The Museum of Policing

in Cheshire


a history of policing in Cheshire by Peter Wroe

The last invaders to settle in England were the Anglo-Saxons, who brought with them their own customs and laws. They believed that breaking the law was a crime against the whole community, and that a crime broke the 'King's Peace'.

All adult males in the community were responsible for catching offenders. They were divided into groups of about ten families, and each group was called a tything. If any member committed a crime the others caught him and brought him before the court or moot. If they failed to do so they were all punished, usually by a fine. When a crime was seen there was a 'hue and cry' and everyone joined in the chase. Serious crimes were brought before the hundred court, or the shire court under the Sheriff. During the middle-ages the authority of the Sheriff was gradually taken over by the local lord of the manor. The manor court chose the manor officers - the constable, ale-taster, swine-ringer and bread-weigher. It was the constables' duty to report to the court, arrest criminals and call out the hue and cry.

In 1285 the statute of Winchester obliged the authorities of every town to keep a watch at the city gates and 'arrest all suspicious night walkers'. The constable organised the watch and any strangers were handed over to him and taken to court.

In 1761, under Edward III, the justices of the peace were established to try less serious crimes. There were usually three or four justices in each county and they could issue a warrant for arrest to the constables.

In Tudor England the King was all powerful, greater than the manor lords and the church. Local Government was taken over by the parish council, or vestry, together with the justices and constables to deal with crime. The constable still had no pay or special uniform and as his duties increased they interfered with his normal job. He was personally responsible for the punishment of offenders and had to report all public complaints to the court. Many constables paid deputies to do their job for them inefficiency and corruption became widespread as the population grew, but this system of law enforcement changed little in rural areas until the mid­nineteenth century.


In 1663 the City of London finally began to employ- paid watchmen to guard the streets at night. They were later nicknamed 'Charlies', probably after the reigning monarch, Charles II. However the pay was so poor that only men too old or decrepit to do any other work would do the job. They carried a bell, a lantern and a rattle, and were armed with a staff, but they were of little use against the thieves and robbers. 'Baiting Charlies' became a popular sport for young men.

By an Act of 1762 Chester City also gained the power to employ and pay watchmen. By 1806 eighteen men were employed in this duty, and of these one was over sixty-nine years old, and eleven were 'old soldiers'. In 1819 the watch was increased to twenty-eight, but at the same time wages were reduced from 12 shillings to 10 shillings a week.

During the eighteenth century England changed from a farming country to an industrial country. Thousands of people poured into the towns to try and find work in the factories and industries. There were not enough homes or jobs to go round. Living in cramped, squalid conditions with little or no money many people took to crime. Horace Walpole described London in 1752; 'one is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one were going to battle'. Conditions were no better in the other large towns, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, and the feeble powers of the old watchmen were of no real use in maintaining law and order.


In 1748 Henry Fielding was appointed Chief Magistrate for Westminster, with his office in Bow Street. He was an honest man and more interested in law enforcement than gratuities, unlike many of his colleagues. Fielding realised the need for a more permanent and reliable force than the old watchmen and, assisted by his brother Jonathan he formed a squad of constables who were issued with guns and sufficiently well paid to withstand the offer of bribes. These were the 'Bow Street Runners' and they were comparatively successful.

At the end of the eighteenth century London faced the worst riots it had ever experienced. The government repealed some of the old laws against Catholics, and in 1780 the eccentric Lord Gordon stirred up the ensuing unrest into a series of mass riots which lasted seventy days. Newgate Gaol was burnt and the Old Bailey was wrecked. Troops were called and 700 people were killed.

It was obvious that a better system of keeping law and order was needed, so several schemes were put forward, but little real progress was made The greatest success was the formation of the River Police, comprised of sixty salaried men, armed with cutlasses, who rowed up and down the Thames in all weathers, watching against thieves and smugglers. The Bow Street Horse Patrol was formed in 1805 to keep the main roads leading in and out of London free from highwaymen. They were armed with pistols, cutlasses and truncheons and wore a blue uniform with a red waistcoat, which earned them the nickname 'Robin Redbreasts'.

