Coventry City Police

Coventry City Police 1836 -1974

The Municipal Corporations Act 1835 was primarily concerned with changes to local government. However, it contained measures for reform of the various systems of policing employed in towns and cities throughout the country. This Act required those Boroughs within England and Wales that had been granted charters of self-government to form regular, organised and paid police forces and a Watch Committee to maintain and govern the force. The city had received its Charter in 1345, so was eligible to form a police force if the council so desired.

Coventry, in common with many other places, employed a number of different methods of policing throughout the ages dating back to before the Norman Conquest. In the early nineteenth century Coventry used a system of watchmen and Special Constables to police the streets. The senior officer was called the High Constable and was elected annually. In 1832 Thomas Henry Prosser, an ex-Bow Street Runner, was duly elected to this office.

In 1836 the Watch Committee reported:

‘Your Committee in the first instance thought it was their duty to examine the several persons engaged in the police and watch and found that the Chief Constable was the only person in the Police responsible to give assistance and apprehension of felons and misdemeanours there being no paid Constable under him.’

The Committee stated that the current system was inadequate and inefficient and proposed the creation of a new police force. Coventry Police came into being on the 7th March 1836 and Thomas Prosser was appointed the Chief Constable, or High Constable as the term remained in usage, a month later. The new force comprised one Superintendent (the actual rank that Prosser held), one Inspector, one Sergeant and twenty Constables.

Prosser had a remarkable effect on the early years of the force. In October 1836 he was described as being ‘an efficient officer with a thorough knowledge of his duties which he executed firmly and moderately.’ In 1857 Prosser retired and Thomas Skermer from the Liverpool Police was appointed as ‘Chief Constable and Superintendent of Police’. His tenure was fairly short: in November 1861 he absconded following which the Watch Committee undertook an investigation into the police accounts. Thomas Prosser temporarily returned to his post until John Norris was appointed in March 1862. On his death the Coventry Standard printed the following obituary on the 3rd January 1879:

‘The late Mr. Prosser. Mr Thomas Henry Prosser, who was the first police Constable of Coventry under the Municipal act, died on Saturday last, at his residence, Shirley, near Birmingham, in his 77th year. He was also for a short time city surveyor. Mr Prosser’s resignation of the office of Chief of the City police was accepted by the watch committee on the 15th June, 1857. On September 9th of the same year Mr Prosser resigned on a pension of £93 6s 8d. per annum. We believe the superannuation scheme under which this pension was allotted was brought into existence largely through Mr Prosser’s instrumentality. In November 1861, Mr. Skermer, who had succeeded Mr. Prosser. absconded and from that date until the appointment of Mr. Norris in March 1862 Mr. Prosser fulfilled the duties of his old office. During his sojourn in Coventry Mr. Prosser won the esteem of a large circle of friends, who will hear of his decease with sorrow. He was an efficient officer, and remarkable for the sobriety of his habits.’

Coventry Police remained independent and managed to avoid being amalgamated with another force until the late 1960s because the size of its police establishment or population was always above the threshold laid down for compulsory mergers. As the criteria changed Coventry endured two major changes within 5 years.

Following on from the mergers under the Police Act 1964, the Home Secretary announced in 1966 further amalgamations in which Coventry would join with the county to form the Warwickshire and Coventry Constabulary in 1969. Later that year the report of the Royal Commission on Local Government recommended sweeping changes including new police force boundaries, especially for metropolitan conurbations. The government seized the opportunity to further reduce the number of police forces outside London to 41. On the 1st April 1974 Coventry and Solihull were transferred to the West Midlands Police.

CHIEF CONSTABLES OF COVENTRY CITY POLICE

1836 – 1857: Thomas Henry PROSSER

1857 – 1861: Thomas SKERMER

1861 – 1862: Thomas Henry PROSSER

1862 – 1890: John NORRIS

1890 – 1899: Alexander GRAY

1899 – 1918: Charles Christopher CHARSLEY

1918 – 1927: William IMBER

1927 – 1946: Capt. Stanley Albert HECTOR

1946 – 1948: George JACKSON

1948 – 1969: Edward PENDLETON

CHIEF CONSTABLES OF WARWICKSHIRE AND COVENTRY CONSTABULARY

1969 – 1974: Richard MATTHEWS