March meeting : Neath Borough Police
Neath Borough Police 1837 – 1947
Mr Martin Griffiths, this month’s speaker, is an ex-policeman and this showed in this tremendous analytical or even ‘forensic’ account of the history of the Neath Borough Police. He promised the audience that this would be a “warts and all”, account of one of the smallest police forces in the country with its rather colourful history.
The Gordon Riots
The illustrated lecture began with the reasons for the formation of police forces in the first place. The 19th century was noted by its unrest which included riots of political, religious and social causes meant that the authorities had to revert to the Riot Act and call out the troops ( as happened in Merthyr Tudful and Newport in the 1830s Ed.). Even though the mediaeval posts of parish constables and watchmen did exist, these were largely ineffective and even voluntary posts in the community.
Famously, Sir Robert Peel, the then Home Secretary set up the first organised and uniformed modern police force in 1927 in London with 3,000 men recruited, all over 35 years of age and at least 5 feet 7” tall. The uniforms, which initially included top hats, swallow tailed coats and duck trousers were aimed at giving the police a “man about town”appearance in order to give an air of calm. During the century, headwear varied from French style kepis to German style helmets. They also carried a long stick, rattle and sometimes a cutlass.
As the idea of local police forces spread, a Watch Committee was set up in Neath in 1835, then a small borough of only 3,000 people situated between the docks and castle.
Neath Jail built 1807
The name of the first constable to be appointed was a certain colourful David Protheroe (now immortalised in the name of a rather popular hostelry in the Parade). His, was a lone police force (though his wife deputised at times!) and he was given a generous salary of £52 per annum. He resigned in 1837 (possibly following a beating) and may have left for Bridgend though a mystery surrounds his advanced age of fifty five years. Following the departure of David Protheroe the number of policemen was raised to three with a much reduced wage supplemented by collecting the night soil. The duties of the police were also laid down with service amounting to 24hours, regular beats were outlined, and they were not to speak casually to the public nor take gratuities.
In 1841, the Glamorgan Police Force was established under the leadership of Captain Napier and only 23 policemen for the whole County. Napier suggested that the two forces should be combined, but this was rejected, though the two did share facilities when a joint police station was built in 1843.
Mr Griffiths then turned to the various characters who had led the Neath Borough Police during its existence. Fair to say that each one was rather colourful with the tendency to resign following from scandal, drunkenness or debauchery. The titles adopted by these men were rather grandiose considering their meagre resources – from superintendent to Chief Constable. Neath was certainly a lively place to police by this time with the development of industry and 83 licensed premises to patrol. In 1862, a new police station was opened on the same site as the now David Protheroe Pub in the then Station Parade, which also included a court. Superintendent John Phillips (1860-88) had five constables and a rather bullying sergeant who was later dismissed.
The next Head Constable was a local man, Evan Evans who hailed from Pontardawe. He was a huge man of over twenty stones in weight and the rather comic impression of Evans taking charge of the new fire engine meant that the horses would struggle to move it. He was replaced briefly by Robert Kilpatrick in 1899 and then by the colourful Evan Lewis in 1906. Lewis was a philanderer and drunk who had been embroiled in controversy over his dalliance with a young woman in Birmingham. He became the target of local satirical cartoonist, Clement Truman who lampooned him in the press as a stooge of freemasonry.
Evan Lewis pilloried
Richard Jones became Chief Constable in 1906; quickly followed by William Higgs who saw the force grow to 22 policemen by 1921. The charismatic Horatio Rawlings took the post between1922-26 and also oversaw the amalgamation of Briton Ferry into the Borough force so increasing its manpower to 44.
Horatio Rawlings marching in Eastland Rd.
The ‘old’ police station in the Parade which now houses the David Protheroe Public House was also built in the 1930s.
The present David Protheroe in the Parade
In 1926, the talented Percy Keep took office and introduced both police boxes and traffic lights in the town. The Second World War put extra pressure on Keep as the force grew in number and complexity and Keep was replaced in 1943 by Great War hero Ernest Rollings as Chief Constable, Rolling had been initially overlooked for the post. The final incumbent was William Doolan, an Irishman, who in his short time as Chief Constable modernised the force by introducing a finger prints department and radio enabled cars.
The two forces in Neath amalgamated without much ceremony on April 1st 1947 though the Neath Division as it was then called carried a letter ‘N’ on their epaulettes until the 1960s. Another echo of a past age is the fact that the Mayor of Neath is also to this day,the Constable of Neath Castle.
Mr Trefor Jones thanked Mr Griffiths for a fabulous lecture and said that he now realised where the famous author Terry Pratchett based his City Watch characters.
Neath Borough Police with William Doolan
Members should note that the next two meetings will take place at the Community Centre owing to the refurbishment of the Church Hall. The speaker at next month’s meeting will be Mr Peter Hain MP.