They were reinforced by the unmounted Horse Patrol and were the first uniformed police in the country.


At the beginning of the 19th century Britain suffered grave social and political unrest caused largely by unemployment and poor conditions, particularly after the Napoleonic wars. The Prime Minister, William Pitt attempted to establish a new police force in London to try to deal with the problems. However, there was much opposition to this because of fears that a government-run police force would gain a tyrannical control over the public.

In 1819, the Peterloo Massacre occurred at St Peter's Field in Manchester when the militia, ordered to arrest the speaker, Henry Hunt, at a meeting, turned on the 60,000 strong crowd. Eleven people were killed and 400 wounded. No measures were taken to improve law and order, although stricter laws against public meetings were made.

Sir Robert Peel became Home Secretary in 1822. He introduced police reforms gradually so as not to arouse people's fears. The Metropolitan Police Act was passed in 1829, providing one force for the whole of London. Every policeman wore a uniform, and started as a constable, working his way up through the ranks by promotion. Two Commissioners were chosen to be in charge of the Metropolitan Police. The headquarters were based at 4 Whitehall Place, Westminster. The back entrance used by the constables, opened out onto Scotland Yard, hence its familiar name.

Over 3,000 men were recruited. They had to be less than 35 years old, over 5'7" tall, strong and healthy, and able to read and write. Their main task was to prevent crime, while being civil and obliging to all people. The force was successful from the beginning, but the police were not popular and were often referred to as "the blue devils" or "Peel's bloody gang". However, they proved their worth at a riot in Cold-Bath Fields in 1833 when they broke up a disturbance armed only with batons and without seriously injuring any of the crowd.

By 1939 the Metropolitan Police District extended to a radius of 15 miles from Charing Cross. The police won respect at home and were admired and copies all over the world.


During the Middle Ages a petty thief or forger who was caught usually received the penalty of death by public hanging. More serious crimes were more savagely punished, and confessions to these crimes were frequently extracted by means of torture. Traitors were hung, drawn and quartered, heretics and 'witches' were burned alive. The mutilated bodies of criminals were exhibited in public places as a warning to others.

The more bloody methods of dealing with criminals passed out of use during the seventeenth century, public hangings drew an enormous audience, often paying high prices for a seat with a good view. Until the late 1820's the death penalty was issued for 223 different offences, including such petty acts as impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner and defacing Westminster Bridge. Trivial crimes were dealt with by a spell in the stocks or a public flogging. Women could receive a ducking in the village pond for merely 'nagging'.

It was generally accepted that 'justice' had to be seen to be done and offenders were usually only sent to prison for debt or to await trial and then sentence. The rich and famous could usually 'buy' quite a comfortable existence in gaol. The less fortunate had to try and survive in squalid and unsanitary conditions with little or no food, as this had to be bought from the gaoler. Despite the efforts of prison reformers such as Elizabeth Fry and John Howard little was done to improve conditions until the mid-nineteenth century.

Court sentences were frequently rash and ill-considered, depending on the individual whims of the judge.

A much favoured sentence was transportation to the colonies, first America, and later Australia, for years of hard labour. When transportation ceased temporarily with the loss of the American colonies prisoners were kept in old hulks moored on the Thames and other river estuaries. Conditions were appalling and cholera epidemics were so frequent that it was little better than a death sentence, but the prisons had become so overcrowded that the hulks continued to be used until the late 1850's.

In the mid nineteenth century Sir Robert Peel introduced radical reforms to improve Britain's penal system. In 1835 the government appointed prison inspectors and a major prison building programme began in the 1840's. Conditions gradually improved as food, clothing and warmth were provided and some institutions established schemes for the useful employment of prisoners. This innovation suffered a set back in 1865 when an attempt was made to uniform all prison conditions and useless labour was enforced which included pacing a tread wheel and unpicking old rope. Not surprisingly the incidences of insanity amongst prisoners rose sharply and these practises were finally abolished in 1898.

