I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady the Queen and the office of the Constable for the County of Glamorgan: The Formation of the Glamorgan Constabulary in 1841

The Glamorgan Constabulary celebrates the 175th anniversary of its formation in 2016. Many of the papers related to the establishment of the force and its long history are held at Glamorgan Archives. The records provide a detailed insight into the formation and development of the force since 1841, and a window on life in south Wales in the latter half of the 19th century and the 20th century.

It is a moot point as to when the constabulary was first formed. Arguably it dates from the appointment of the first Chief Constable, Charles Frederick Napier, on 11 August 1841. More realistically the force was formed with the swearing in of the initial batch of recruits at Bridgend Town Hall on the 23 October 1841. The original documentation used at the swearing in ceremony is held at Glamorgan Archives. It was used to both administer the oath and to record the signatures of the recruits. The ceremony was overseen by the Chief Constable, Capt. Charles Napier, the four recently appointed Superintendents and local magistrates. The document would have been handed to each man who was then required to take the oath, inserting his name in the first line.


I … do swear that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady the Queen and the office of the Constable for the County of Glamorgan according to the best of my skill and knowledge. So keep me God [ref.: DCON/Box26b].

Each man then signed the record. Although Napier had secured funding for 34 Sergeants and Constables only 30 were present on that day and the force was brought up to strength through further recruits sworn in and recorded on the same document over the following weeks. All the recruits signed their name suggesting that, rather than simply using a mark, a common practice in this period, they had basic skills in reading and writing. The record has also been signed by Napier and the four superintendents, Lewis, Davies, Leveson- Gower and Peake, probably on 19 October, 4 days before the Bridgend ceremony.

It is thought that there are no surviving photographs of the ceremony. However, it is reasonable to assume that the 30 men would have been an impressive group given that recruitment drew, primarily, from ex-servicemen well versed in military drill.  Glamorgan Archives holds a number of photographs of members of the Glamorgan Constabulary in this period [ref.: DXDG4-6] and it is possible that one of the photographs, of Police Constable Thomas Thomas, may well be the same Thomas Thomas who took the oath and signed his name on 23 October [ref.: DXDG4].


The photograph shows Thomas wearing a blue, belted, swallow tail jacket with silver embossed buttons. The jacket also had a high collar, embroidered with constable’s number in silver. Thomas is pictured holding the standard issue stove pipe top hat reinforced with metal stays to provide protection. Although not shown in the photograph, he would have worn navy blue trousers and boots in winter and white trousers in the summer. This uniform was the standard issue for the Glamorgan Constabulary for the next decade until the swallow tail coat, which provided a useful concealed pocket in the tail for the constable’s truncheon, was replaced by a frock coat.

It is just possible that the exception on that day in October 1841 might have been the six men, led by Superintendent Thomas Morgan Lewis, formerly of the force put in place to police the Caerphilly Lower and Miskin Lower Hundreds. Lewis had served in the Coldstream Guards and had based the uniform provided for his men on military designs. It is possible, therefore, that he and his men were still using the original uniforms introduced by Lewis and described as:

…swallow tail coats … of bright pilot blue, while the turned back sleeve cuffs and the embroidered crown and number on each side of the deep colour were a vivid scarlet [E R Baker, The Beginnings of the Glamorgan County Police Force, The Glamorgan Historian, Vol.2, pp.40-52].

October 23rd was a landmark day for the Chief Constable, although it was almost a month before he was satisfied that his men were suitably trained and equipped to take up their duties across the county.

The details of Napier’s appointment and the plans for the deployment of the Glamorgan Constabulary are set out in the records of the General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County of Glamorganshire.

Captain Charles Frederick Napier, now of the Rifle Brigade, after a consideration of the Testimonials of the several Candidates having been unanimously selected by them, as the most eligible person  to be appointed Chief Constable of this County – be elected to that Office [General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County of Glamorgan held at Pyle Inn on Wednesday the Eleventh day of August 1841, ref.: DMM/CO/71].

This may not have been an easy decision, for almost certainly Thomas Morgan Lewis had thrown his hat into the ring and several prominent former army officers had very publicly applied for the post. In one sense the decision to create a county force was a natural development of the powers provided in County Police Act 1839 to set up and fund such a force. However, the decision also needs to be set against the rapid increase in population in parts of south Wales, driven by the need for men in the new industries and, in particular, the rapidly expanding iron and coal industries. At the time, policing was the overall responsibility of the local magistrates and managed through decisions made by the county magistrates at the General Quarter Session of the Peace. The magistrates appreciated that a police force was needed to keep basic law and order in areas such as Merthyr, where the population was increasing at an unprecedented rate. They were also deeply concerned by the potential for unrest and challenge to the established order posed by new movements and, in particular, the Chartists, seeking basic rights for the working man.

There is no doubt that the Chartist movement was seen in this period as a very real threat in south Wales. For example, a record of a meeting of the magistrates at Merthyr Tydfil on October 12 1840 underlined the concern felt at the Chartist threat and urged that a Board of Magistrates be formed:

…for the purpose of communicating with the Lord Lieutenant and through him the Government upon the subject of the preservation of the peace of this place and for the adoption of such measures as circumstances may require for the suppression of Chartism.

There was particular concern that the Chartist cause was being promoted at secret meetings being held throughout the area and through pamphlets being distributed to local people:

Deputies, delegates from the North occasionally are attending these meetings and are believed to be at present in this neighbourhood and Duke’sTown. Meetings are held nightly. That unstamped periodicals are circulating to considerable extent and that it is desirable that the matter contained in them should be brought under the consideration of the Government as it is the opinion of the Board that the statements therein are highly mischievous and dangerous to the public peace [Meeting of the Magistrates at Merthyr Tydfil at the Castle Inn, Merthyr Tydfil, October 12th 1840, ref.: DMM/CO/71].

