In the 1820s Walsall employed a ‘Watch’ system similar to that in many towns throughout the country. However, the powers invested in the Commissioners under the Act appear to have been used sparingly. The ‘Watch’ varied in size between five and ten men and was discontinued during early 1826.
The modern police came into being on the 6th July 1832 with an initial strength of one Superintendent and three Constables. The Town Clerk wrote to the Colonel Charles Rowan, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, asking him to recommend a serving officer who could use his experience to form a new police force in the town. As a result Mr. F.H. West was appointed Superintendent.
The early days of the force saw much hostility and several serious disturbances. Much of the initial friction arose from the involvement of the ‘new’ police in dealing with and arresting local people. One such incident in July 1832, following the arrest of a group of men for stealing, resulted in weeklong disturbances with the police station and Town Hall being stoned by demonstrators. Probably the most serious disorder occurred in December 1832 on and around polling day for the Parliamentary Elections. On the 12th December the police and appointed Special Constables were unable to control a crowd of ten thousand Unionist supporters who had arrived from nearby Birmingham. Military aid was called for and the army deployed. As the situation worsened the army utilized a bayonet charge by foot soldiers and a cavalry charge to restore order.
The Municipal Corporation Act 1835 placed the expense of maintaining police forces upon the rates and gave complete control to the local Corporation. The councilors managed the force via a ‘Watch Committee’ which had responsibility for recruitment, discipline and organisation. This represented a change in responsibilities for Superintendent West who resigned and was replaced by Superintendent Ryder in January 1836. At this time the establishment of the force consisted of Ryder, who earned about £87 per year, and two Constables who earned 16 shillings per week.
There then followed a period of uncertainty with several changes to the establishment of the force and the position of Superintendent. In 1840 Superintendent Ryder was replaced by one of his Constables, John Raymond, at the greatly reduced rate of pay of £52 per year. Within a year Raymond had been reduced to the rank of Sergeant and John Rofe appointed as his replacement. During this time the number of officers had increased to eight, but towards the end of the 1840s was again reduced to six, with Rofe and his successor, Superintendent Burton, both being dismissed by the Watch Committee.
In the 1850s the size of the force gradually increased but was criticized by Major General Cartwright, the HM Inspector of Constabulary, during his first visit in 1857. Following his recommendation the establishment became one Superintendent, four Sergeants and nineteen Constables. In 1858 the force appointed its first two detectives who worked in plain clothes but wore uniform when attending court.
During the 1880s the force adopted many national practices as a result of influence from central government. These included national pay scales and the creation of the rank of Inspector. Locally, the original Bloxwich Police Station was vacated and a new public building erected in 1888 to serve as a station and library. This building still stands today and only stopped being used by police in 2001. Also in 1888 responsibility for the Fire Brigade passed from the Borough Surveyor to Walsall Borough Police, a task undertaken until 1939.
By the turn of the century the force had increased in size to 78 men, there being no women police officers until 1918, when the first two were enrolled. The ensuing years saw the introduction of motor vehicles, car radios and the telephone box system. In the 1960s Walsall was one of the first borough forces in the Midlands to introduce personal radios.
However, the ‘writing had been on the wall’ for Walsall Borough Police for some years. It was a small borough force surrounded by a number of other similar police forces. The government was looking for efficiencies and the Royal Commission on the Police 1960 recommended the abolition of smaller forces. In 1966 the West Midlands Constabulary was formed by merging Walsall Borough, Wolverhampton Borough and Dudley Borough Police.
CHIEF CONSTABLES OF WALSALL BOROUGH POLICE
1832 – 1835: Superintendent F.H. WEST
1836 – 1840: Superintendent RYDER
1840 – 1841: Superintendent John RAYMOND
1841 – 1849: Superintendent John ROFE
1849 – 1850: Superintendent BURTON
1855 – 1885: Superintendent John W. CARTER
1885 – 1887: Chief Constable George TEWSLEY
1887 – 1900: Chief Constable Christopher TAYLOR
1900 – 1901: Chief Constable Nicholson R. GARDINER
1902 – 1921: Chief Constable Alexander THOMPSON
1921 – 1932: Chief Constable G. H. BALANCE
1932 – 1952: Chief Constable T. Mark WATSON
1953 – 1958: Chief Constable Donald LOCKETT
1958 – 1964: Chief Constable Kenneth Mortimer WHERLY
1964 – 1966: Chief Constable Edwin SOLOMON