The question of how society should deal with criminal offenders still remains a vexed problem.


While the Metropolitan Police Force was established in London the methods of law keeping in the rest of the country remained unchanged. The old system of justices and parish constables became totally inadequate in the larger industrial towns - with a population of 250,000 in 1834, Liverpool had 50 night watchmen.

Cheshire was still under the jurisdiction of the justices. There were four chartered boroughs - Chester, Congleton, Macclesfield, Stockport, Northwich and Wirral - each of which appointed a High Constable. During the 1820's there were approximately 500 parishes, each of which could elect one or more constables annually. The role of constables had changed little over hundreds of years.

As Cheshire was primarily rural many crimes were related to country life: pilfering and stealing at fairs; and poaching. Hordes of vagrants also frequented the market towns. The justices had no civil force capable of dealing with riots and had to depend on the militia. Private syndicates of paid watchmen were set up in towns, while in the country associations provided rewards for information leading to convictions. Stolen livestock had its own price.

A Parliamentary Act of 1 June 1829 gave Cheshire magistrates power to appoint and pay "Special" High Constables and "Assistant" Petty Constables. This was a pilot scheme for proposed national changes. At best the Act provided for nine unrelated, uncoordinated police forces, one in each Hundred, with three in Macclesfield. It is not clear how many constables were serving. In the Chester City Police Force a confused report of a special committee of the Council stated -

".... previous to January 1836 the Constabulary and Police Force of the City consisted of Mr Hill, Mr Dawson, Mr Haswell, The Mayor's Porter, The Beadle, Thomas Worrall. Three row constables from six to nine o'clock at night, and about fifty ward constables. The "Police Force" consisted of thirty-two watchmen, twenty-one firemen, viz; one superintendent, four captains and sixteen firemen. That the present establishment consists of Mr Hill, Mr Haswell, The Mayor's Porter, Thomas Worrall and twenty-six constables".

It was not until 1856 that a feasible system of law enforcement was introduced.


The story of the Cheshire Constabulary would not be complete without reference to the Great Cattle Plague and the emphasis this case gives to the variety of activities the police must perform in an agrarian society.

The outbreak of rinderpest was officially noted in August 1865, but it continued to develop until January the next year when it was referred to as a serious crisis. A central Plague Committee was set up which gave the Chief Constable a free hand in the expenditure of money. The Quarter-sessions dispatched a memorial to the Secretary of State 'Praying Her Majesty to direct that a day of Public Humiliation and Fast be set apart for the Humbling of the Whole Nation before Almighty God and for the withdrawal of this terrible, though just judgement of the cattle plague'.

On a more practical level each sergeant was issued with a box containing various crude disinfectants for use in cleansing infected premises and given a short course of instruction in their use.

When the trouble subsided the Chief Constable was able to gain a raise in pay, for all members of his force, of about one shilling a week to 'induce the Police to work with the utmost energy in the serious crisis now impending from the dreadful effects of the Cattle Plague.'


The so called Fenian Plot or Chester Castle Plot came to notice on Sunday, 10th February 1867 when the Cheshire authorities received information that a gang of Irish nationalists, or "Fenians" intended to seize Chester Castle and its weapons. The Chief Constable of Liverpool, Major J.J. Greig, sent two senior officers by road to Chester with details of the plot, given by an informer. The civil and military authorities took joint, immediate action. City magistrates immediately enrolled 500 Special constables for service under Mr. G.L.Fenwick, the Chief Constable, while the military took special measures to guard the armories, and the county forces were alerted.