By the mid-1830s many areas, including Merthyr, Bridgend and Aberavon had begun to appoint their own police forces. This was a recognition that, faced with such pressures, the traditional patterns of policing based on the annual appointment of a man from each parish as an unpaid local constable were no longer sufficient to deal with the strains on society brought about by industrialisation and the movement of labour. To fund the new force the County Magistrates had agreed that …a Police Rate of £800 be raised within the several Districts of the County for the purpose of the Police. Nevertheless, despite the recognised need for a dedicated police force, this would have been quite a contentious issue given the general reluctance to impose new taxes. In particular, the rural areas saw this as a tax imposed on them to fund the policing of the new and rapidly expanding towns. As might be imagined, Napier saw the sum proposed as the absolute minimum given the need to establish and equip a new force. He was also keen to ensure that he had a free hand in the day to day running of the force. On this subject, it was agreed that:

…the value and usefulness of the Force, must necessarily depend on the cordial co-operation of the Magistrates, with, and their full confidence in the Chief Constable; their total abstinence from all interference in recommending the appointment or dismissal of Individuals as Constables – his selection of the places as which they shall be fixed – his internal arrangement, or any other matter which the Legislature has committed to his charge [General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County of Glamorgan held at the Pyle Inn on Wednesday Eleventh day of August 1841, ref.: DMM/CO/71].

After conducting a tour of the county, Napier presented his first report to the General Quarter Sessions, on 30 August 1841:

I propose the force be divided into three Classes viz Sergeants or First Class at 22s; Second Class at 20s: Third Class at 18s; the numbers would be Sergeants, Eleven; Second Class, Eleven; Third Class, Twelve [General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County of Glamorgan held at the Pyle Inn on Monday the Thirtieth day of August 1841, ref.: DMM/CO/71].

The creation of two classes of constable was a measure introduced by Napier specifically to stretch the budget and increase the number of men at his disposal. In addition, Napier proposed that the county be divided into four districts – Merthyr, Newbridge, Swansea and Ogmore. There is no doubt that he was very aware of where his force faced its greatest challenge and the Merthyr district was allocated 12 of his 34 men, leaving the other districts thinly policed. He also underlined the poor state and, in some cases, complete absence of suitable accommodation for his men. A central part of his proposals dealt, therefore, with the need for the construction of a station house and cells in each district.

The proposals for each of the districts provide a useful insight into the ad hoc state of the arrangements for policing that Napier inherited, and the challenge that the new Glamorgan Constabulary faced. For example, with regard to Merthyr, he informed the General Quarter Sessions:

I have inspected the Cells at present in use in Merthyr and found them totally unfit for the reception of Prisoners, indeed so much so, that Magistrates find it necessary to place prisoners at Public Houses, in charge of a Constable, at a considerable additional expense to the County [General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County of Glamorgan held at the Pyle Inn on Monday, Thirtieth day of August 1841, ref.: DMM/CO/71].

There was a similar situation in the Newbridge area:

In erecting a station house I would advise that apartments be provided for the Constable there stationed, with three Cells for Prisoners. At present there is no lock up house at this place. I consider Cells necessary for the security of Prisoners, as there is considerable risk in the present method of confining them at the private dwelling of the Constable.

I would recommend the erection of suitable lock up houses at Llantrisant and Caerphilly – the present Cells at these places are of the worst possible descriptions.

His proposals for Swansea illustrated just how far he was required to stretch his resources. Only a Superintendent, sergeant and 5 officers could be made available for this district, with priority being given to the most lawless areas and building partnerships with other police forces in the area:

I think Pontardawe the most central part for the Residence of the Superintendent. The force allotted to this District, I consider small. I have placed the Constables where crime is most to be apprehended; and to the neglect of the Western Agricultural portion of the District, to which I should have assigned another Constable had the number permitted.

On visiting Ystradgunlais my attention was drawn to the Twrch Valley where are located a considerable population reported to be of lawless character.

I should suggest that an arrangement should be entered into with the Magistrates of the County of Brecon, in order that the whole of the Vale of Twrch, may be under the charge of the constable stationed in that quarter – the County boundary affording facilities for the escape of delinquents.

The only lock up houses in the district are at Aberavon and Cwmavon which have been erected by private subscription and I have no doubt would be given up for the purposes of the Force….

I would recommend that a suitable Station house be erected at Pontardawe.

I find that there is a Police Force established along the line of the Swansea Canal who are paid by the Committee of Traders. I think it highly desirable that this force should co-operate with the men under my charge, and by doing so, a mutual advantage would be derived [General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County of Glamorgan held at the Pyle Inn on Monday, Thirtieth day of August 1841, ref.: DMM/CO/71].

The fact that his proposals on numbers of men and the construction of new station houses were accepted without amendment underlined the extent to which the magistrates saw the new force as essential in a period of rapid industrialisation. After the swearing in ceremony was complete the new force was housed at the Bridgend Workhouse and provided with a period of basic training. It was, therefore, not until the latter half of November 1841 that the new Glamorgan Constabulary took up its district responsibilities, no doubt operating from existing or temporary premises while the new buildings were put in place. However, all in all, it was a remarkable achievement to create and deploy the new force in a matter of months, and the Glamorgan Constabulary was soon attracting national attention for its success in solving several high profile cases.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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