Crime Files delves into the archives of the West Midlands Police Museum, which has a collection of artefacts and photographs charting the development of the police through the ages. This week, we look at the story of the policeman’s best friend – his trusty truncheon.
Before the days of handguns or stun guns, all police officers had to defend themselves with were sturdy wooden truncheons.
The batons were handed out to officers in the early 19th century for use on patrols and could be used to “strike, jab or block an attack”, according to David Cross, the curator at the West Midlands Police Museum.
He said: “Truncheons were weapons of defence not attack, they were there in case you had to quell anybody. Officers were trained to strike the back of the legs of someone they felt was a threat.”
“The first truncheons used in the police force were typically the same length as the truncheon’s used today, but were made out of ebony and did not have a leather strap at the end, just finger grips with ridges.”
A company called Parkers in London made the majority of the weapons, although some local Birmingham companies did produce batons for the force.
“The type of truncheon used varied depending on location. Each area would have its own regional coat of arms emblazoned on the truncheon,” said Mr Cross.
Specific duties also called for variety in the type of truncheon issued, for instance, mounted officers had longer batons, around 2ft, 6in, that were kept at the side of the saddle so they could strike people while on horseback.
The museum has an example of a hand-painted, decorated truncheon belonging to a man called Thomas Holmes, who was one of the first recruits to the police force.
Mr Cross said: These sorts of truncheons were often handed out as decorations to outgoing mayors or senior officers on retirement. Or he may have had it made himself as it was not a standard-issue truncheon. There a few of these around in excellent condition which would suggest they were never used on duty.” While on patrol, PCs also carried oil lamps to see in the night and a rattle to raise an alarm.
And for a short period, officers in Birmingham carried cutlasses at night to patrol the more dangerous areas around the city centre – Deritend and Summer Lane.
This ended after a rather unfortunate encounter between a sergeant and a prisoner.
Mr Cross explained: “Sgt Price, commonly known as “Fingers”, was involved in a scuffle with a violent prisoner which resulted in part of the man’s ear being sliced off.”
Fingers was disciplined and unsurprisingly, the cutlasses were taken off all officers on patrol.
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