It was reported that 1,500 to 2,000 Fenians assembled in small parties in and near Chester on Tuesday, 12th February but no arrests were made. The "Chester Chronicle" of 16th February reported that the Fenians arrived in batches of 30 to 60 by various trains from Liverpool, Manchester and Crewe. In the ensuing 48 hours a company of regular troops arrived from Manchester and a battalion of Scots Guards arrived by special train from London. By mid-day of the Monday, Captain Smith had reinforced the City police by 150 county police and the Fenians melted away as quickly as they had arrived.

National newspapers of the day discounted the existence of any 'Fenian Plot', but there were many outbreaks of violence at the time, all inspired by Irish nationalists and Lord Derby, the Prime Minister, had no doubts, awarding Major Greig the C.B., while the Court of Quarter Sessions passed a resolution of thanks to Captain Smith " for having acted with zeal and energy in the measures he took for assisting in the defence of the Castle and City."

One year later, the Colt revolvers issued to the police at the time by the Government, were ordered to be returned to Headquarters.


The Gorse Hall murder is not a classic case, but it is unusual enough to be worthy of note, and it gives an interesting example of the use of 'modern' detection methods using bloodhounds and 'serum' tests on bloodstains. Gorse Hall was a large private house, on the Stalybridge and Dukinfield border, occupied by George Henry Storrs, his wife and their adopted daughter. Storrs was a moderately wealthy contractor and employed a small household staff which consisted of a cook, a general maid and a coachman who lived over the stables with his wife and family. On lst November 1909, at about 9 pm a stranger was found in the house and when an alarm was raised by one of the maids Mr Storr went to investigate. In the ensuing struggle Mr Storr was stabbed to death and the intruder escaped. The only clue to his identity was a defective revolver left behind. The grounds of the house were thoroughly searched and bloodhounds were brought in specially, but nothing was found.

A description of the man was circulated and in an identification parade Cornelius Howard, nephew of the deceased, was picked out by the female witnesses as 'most like the one' who attacked Mr Storrs. Howard was on discharge from the army but had not been able to settle down in Stalybridge his home town, and he had been arrested several times for shop-breaking and larceny. However, there was no real evidence against him and he was acquitted.

The following July a Mark Wilde, an inhabitant of Stalybridge, was convicted for a felonious wounding in the town. Whilst on remand in Knutsford he was put up for identification by the women of Gorse Hall and was identified as the intruder.

By coincidence Wilde had been discharged from the army to the same reserve as Howard. Three witnesses who had served with Wilde in the army identified the gun as his. Wilde's alibi on the night of the murder was uncorroborated, and bloodstains found on his clothing were ascertained to be human. However, no motive could be found, except in the imagination of the press and public, and the jury reached a verdict of 'not guilty'.

There was one more disturbing incidence in this case. Shortly after the arrest of Howard, less than three weeks after the death of Mr Storr, the family coachman committed suicide. There was no evidence that he was connected with the crime, and murder still remains a mystery.


There was little in the way of a build-up of the Cheshire Constabulary for the onset of the First World War. Four hundred special constables were enrolled, a proportion of whom became full-time in emergencies.

In 1916 the police constables were advised on the procedure to be taken if an airship signalled a desire to land. The officer was to round up about a hundred men or women for a small airship, or four hundred people for a large airship to lay hold of a trailing rope, haul the vessel down and fasten it to a tree, or other object. This exercise, if every performed, must have made a remarkable sight.

Following the outbreak of war there were a number of anti-German riots, notably the attack of German pork butchers' shops in Crewe, after which 17 persons were charged with breach of the peace. The Force's numbers were drastically reduced during the war as many policemen, including the Chief Constable offered their services to the War Office. Meanwhile, policemen with on a day to day home, there was an acute manpower shortage and those experience of ploughing were realised to do farm work basis on police pay.

During the war the cost of living doubled, but police pay stayed low. The forces did not have a trade union, but a Police Union was formed and the Metropolitan Police came out on strike in 1918, followed by the London City Police, for three days. This resulted in a promise of better pay, retirement pensions and child allowances. A second strike in July 1919 affected the forces in London, Merseyside and Birmingham. Serious crimes were committed and all the strikers lost their jobs, but the promises of 1918 were at last fulfilled and all the forces benefited.


