Dudley Borough Police

Dudley Borough Police 1920-1966

The Dudley Borough force was formed in 1920. Prior to this responsibility for policing the area rested with Worcestershire Constabulary, one of the first forces to be formed in 1839 under the new arrangements for policing counties. Dudley was one of the many police ‘Divisions’ of this large county force.

With the growth of industrialisation and urbanisation Dudley expanded to become a major town within the ‘Black Country’. The gradual extension of democracy allowed towns to gain independence from their dominant counties, with many forming and controlling their own local police forces. Although Dudley became a County Borough in 1888 the policing arrangements remained firmly under the control of Worcestershire.

However a most unusual, and probably unique, system of dual control developed. The Standing Joint Committee (SJC), representing Worcestershire, exercised control over the administration and discipline of Dudley police matters, but the Watch Committee, representing Dudley Borough, retained control of issues relating to expenditure, including pay, uniform, quarters, the number of police officers and the deployment of the police reserve. Such a system caused many problems and disputes between the Borough and County authorities. One result was that officers working in Dudley wore different uniforms to elsewhere in the county and another was that, on the insistence of the Dudley Watch Committee, local police officers were also members of the fire brigade, a practice not allowed by the Standing Joint Committee.

WMP18_small Officers of Dudley Division, Worcestershire Constabulary. This photograph was taken around 1905/6 and shows officers wearing the ‘bush hat’, a form of headwear restricted to a few police forces.
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Reports from the Worcestershire Chief Constable, Lt. Col. Herbert S. Walker, to the SJC frequently referred to ‘troublesome’ Dudley: a reference not only to disputes with the Watch Committee but also the nature of policing required for the area. He described Dudley as ‘a populous industrial District liable to frequent strikes’. This industrial unrest often necessitated the deployment of officers from other parts of the county.

However, the Birmingham Extension Act 1911 resulted in areas locally administered by Worcestershire, including Kings Norton, Northfield, Selly Oak and Quinton being ceded to Birmingham. Police officers who worked in such areas transferred to the Birmingham City Police. This loss of staff was further compounded by the recent Weekly Rest Day Act, which for the first time granted one day off per week to police officers. Both of these provisions caused manpower problems for the Worcestershire Constabulary, which employed only 1 officer per 1000 inhabitants compared to an average of 1 Constable per 800 in other Boroughs.

After 1911 industrial unrest in and around Dudley often left ‘Rural Districts…deprived entirely of Police protection in order to furnish reinforcements for the Black Country’. The Chief Constable hoped to alleviate this problem by increasing the establishment of officers. Unfortunately, the Dudley Watch Committee refused to implement an increase of one Sergeant and six Constables ordered by the SJC and in due course approved only four additional Constables.


Dudley Borough Police 1931

When His Majesty’s Inspector (HMI) reviewed the force in 1913 he reported unfavourably on the Dudley Division to the Home Office, particularly about areas that were the Watch Committee’s responsibility: the provision of prisoner cells, quarters for officers and their families, uniforms and the number of officers.
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This resulted in the Exchequer Grant being withheld for the whole of the county force. The Chief Constable made recommendations to the SJC to resolve the problems and the committee decided in 1914 that it would ‘not continue to be responsible for the Dudley Police unless all control is taken out of the hands of the Watch Committee’. In response the borough authorities made a number of demands that could never realistically be met by the county. However, the onset of the Great War ensured that Dudley’s proposal to form a separate force was rejected by the Home Office.

In September 1919 Worcestershire Constabulary was again inspected. General Atcherley, the HMI, commented very strongly on the condition of the Dudley Police, raising familiar issues and again condemning the system of dual control. He intimated that he found it very difficult to give a certificate of efficiency to Worcestershire Constabulary. The row continued and the SJC objected very strongly to Dudley police officers being employed as members of the fire brigade, particularly on the grounds of efficiency. The Dudley authorities again applied to the Home Office to form a separate force using this issue as a lever. In writing to the SJC in February 1920 the Chief Constable stated ‘that it is out of the question that the county should continue to incur heavy responsibility for Dudley without any real control’. He went on to advise the committee to inform the Home Office that ‘the county has always been willing to administer the Dudley Police’ but was unable to continue doing so under the present circumstances. As a result the Dudley Borough Police was formed on the 1st April 1920.

Dudley Borough Police remained independent for forty-six years. It managed to evade both the amalgamations enforced during the Second World War and those of the immediate post-war years when the number of forces was reduced to 125 in England and Wales. A Royal Commission was appointed in 1960 to inquire into various aspects of policing and one of its subsequent recommendations was the abolition of smaller police forces. As a result the West Midlands Constabulary was formed on the 1st April 1966 by the merger of Dudley Borough Police, Walsall Borough Police, Wolverhampton Borough Police and parts of Staffordshire and Worcestershire Constabularies.


1920 – 1946: James Niven CAMPBELL

1946 – 1966: Charles William JOHNSON