2017 marks not one, but two very special anniversaries for West Sussex Constabulary. They were formed on 4th April 1857 as a result of the County and Police Act 1856 which made it compulsory for counties to have their own police force. The earlier County Police Act of 1839 enabled Justices of the Peace to form their own police forces, but it was not compulsory to do so; West Sussex was one of the counties which decided not to at this time. West Sussex Constabulary ended in December 1967, when all the forces of Sussex were amalgamated into Sussex Constabulary on 1st January 1968 as part of the Police Act of 1964. However, the Sussex police forces had previously temporarily amalgamated from 1943-1947 due to the war effort.
West Sussex Constabulary was not the first system of policing in the county. Chichester City police and Arundel Borough police had existed since 1836 due to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 which
allowed boroughs operating under this act to form their own police force. They existed until 1889 when the Local Government Act of 1888 declared that boroughs with less than 10,000 people were not required to have their own police force; thus they were amalgamated into the local Constabulary. Before this point, law enforcement such as parish constables and prosecuting societies were in place to try and keep the peace.
West Sussex Constabulary started with 70 police officers in 1857; at the time of amalgamation in 1968, it was nearly 700 strong. The original headquarters was at Petworth, later moving to Horsham, and finally ending up in Chichester.
West Sussex Record Office holds the West Sussex Constabulary archive. It includes a wealth of documents such as day and occurrence books, charge registers and examination books. The police archive is a great source of social history; police officers were required to keep meticulous records and no one knew the local area better than the bobby on his beat! As we also hold Quarter Session records, it is possible to see the whole paper trail, from arrest, charge and court trial, through to conviction and sentencing or acquittal.
The examination books are service records of police officers and give a great amount of detail, such as their date and place of birth, where they were stationed, remarks about their service, what their occupation was and so on. Many of the records also mention ‘permission to marry’: police officers were required to get the Chief Constable’s
permission to marry, and were not allowed to marry into a family which had a ‘reputed bad character’! Some of the more poignant records of service include letters written to the Chief Constable asking to join Kitchener’s Army at the start of the First World War and requesting that their place in the police force remain open (some even ask whether their wives can stay living in the police cottage during their absence). 94 West Sussex Constables went to the Front: 21 did not return. Considering there were only around 150 constables in the force during this time, it was a large percentage. Over 800 men were sworn in as Special Constables during the first 18 months of the War; a report in the Chichester Observer remarked that Chichester, with the exception of higher officials, was entirely run by special constables.
The first policewoman in Sussex joined West Sussex Constabulary in 1919; her name was Gladys Moss and she was the first woman police motorcyclist, serving in Worthing until her retirement in 1941.
If you would like to find out more about West Sussex Constabulary, I am giving an illustrated talk at the Record Office on Tuesday 25th April at 7pm entitled ‘On the Beat: the history and archive of West Sussex Constabulary 1857-1967’. Tickets are £8 including refreshments and a selection of documents will be out on display. Tickets must be booked in advance by calling our reception on 01243 753602.