief Inspector and the man with the star on his collar is one of the Sub Div Inspectors. The Local Insp is the man in plain clothes and the other seven Inspectors could be all from one of the larger sub divisions. At that time a Supt wore a Crown plus a Pip on his shoulder which would explain the Crown for a Ch Insp. It may have been a retirement type photo for Hammond as he looks pretty ancient in this photo.

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  • 7 months later...

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