Police uniforms in Jersey

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This article by Robin Cox was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966

The evolution of police uniforms over time

When writing about the police force in Jersey it is essential to commence with the honorary system, which, although but a reference in most English history books, is a real institution in the island today.

Anglo-Saxon England saw the creation of a system of law and order whereby everybody was enabled to look after everybody else's property. With the Norman invasion, certain new ranks were introduced, such as Constable, and the keeping of the peace was delegated to the head men of each hundred families.

Honorary Police ranks

From this is derived the old term 'hundreds', or old parliamentary wards, and is an English translation of the word Centaine the headman of which was a Centenier. As each hundred grew in size, ‘twentymen’ were introduced, there being five to each hundred. Equivalent to this post in Jersey is the Vingtenier. A futther adaption of the honorary system was the introduction of the Constable's Officer.

In England, all the lesser ranks, below Constable, were swept away with the coming of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, and replaced by paid uniformed policemen. London has had the 'Peelers' as far back as 1829, and their success led to the introduction of similar forces all over England. The Channel Islands however made no attempt to introduce uniformed men, possibly because the relevant act was not applicable to the islands.

Until 1806 the honorary police were quite indistinguishable from the man-in-the-street, but it was in that year, when General Don as Lieut-Governor, that things changed. The States decreed that in order to assist the maintenance of law and order among the garrisoned troops and other strangers, the officers of the honorary police should carry staffs, each carrying the Royal and Jersey arms painted on the sides and surmounted with a carved crown. This was hailed as a good move, and the Constable of St Helier was the first officer to be given one.

In time, however, these staffs became too large for convenience. They do not seem ever to have been used in the same way as are police truncheons today, and were gradually replaced, over the years by smaller and more ornate pocket staffs. Some were made of ivory and siver, and were held in the hand, with the crown just showing.

With most of the wooden ones either broken or taken as souvenirs, and with the staffs being personal property, towards the end of the nineteenth century each parochial force found itself without any insignia of office whatsoever. This was remedied by the introduction of lapel badges, of gilt and enamel, of a different design for each parish.

Today even these badges seem to have followed along the way of the staffs, it being only the parishes in the west whose officers wear them, in any number.

Truncheons

In St Clement and St Saviour officers wear the paid police armlet when on duty in the roads, Paid police equipment is also used by the honorary police in the form of truncheons. These are no longer pleasantly painted gold, red and black, emblazoned with the name of the parish but are of the simple polished brown type. After two attempts, a paid police force finally made an appearance in l854. Crime, mostly drunkenness, had increased in the years preceding, because of the many labourers who had been brought to Jersey to help with the harbour works at St Catherine, in St Martin, and in the town. The two parishes were authorised to appoint extra centeniers to deal with the troublemakers, and these were assisted by the new 'Paid Police', albeit when most of the need had passed, and the harbour works had all but finished.

Prior to their introduction, and continuing for a short time with the paid officers, there had been a few night-watchmen who patrolled specific parts of the town, protecting property. Each man was paid by a consortium of shopkeepers to watch the property of particular streets. It appears that these men were little better than the 'charlies' by whom London was 'protected' in the latter part of the 18th century.

Police summer uniforms at Gorey in 1964

One watchman was dismissed after being seen watching thieves pulling the lead guttering off a house near the Royal Square. He was reported to his consortium who, in hearing his reply to their notice of dismissal, were informed that as he had no authority to detain such thieves, all he could do was to stand in the shadows and hope that he could recognise them, so that he could report them to the honorary police. Menwhile the thieves made their escape with the entire drinage system of several houses.

The new paid police changed all that. They commenced their labours in January 1854, in plain clothes, as their uniforms had not been completed by the local tailor entrusted with their making. The leather-bound hats, rattles, lanterns and truncheons were all brought from London in February, and were supplied to the ten men of the Paid Police Committee's choice, along with their uniforms.

The uniforms were identical to the Guernsey police, who had been on the streets for almost a year prior to those of Jersey. The old fashions of white trousers and light blue dress coat had long given way in England to a full frock coat and dark blue trousers. Guernsey had followed England, and we followed the sister isle.

Hats

The hats, originally lined inside with a thin layer of copper to offer some protection against bricks and slates dropped from roof-tops, were improved by the substitution of a leather lining which was lighter, and reduced the noise factor in the event of a hat falling to the ground in a scuffle.

The Jersey police therefore never had copperbound hats, and are therefore not really eligible for the derogatory term 'Copper'.

A close-up of the 1960s summer uniforms

The police remained for a long time responsible for fire-fighting in the town. This led to discontent among the men and among the public who realised that while the eight men were fighting the fire, and the two remaining officers were at the Maison d'arret superintending the felons, the burglar was free to do what he wished. As a result, 15 years later a special volunteer fire-fighting force was set up and the police were only called out in an emergency.

The uniform of the policeman changed little until 1879, when the cardboard helmet was introduced. It had many advantages over the old hat, not least being lightness. A further innovation came in 1895, after an unfortunate scandal involving the entire force.

Drinking in pubs

It was the custom for the off-duty constables to drink in public houses in full uniform. This was taken by the authorities to be a necessary evil and was tolerated until one evening, when a man sought the assistance of an officer partaking of ale in a public house. The officer informed the man that he was off duty and that he should go and search out another constable and tell his troubles to him.

Infuriated with the policeman's disinterestedness, the offended party stormed down to the Police Station and reported the matter to the sergeant on duty at the time. Investigation proved that the constable in the public-house was the one who should have been on duty in the area at the time, and it was revealed that at certain times of the evening it was quite impossible to find policemen anywhere in the town, as they, by custom, retired to the best ale-house on their beat, there becoming 'Off duty'.

Public indignation was to an extent satisfied by the manner in which the local press reported every stage of the official inquiry. The outcome of the whole affair, which remains with us to this day, is the red and white armlet which, in June 1895, became a part of the duty-constable's uniform.

From that time until 1950, when the Defence Committee of the States took over control of the force, renamed States of Jersey Police, the uniform changed very little, the only noticeable difference being that the tunic became more of a tunic and less like a frock coat.

When the States took over certain modernisation crept in, such things being the provision of pockets in the front of the tunic and doing away with the leather snake-shackle belt. The result was something like a dark-blue maternity smock, still buttoned to the neck, but without shape.

In 1963 a further regrettable 'improvement' was brought in, the collar-and-tie tunic. Although much improved by the addition of a belt, all remaining style and dignity vanished. The authorities redeemed themselves by introducing the coxcomb helmet in 1966, for day use, although for some time afterwards, the old helmet was work on night duty.

The old night helmet, with all but the parish crest painted over with matt black paint, vanished with the change of control in 1950. The purpose of the matt paint was to reduce the risk of reflection from a street lamp as the constable crept up behind a felon engaged in his nefarious occupation.

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