The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History

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Updated:  21 December 2012 

The status of a City was conferred upon Plymouth in 1928 and the Plymouth Borough Police Force thus became the City of Plymouth Police Force.

Sometime in 1929-32 motor cycle patrols were started with 2 Sunbeams.

On December 18th 1930 the "Western Morning News" reported that three vehicles were to be purchased to provide motor patrols.  [1]

A new police car, a Rover Meteor, was to be purchased from Messrs Humm & Company, Plymouth, for 305 15s in April/May 1931.  [2]


A City of Plymouth Police Constable on the beat in Tin Pan Alley during the Second World War.

A City of Plymouth Police Constable on the beat
in Tin Pan Alley during the Second World War.

Sunday January 24th 1932 started quietly for the Plymouth Police and possibly the Chief Constable was the only person who had any inkling of what the rest of the day was going to bring.  Just after midday on the Saturday he received a telephone call from the Governor of Dartmoor Prison hinting that the services of the Plymouth force might be needed soon.  The call came just after 9.30am that Sunday morning, when the Gate Officer telephoned to say that prisoners had started a mutiny and that assistance was urgently required.  [3]

At around 10.30am a Western National bus filled with thirty-one Officers left Plymouth for Princetown, preceded by the Chief Constable, Mr A K Wilson, in a Police car.  Although the bus was legally limited to only 30mph it is said that the driver, Mr C Webb, pushed its speed up to 45mph where ever possible.  A contingent from the Devon County Police, led initially by Superintendent Smith from the Crownhill Police Station, also made its way to the Prison.  [3]

Once at the gates of the Prison, the Chief Constable tried to negotiate with the prisoners but this failed and so, with the words: 'In you go lads, it's them or us, so spare no mercy', 31 Police Officers carrying only their truncheons poured through the gates.  [3]

The mutiny was quelled by mid-afternoon and the Officers were able to have their first meal of the day, dry bread and a pint of beer, before boarding the coach for the slower return journey.  [3]

In March 1932 Mr Archibald Wilson left Plymouth to become Chief Constable of the City of Liverpool Police.  He was replaced by Mr William Clarence Johnson.  [3]

On November 24th 1933 the tender of Mr J W Spencer (28,751) was accepted for the conversion of the old prison at Greenbank into new headquarters for police, fire, magistrate's court and weights & measures office.  [4]

The police ceased to supervise car parks in Plymouth after 1934.

What was described at the time as 'One of the most important steps in the history of Plymouth's administrative life..' was taken on Thursday February 28th 1935 when the Mayor of Plymouth, Alderman J E Pillar, opened the new Fire Station and Mr A L Dixon, Assistant Under-Secretary for the Home Department, opened the new Police Headquarters and Magistrate's Court at Greenbank.  [5]

Read more about the Greenbank Police Headquarters..........

Mr William Clarence Johnson left to become Deputy Chief Constable of Birmingham City Police was replaced on Monday March 23rd 1936 by Mr George Sydney Lowe from Newcastle-under-Lyme.  During his short time in Plymouth Mr Johnson had overseen the transfer of the headquarters from the Guildhall to Greenbank and instituted a comprehensive network of police boxes and telephone pillars throughout the City.   [6]

Traffic Division was formed in 1937.

On September 11th 1940 the tender was accepted from Mr J W Spencer, building contractor, in the sum of 498 for the conversion of the Wolseley Road Cinema into an Auxiliary Fire Service and Police sub-station.  The premises taken rented from Messrs H & G Simonds, brewers, of Reading, Berkshire, on a 7-years lease terminable at the end of the War by 3 months notice.  The rent was 60 per annum.  [7]

During a major raid on the Royal Dockyard at Devonport on April 30th 1941, recently promoted Sergeant Edward Harold Gibbs, was killed while on duty at the corner of Corondale Road and Beacon Park Road.   His brother, Mr Sydney James Loveys Gibbs, the Head ARP Warden, and Sydney's 15-years-old son Master David Edward Gibbs, an ARP messenger boy, were killed at the same time.  [8]

The Police telephone exchange at Greenbank Police Station was reported as being out of order at 9,21pm on the night of March 20th 1941.  This was due to a high explosive bomb having exploded a short distance from the Police Station.  This also knocked all but five of the Police Telephone Boxes and Telephone Pillars.  The Devonport telephone system was not affected.  [8a] 

Following the bombing of the Greenbank Police Station, approval was given on June 11th 1941 to Widey Court being taken over as a Police Reinforcement Base from May 21st 1941.  [9]

Police van JY 5283 was wrecked in an accident on June 19th 1941. The insurers paid out 50 as compensation.  [10]

The new police station in Wolseley Road, Camel's Head, was operational by July 1941.  [11]

On November 30th 1941 the Chief Constable, Mr George Sydney Lowe, resigned to take up a post as Chief Constable at Sheffield, Yorkshire.  He was replaced by Chief Superintendent William Thomas Hutchings (1892-1943) upon promotion.  [11a]

Tuesday March 3rd 1942 was a very special day for a number of City of Plymouth police officers who, on that day, attended an investiture at Buckingham Palace when HM King George VI presented them with the British Empire Medals (BEM) for their bravery and gallant conduct during the heavy bombing raids of March and April 1941.  They were: Inspector Herbert Beswick; Police Constable Robert Eakers; and Aircraftman (formerly Police Constable) Alan John Hill.   Among those in the audience were 2-years-old Wendy Hill and 9-years-old Beryl Eakers.  [12]

Following the bombing of Greenbank just after midnight on June 11th 1943, the headquarters were moved to Widey Court and then back to Greenbank.

