Retro: History of Northamptonshire Police

Some of Northamptonshire Police's first Range Rovers, in about 1970
Some of Northamptonshire Police's first Range Rovers, in about 1970

A retired police officer has detailed the complicated history of policing in the county.

Richard Cowley, who was born in Finedon and now lives in Barton Seagrave, served with Northamptonshire Police for 28 years after joining the force in 1968.

The earliest known photo of a Northampton police officer - PC9, James Stowe.

The earliest known photo of a Northampton police officer - PC9, James Stowe.

His own general interest in history, combined with his occupation, led him to write the first edition of Policing Northamptonshire, which was published in 1986.

However, Mr Cowley said a number of changes to policing in recent years, plus his own desire to bring his out-of-print book up to date, led him to spend six months re-writing the book, now titled Policing Northamptonshire: 1836-2013.

Mr Cowley said: “I am the archivist for Northamptonshire Police, so I was able to carry out the vast majority of the research using the records there.

“Of course, I was also in the force myself for 28 years, so some of the book draws on some of my own experiences.”

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Mr Cowley said he has written seven books.

He added: “All the books I have written are about policing or criminal and legal history.”

The book begins by explaining the system of policing in the county before the police force was established.

Initially, every parish in the county would have its own parish constable, whose area was his own village and the surrounding countryside.

In larger settlements there was a system called Watch and Ward, where watchmen were employed to guard towns at night.

However, during the industrial age the population of towns and cities up and down the country began to swell and the Government passed a 1835 Act which gave town councils the responsibility of forming full-time professional police forces – this was six years after the creation of the Met Police in London.

As a result, separate police forces were created in Northampton and Daventry.

The first chief constable of the Northampton Borough Police was the Northampton-born Joseph Ball, who remained in the position until 1851 when he retired with a pension of £35 a year.

Initially, the Northampton force had one superintendent and 24 police constables, who worked in a primitive shift system and were paid either 12 shillings or 14 shillings a week, depending on the time of year.

This was regarded as a low wage at the time, especially as the role involved working shifts at night, and Mr Cowley speculates in the book that the fledgling role of a police officer was regarded with low esteem at the time.

Mr Cowley’s book goes into great detail about the subsequent organisation and improvement of the force, and also includes details of specific incidents officers dealt with.

This includes a town riot in Northampton in 1854 which was sparked when a town local accused a soldier of the Royal Artillery, stationed in the town at the time, of stealing his watch.

The resulting brawl attracted the attention of the police, who responded but eventually had to deal with a mob of about 300 people.

Eventually the town mayor was forced to call out the town militia, and a detachment of soldiers of the Royal Artillery stationed in Weedon was also called upon, dispersing the mob at bayonet point.

Mr Cowley’s book also covers the period of amalgamation between the borough police forces and the Northampton force, which took place in 1966.

At the time there was resistance from officers previously based in the town, some of whom regarded the amalgamation as a ‘takeover’ by the county force.

The two forces, called the Northampton Borough Police and the Northamptonshire Constabulary, became known as the Northampton and County Constabulary.

The county force had been established in 1840 and did not initially include Daventry, which had its own police force until the late 19th century.

The county force was a little larger than that of Northampton, with seven superintendents and 35 constables, although they were responsible for a far larger area than their cousins in Northampton.

They also had their own chief constable, although Mr Cowley recounts the tale of one of those who was only in the role for three hours.

Chief Constable Charles Pearson, formerly chief constable in Caernarfornshire, was voted into the role by magistrates after a selection process in October 1875.

Pearson, no doubt delighted about his selection, left the court in Northampton and walked to the nearby Saint Giles Square to inspect his new house.

Obviously unimpressed with what he saw, Pearson walked around Northampton but was unable to find anywhere which caught his eye and returned to the courthouse, offering his resignation after he and the magistrates were unable to reach a compromise on new accommodation.

He was replaced 11 days later by Thomas Lees of the Irish Constabulary.

Copies of the 400-page book, which costs £12.95 and contains dozens of black and white photographs from the police archives at Wootton Hall, can be purchased from Harrowden Books, in High Street, Finedon, and from Seasons Garden Centre in Burton Latimer.

It can also be bought on {policing northamptonshire 1836-2013||}.

The book also contains a foreword written by Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police Adrian Lee, as well as a complete register of all serving county constabulary officers between 1849 and 1939.

Traffic cops

Police officers in the Northamptonshire county force received their first motorised vehicles in 1930 – and initially had a fleet of two cars and four motorbikes.

One car was based in Daventry and another in Kettering, while the motorbikes were based in Northampton, Wellingborough, Oundle and Towcester.

However, within just a few months the motorbikes were branded inadequate for the role and were replaced with three-wheeler cars which were becoming increasingly popular.