During the Second World War 254 constables and 31 cadets from the Cheshire Constabulary served in the armed forces. The Chief Constable was the accepted director of all civil defence operations, except in the case of Fire and Regional Services. The Warden Section of some 14,000 was a direct police responsibility. The Royal Observer Corps began as an offshoot of the special constabulary, and later on as Home Guard Units in the county were commanded by officers found and recommended by the police.

The first air raid reported in Cheshire took place on the night of the 29 July 1940 when highly explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped on the southern suburbs of Crewe. However, Neston and the Runcorn districts were also attacked, but little damage was done. However, a month later just six bombs damaged 50 houses in Bedford Street, Crewe.

The heaviest raid took place in West Cheshire on the night of 28/29 November 1940. Fortunately most of the twenty-four parachute mines dropped onto open country, except for one which fell near the main building of Barrowmore Tuberculosis colony at Barrow, near Chester killing nineteen people and injuring thirty. During the same night 475 high explosive bombs and 350 incendiary bombs were dropped elsewhere, and a further twenty­three people were killed. Chester City Authorities cleared up 30 tons of glass the next day.

The Merseyside District was repeatedly bombed throughout the war and the neighbouring Cheshire districts also suffered. During the first week of May 1941 the enemy continued its attack for six successive nights, and each night a contingent of Cheshire Police left Northwich, where they were held as part of the Regional Police Reserve and went into Liverpool in aid of the City Force.

Throughout the last years of the war preparations had to be made to meet the threat of invasion. This involved 'conferencing' with the military authorities, liaising with the Home Guards, and reserving certain roads for military convoys. On top of this the police had to continue their normal duties and maintain law and order throughout the years of food and petrol rationing. There was the additional task of finding billets for the American troops. Every town and country house had its quota, indeed the 3rd American Army, under General George S (Blood and Guts) Patton, based its headquarters at Peover Hall.

The years 1942 to 1944 were relatively quiet, The Old Eddisbury Division was absorbed by Runcorn in 1939. The police school, damaged by bombs, moved from Foregate Street to Sandy Lane, Chester in 1942. The problem of a site for the police headquarters remained unresolved.

At its highest wartime strength the special constabulary numbered 1,100 and of these 987 earned the Special Constabulary Medal and nine the Star. In April 1946 t he Chief Constable, Sir Major Jack Becke, paid special tribute to the long and valuable services rendered by these men.


After the 2nd World War there were eight divisions Altrincham, Wirral, N.E. Cheshire, Chester, Crewe, Northwich, Macclesfield, and Runcorn, with the Headquarters still in Foregate Street, Chester. As the force increased in size the buildings accommodating the various headquarters became inadequate and a major building programme was initiated in the 1960's to replace most of the old stations.

A new housing scheme was started in 1952; and over 500 houses are now owned by the Police Committee.

Changes were made in the divisional components of the force in 1967 and 1974 by internal and local government reorganisations.

After 1967 there were nine divisions, Chester, Crewe, Altrincham, Macclesfield, Northwich, Stalybridge, Stockport, Birkenhead and Wallasey, the latter three being created from borough forces. However, by the local government reorganisations Birkenhead and Wallasey were absorbed by Merseyside; and Stockport, Stalybridge, and part of Macclesfield by Greater Manchester. Widnes and Warrington formed the new Widnes Division of Cheshire.

Basic training of police recruits is carried out at No. 1 District Police Training Centre at Bruche, Warrington, while more advanced training courses are available at the Cheshire Constabulary Training Centre, Crewe.

All police officers start as constables, and usually spend their first weeks at a Regional Training School. Here they are taught self defence, first aid and swimming, and learn about criminal law and social problems. Following this the constables return to their force and start patrolling, first with an experienced officer and then on their own.

In the first two years constables may spend time in some specialised units. After about 18 months they return to the regional school and sit an exam; and after two years the constables cease to be probationers and may be able to specialise in a particular department.