On June 21st 1943, Mr John Fawke Skittery (1907-1968) became Chief Constable following the sudden death of Mr William Thomas Hutchings (1891-1943). Mr Skittery became the first of Plymouth's Chief Constables to wear the Crown on his uniform rather than the City crest, as did all his officers.  [13]

The Plymouth City Police Force memorial to those officers who fell in Plymouth or in service overseas during World War 2 bears the names of:

Regular Police - W J Brooks, R A Chilcott DFC, J T G Gerretty, E H Gibbs, R W Sandover, W T Sandover, K J Walters and N E West;

First Police Reserve - W J Cheek and A E Crosby;

Special Constabulary - S J H Baker, W J A Beer, S J B Hannam,
A E Harris and W J K Hutchings;

Police War Reserve - W D Stribley, L C Vickery and W White.

It concludes with the verse:

'And two things have altered not
Since first the world began
The beauty of the wild green earth
And the bravery of man.'

Regular wireless patrols were started on January 1st 1946 operating for 16 hours per day. A car could reach any part of the City in 4 minutes.

When at Midday on Friday November 29th 1946 23-years-old Miss Iris Martin of 33 Bridwell Road, Weston Mill, Plymouth, stepped out into the middle of the road at Hyde Park Corner, Mutley Plain, she earned her place in Plymouth's local history as the first Woman Police Constable to perform point duty in the City.  [13a]

Devon County Police first used wireless patrols in 1948 in 'H' Division (Plympton & Roborough); this was made possible through the co-operation of the Chief Constable of Plymouth allowing them to use the Plymouth wavelength. Within a matter of weeks a car was stolen from Milehouse and the owner reported its loss to Greenbank Police Station. Its details were put over the radio and received by a Devon County car operating on Roborough Down. Practically the first car they saw was the stolen vehicle and it was stopped and the thief arrested.  [14]

In May 1948 a young man by the name of Frederick Davey joined the City of Plymouth Police.  Fifty-seven years later he has supplied some reminiscences of the beat organisation over the years.

The Chief Constable's pay was increased from December 16th 1955 to 2,160 pa.  [15]

The 1964 Police Act proposed the abolition of certain police forces. The Home Secretary issued a programme of enforced amalgamations on May 18th 1966.  [16]

Mr John Fawke Skittery (1907-1968) retired on Wednesday June 30th 1965.  He was looking forward to spending his retirement at Postbridge, on Dartmoor, looking after his bees, breeding whippets, and following the Hunt.  Sadly it was not to be, as he collapsed and died at Postbridge on Wednesday March 20th 1968.  [17]

On July 1st 1965, Mr Ronald Gregory became Chief Constable.

The final parade of the City of Plymouth Police Force took place on Friday May 12th 1967.

The City of Plymouth Police were amalgamated with the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary from Thursday June 1st 1967. The last Watch Committee meeting was held that day.   Many of the City officers reserved their right not to serve outside the City and they also declined to change their style of uniform, although this was by choice rather than by right.

It must be recorded that the Plymouth Police was never a Constabulary as that title was reserved for County police forces.

Principal Source:

Dickaty, Ernest A, "From Rattle to Radio", manuscript history deposited with the Plymouth Local Studies Library, Plymouth, October 1977.

Other Sources:

[1]  "Plymouth Traffic Control: City Entitled Three Special Vehicles", Western Morning News, Plymouth, December 18th 1930.

[2]  Plymouth City Council, Minute 2270 dated April 22nd 1931.

[3]  Dell, Simon, MBE, "Mutiny on the Moor: The Story of the Dartmoor Prison Riot of 1932", Forest Books, Newton Abbot, Devon, 2006.

[4]  Plymouth City Council, Minute 131 dated November 24th 1933.

[5]  "Landmark in Progress of Plymouth: New Headquarters Opened", Western Morning News, March 1st 1935.

[6]  "Police Chief: Mr Johnson's Departure From Plymouth", Western Morning News, Plymouth, March 21st 1936.

[7]  Plymouth City Council, Minute 3311 dated September 11th 1940.

[8]  Plymouth City Council, "Civilian Roll of Honour 1939-1945", copies held by Plymouth Local Studies Library and Plymouth & West Devon Record Office.

[8a]  "City of Plymouth: Air Raids March 20th/21st 1941: ARP Controller's Report", held by the Plymouth Local Studies Library.

[9]  Plymouth City Council, Minute 1774 dated June 11th 1941.

[10]  Plymouth City Council, Minute 1069 dated February 18th 1942.

[11]  Plymouth City Council, Minute 2127 dated July 21st 1941.

[11a]  Plymouth City Council minutes 2722 and 2723 dated October 29th 1941.

[12]  "Kiddies See Hero-Fathers Decorated: City Firemen and Police at Palace", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, March 5th 1942.  With thanks to PC Hill's daughter, Julie, for drawing attention to this Investiture.  He went on to serve for 28 years in the Royal Air Force.

[13]  Dickaty, Ernest A, "From Rattle to Radio", manuscript history deposited with the Plymouth Local Studies Library, Plymouth, October 1977.

[13a]  "Plymouth's First Woman To Do This: Police Point Duty on the Plain", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, November 29th 1946.

[14]  Hutchings, Walter J, "Out of the Blue: History of the Devon Constabulary", Mr Walter J Hutchings, Newton Abbot, Devon, 2nd edition, 1957.

[15]  Plymouth City Council, Minute 454 dated May 30th 1956.

[16]  Critchley, T A,  "A History of Police in England and Wales", Constable, London, 1978.

[17]  "Lord Mayor's Tribute to Mr Skittery: Gift from Watch Committee", Western Morning News, Plymouth, June 30th 1965 + "Former Chief Constable Dies", Western Morning News, Plymouth, March 21st 1968.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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