Higher training is available at Bramshill Police College for those who will eventually reach higher ranks. Officers from abroad can also train there.

1919- 1939

The Cheshire Constabulary expanded rapidly in the twenty years between the two great wars. The early 1920's saw the activities of the Irish nationalist party, the Sinn Fein, become increasingly violent. In Cheshire the police were supplied with alarm rockets to be set off on the discovery of a fire. Six automatic pistols were also issued to each division. In June 1921 four members of the Sinn Fein living in Wallasey and Liverpool were successfully arrested for sabotaging parts of the railway signalling and communications installations in the Bromborough district. The other outstanding event of this period was the General Strike in May 1926. In Cheshire steps were taken to protect both the people who continued to work and the volunteers who undertook to run essential services. Some 1,284 specials were sworn in, but there were comparatively few cases of violence in the country area.

As the number of cars on the road increased so did the number of traffic offences, and so steps were taken to make the county force more mobile. The horses and carts allowed to the superintendents were gradually phased out and replaced with motor vehicles; at first bought at the individuals own expenses. In April 1920 the Chief Constable was authorised to purchase ex-War Department motor cycles, one for each division at £75 each. Headquarters was to have a motor cycle with sidecar up to the value of £110. In 1930 the Road Traffic Act provided a full grant to motor patrols, so three Alvis cars and a number of motor cycles were purchased. The first automatic traffic lights in the county were installed in Crewe. Three years later a small wireless van and four receiving and transmitting sets for patrol cars were purchased. Other technological innovations at this period included the purchase of two photographic outfits for use in crime detection.

The question of training was also examined and in 1923 Cheshire policemen were sent, for the first time, for detective training at the Metropolitan Training School at Hendon. By the late 1930's Cheshire's own recruit training school was established at Foregate Street, Chester.


The early constables had no official uniform or badge, but could usually be recognised by their carrying of a bill, or staff, and lantern. By the seventeenth century it becomes evident that the watchmen also carried either a bell or clapper for the purpose of raising an alarm. The clapper, or rattle, was similar to those used by football supporters today and continued to be used by the police until the late nineteenth century.

A regulation light coloured greatcoat, stamped with a large black number on the back, appears to have been worn by the paid watchmen, or Charlies, of London in the early nineteenth century.

'Had a council of thieves been consulted, the regulations of the watch could not have been better contrived for their accommodation. The coats of the watchmen are made as large and of as white a cloth as possible, to enable the thieves to discern their approach at the greatest distance; and there be no mistake, the lantern is added'.

'The Table Book' 1827.

In many illustrations the watchmen are depicted wearing a night cap or muffler under their hat, an indication of how old and decrepit most of them were.

The first complete police uniform was issued in 1805 for the Bow Street Horse Patrols. This consisted of a blue greatcoat and trousers, black leather hat, white gloves, Wellington boots and with spurs, and a bright red waistcoat which earned the Patrol the nickname 'Robin Redbreasts'. In 1822 the Foot Patrol was put into a similar uniform.

With the establishment of a Metropolitan Force by Robert Peel's Police Act in 1829 it was considered necessary for discipline and 'esprit de corps' to have a suitable uniform. However, the mood of the nation was opposed to the idea of a para military corps backed by the government, and so a civilian type uniform was needed to dispel this notion. The result was a very smart combination of

a dark blue swallow tail coat with blue or white trousers, according to the season, white gloves and a tall black hat. The coat had metal buttons down the front and on the cuffs, and a white letter and number embroidered on the stand up collar. The top hat was reinforced by cane strips and a leather top. A drab brown overcoat could be worn in winter.

By 1864 the uniform of the Metropolitan police had changed to the more familiar helmet and tunic. A music hall song commemorated the introduction of the new helmet.

'Instead of the old flower pot tile The helmet is a better style

It has more room and a cap-ac-i-tye To hold cold mutton or rabbit pie'

In general the other forces of the New Police copies the Metropolitan uniform with slight local variations, such as the shape of the hat. The police

committee for Cheshire Constabulary, established in 1857, decided that 'the colour of the uniform be blue'. Superintendents

were to have their frock coat trimmed with braid. Badges were of white metal with the Prince of Wales feathers and the words 'Cheshire Constabulary'. In 1915 the use of this design was questioned by the Royal Warrant Holders Association and no proper authorisation could

be found. The matter was taken up by the Home Office which was uniformed: 'H.R.H. The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) did not wish to interfere with such (police) user (of the design).

A peculiarity of the Cheshire police uniform was the 'shako' style hat, but with the introduction of the new pattern helmets of 1878 these were worn as alternatives. The new helmets had removable 'spikes' which were only worn for special occasions, including the attendance

of Divine Service. At this time the helmet cost 8s.6d., and the total cost of the standard issue of one greatcoat, one tunic, two pairs of trousers and one cap came to E8.5s.0d. Modern suits were introduced in the 1930's and have been modified slightly over the years. The 'shako' hat was finally abolished in 1935.

The first policewomen - the self appointed Women Police Volunteers - chose their own uniform, which consisted of -

'Useful blue serge skirt, Norfolk jacket of the same with pockets, straw hat (Panama style) with blue ribbon and white armlet with W.P.V. in bold lettering.'

The official policewomen's uniform of 1918 was very different and not in the least flattering. It included heavy boots, laced up to the knees, of un­polishable leather, a thick two-inch wide leather belt, a high collared tunic jacket, a calf length skirt and a wide brimmed helmet. Lilian Wyles, one of the first policewomen recruits recalls her reaction to the uniform in 'A Woman at Scotland Yard'.

'I shuddered and for the first time regretted my choice of career. All make­up had been strictly forbidden, and hair had to be severely dressed. In fact not even an atom, not even a stray end, showed itself from beneath the close fitting helmet. I thought it only I could wear a pair of earrings and run a piece of white filling along the top of the hard stand up collar, how much better I should feel'.


During the late nineteenth century the wives of constables were responsible for looking after women who arrived at the police station, but the idea of women police officers was dismissed. The first women police were, in fact, a group of self appointed suffragettes, newly released from Holloway Prison. They formed the Woman's Suffrage National Aid Corps, to help women and children to cope with conditions in the First World War, under the leadership of Nina Boyle.

Meanwhile Margaret Damer Dawson, a wealthy and influential woman, was assisting the newly arrived women refugees and protecting them from the advances of the brothel madams. The two women joined forces, and with permission from the Commissioner of Police they received training in drill, jiu-jitsu and police procedure, and recruited forty full-time uniformed officers. Their activities were centred around the military camps where stringent new laws were brought in, directed almost exclusively at women with restricted drinking hours and an evening curfew. The suffragettes split up over the ethics of these rulings and only the Women Police Service, under Damer Dawson, continued to cooperate with the authorities in supporting the male officers to impose these restrictions. They achieved considerable success, especially in the task of searching women munitions workers for items which would be dangerous near high explosives. By 1918 the Women Police Service had recruited one thousand women.

Another group of women under the title the 'National Union of Women Workers' also set up with the aim to 'influence and, if need be, restrain the behaviour of women and girls who congregate in the neighbourhood of the (military) camp'. It was largely from this group that the Police Commissioner, in 1916, began to employ Women Patrols, who, in pairs and escorted by a male police constable, patrolled the major London parks. By 1918 it was becoming evident that public pressure, especially from the new female voters, was in favour of some kind of women police. It was from the Women Patrols that the Commissioner finally began the organisation of a hundred strong experimental force. He considered the Women Police Service too ambitious and excluded them completely.

In November 1918 recruiting began. Applicants should be aged 35 to 38, over 5'4" tall, read and write well, intelligent, and have no child dependents. Basic pay was 30 shillings a week, with boots and a most unattractive uniform provided.

By 1939, with the creation of the Women Auxiliary Police Corps, there were 226 policewomen in England and Wales, but the Cheshire Authorities saw no necessity to recruit women police until 1944, when 12 policewomen were appointed. After the Auxiliary Corps was disbanded Cheshire decided on a policy of recruiting permanent force of policewomen who have continued to play an increasingly important role in the development of the Cheshire Constabulary.


The task of the CID is to solve crimes after they have been committed. Evidence must be collected before a case can be brought to court: and stolen property traced. Specialist units may be brought in to aid investigations. Crime rates have risen enormously; and in 1965 Regional Crime Squads with detectives from adjoining forces were set up, operating over wide areas and ignoring force boundaries in order to catch important criminals who are now more mobile.

In 1966 Cheshire's shallow-water diving team was formed to enable rapid searches to be made of river beds and canals. Now the team has also been joined by officers from neighbouring forces.

The Headquarters Criminal Intelligence Section and the Headquarters Support Group were set up in 1968. The Intelligence Section was established so that information on known and suspected criminals could be collected and collated in order that detection could be made easier. "Collators" officers in sub-divisions were employed for the channelling of information.

Originally the support group was based in East Cheshire. Nineteen detectives under a detective superintendant were to assist the divisional CID in solving "pattern" crimes: those of a similar nature; and to investigate serious crimes. Another group was set up in West Cheshire and the two were eventually merged with headquarters at Runcorn. Recently much of their work has been concerned with commercial fraud.

In 1971 a Drug Squad was formed to deal with problems of drug abuse and its links with crime and social problems. Three units were set up at Stockport, Chester, and Bromborough with ten specialised officers. 187 prosecutions for possession of drugs were made in the first year; while in 1976 360 drug offences were dealt with.

Scenes of crime departemtns have replaced divisional photographic departments and more highly trained officers have been employed. Colour photography has also been used very successfully in serious crime investigations. A notable achievement of the department in a fairly recent case was the identification of a criminal by the teethmarks he left in an apple at the scene of the crime.


Technological developments particularly during recent years have been very important in aiding and improving the efficiency of police work. The use of radios has been vital. In 1952 forty patrol cars were equipped with two-way VHF radios which linked the cars with Police Headquarters. At first only one channel was allocated which was shared with the Cheshire County Fire Brigade - personal radios were not issued until 1965 at Chester and Crewe.

Changes were made in 1967 with the opening of the new Police Headquarters and its modern control room. Two radio channels for police use only were installed and the control room was linked to motorway telephones and to ten Post Office exchanges so that it could handle all emergency calls directly. An automatic telephone exchange started the present system of automatic dialling throughout the force; a separate teleprinter network was used; and in 1967 the Unit Beat Police schemes in each sub-division were started. There was also a personal radio scheme that had base stations giving radio coverage of the area. Three-channel personal radios were generally used in these schemes.

The Traffic Department formerly separate, was operated through Divisional Motor Patrol sections. 25 years ago it was very small, but has recently increased greatly in numbers of staff and vehicles. Motor cycles were not introduced for traffic patrol duties until 1964. In 1964 165 Divisional Motor Patrols were replaced by four Traffic Groups, but by 1967 they had reverted to a divisional basis. In 1974 local government reorganisation reduced the number of units to five.

The force vehicle maintenance department has been centralised in Crewe, but additional units were later opened at Hazel Grove, Chester, Bromborough, and Northwich.

Accident prevention measures have always been important and the Road Safety Department was established in 1966. Police jurisdiction over various traffic and safety schemes increased in 1968 with the Transport Act and Countryside Act; and from 1970 such matters were dealt with on a county basis. To aid safety schemes local councils were made responsible for providing trained school crossing patrols which, in Cheshire, have been administered by Cheshire Constabulary. Minor motoring offences have increased, particularly illegal parking, and have led to the introduction of the Fixed Penalty System.