History of Policing in Portsmouth

Researchers shoud be aware of the following Portsmouth City History Research facilities a brand new online community archive created by Portsmouth City Museum in association with Portsmouth History Centre. Visitors to the website can add information about the people, places and topics that tell the story of Portsmouth, as well as pictures, memories and comments.

Portsmouth History Centre at www.portsmouthrecordsoffice.co.uk/records/search-room which holds some Portsmouth police records).

Henry Lindsay Harold “Len” Fisher who was Deputy Chief Constable with the Portsmouth Police around 1924.The attached photo of him was taken in 1924. He was born in Portsmouth 25 Dec 1890 and died Sep 1969.



Contributed by Terry Swetnam

The first uniformed Police to be seen in Portsmouth was in 1833. This consisted of three Inspectors, three Sergeants and thirty six Constables of the Metropolitan Police in Portsmouth Dockyard. This Force, formed in 1829 eventually took over responsibility of guarding all dockyards, Royal Palaces, and similar establishments in the country.

However records show the existence of “Constables” in Portsmouth, as early as the 13th Century. These men did not wear uniforms, but carried out their normal employment, but were liable to be turned out at any hour of the day or night to discharge their duties.

Their numbers were drawn from a wide range of townsmen, from the humble artisan to the wealthy tradesmen, and a high proportion of the “Constables” came from the ranks of the victualers.

Portsmouth itself, had expanded from a small fishing hamlet in the south west corner of Portsea Island, around the Camber area, to three major areas. These were the town of Portsmouth (Old Portsmouth), Portsea, and the area of Southsea.

The towns of Portsmouth and Portsea were heavily fortified by strong stone walls, and access could only be gained through large gates, that were closed at curfew times.

In 1783 a body of twelve watchmen were formed to patrol the streets, and ordered to prevent all mischief’s, happening by fire, as well as murders, burglaries, robberies and other outrages and disorders, and to arrest and apprehend all night-walkers, malefactors and suspected persons found wandering and misbehaving themselves.

They patrolled the streets from eight o’clock in the evenings, until five o’clock in the morning, and each were armed with a staff and a lantern. They were later directed to cry out the time whilst on their patrols.

In 1835 The Municipal Corporation Act was passed, and empowered the establishment of a regular Police Force. An advertisement appeared in the local paper, and asked for – one Superintendent, four Inspectors, four sub-inspectors, and twenty four constables. By March 1836 the following ranks were attested –

6 Head Constables at £40 per annum

12 ordinary Constables at £10 per annum

12 Night Constables at 14s . per week each.

Three principal watch stations (not Police Stations) were formed, one in the town of Portsmouth, one in the town of Portsea, and one outside the walls (Southsea area).

Eventually some of these men would be issued with a blue frock coat and trousers, top hat (normal every day wear at the time) great coat, cape and belt.

By 1837 the Watch Committee assumes the command of the Fire Engines, firstly the horse drawn appliances, then the steam self-propelled engine, and even later motorised vehicles. This state of affairs continued right up until August 1941, when the Portsmouth Police Fire Brigade and the Auxiliary Fire Service were transferred to the Government control to become the National Fire Service.

Jim Cramer

Jim Cramer, helmet Portsmth circa 1868-90

The Portsmouth Police Force was remodelled by 1839 to consist of – One Superintendent, at a salary of £100 per annum, 3 Inspectors with a salary of £30 per year with a proportion of Court fees added, 3 Sub-Inspectors at a wage of 17s per week, and 24 Constables, also at a wage of 17s per week.

The standard required for the new members – to be under 40 years of age, and over 5’7” tall

During this time anyone who could not read or write, or who could only write his name, would be expected to progress in their knowledge of reading and writing. If they progressed in these subjects, they would be appointed for a longer period. It would appear that they preferred “brawn” to “brains” at this time.

By March 1843 the first proper Police Station was built in Ordnance Row, Portsea at a cost of £250. However from 1930, this building was not occupied by the Police, but as an office for the PDSA only to be pulled down in 1956 to make way for a petrol station. Later other Police Stations were to be built in Portsmouth.

In 1872 Southsea Police Station was opened at the junction of Albert Road with Victoria Road North. In 1890 the new Guildhall was opened on its present site, and the Police Department (as it was called) was on the ground floor. In 1906 a piece of land was purchased at the junction of Eastney and Essex Road in order that Eastney Police Station could be built, but it was not opened until 1914.

Other Police Stations to be built included Fratton Police Station (opposite the City of Portsmouth Girls School) Kingston Crescent Police Station in Fratton Road (opposite the junction with Kingston Crescent).

With regards to headwear, the top hats were to be replaced by helmets by 1868, the badge was oval with a crown on top, and the Portsmouth coat of Arms of the Star and Crescent in the centre. This in turn was to be replaced by a new helmet with a small knob and badge, to be replaced with another with a silvered knob on top, chain chin strap, and a large silvered badge. In later years, this also was replaced by the helmet type we see today.

By about 1900, the Portsmouth Police had its own Mounted Branch, which, at first consisted of two horses, “Alec” and “Chestnut”. The branch was increased to one sergeant and four constables. During this time, one officer had the distinguishing rank of “Corporal of the Horse”. The last two horses were sold in 1931 and their stables were converted into garages for two CID cars.

As well as the Mounted Branch, the Portsmouth Police had its own band, but by 1914 their instruments were handed over to the Portsmouth Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment (Volunteers) but were never returned.

At about the same time the first motor ambulance was acquired by the Force. Until then they had used, for many years, a horse drawn ambulance, and eight hand wheeled litters (similar to a costermonger’s barrow).

Similarly, about this time sixty Special Constables were sworn-in, but did not perform duty until March 1915, when the call-up of the regular Police left the Force short-handed.

At first the “Specials” were issued with an armlet, lapel badge, truncheon and a whistle, but were later given uniforms.

During the First World War, the Home Office found it necessary to forbid any more Portsmouth Policemen volunteering to serve in the Armed Forces. During this War twelve members of the Force died, through War Service, and five more resigned through disablement. One hundred and thirty nine others had served in one of other of the Services.

In July 1919 the first three Policewomen in Portsmouth were appointed out of fifty applicants. They were issued with wide brimmed hats, jackets, skirts, tall lace-up boots and leather belts.

In 1924 Portsmouth extended its boundaries from “the Green Posts” in London Road (near the junction with Torrington Road) where it had been since the formation of the Force, out to “The New Inn”, Drayton, taking in Cosham Police Station (Windsor Road) from the Hampshire County Constabulary.

By 21st April 1926 Portsmouth ceased to be a County Borough but was elevated to the status of a City, and the Police Force changed its name accordingly.

1930 saw the introduction, at the end of that year of Police motor patrols. Five constables were allotted to patrol the City in two motor cycle combinations.

Other changed in the City was the introduction of a new helmet for the Portsmouth Force. It had a silvered pike on top, and was taken into wear for normal day use. The Night Duty helmet was plain and with black metal work. The knobbed and chain curbed helmet still being worn for “best dress”.

In 1938, following the Munich crisis arrangements were made by the Police to recruit and train auxiliary firemen, Special Constables, Air Raid Wardens and other auxiliaries. The Police themselves were trained in anti-gas precautions. By April 1939 the first Police Reserve and Police War Reserves were constituted, to assist the regular Portsmouth Police Force.

On the 1st September 1939 following the Declaration of War between England and Germany, the force of 320, laid aside their familiar peace time helmets, and donned steel helmets, painted blue with white lettering “Police”. They also carried gas masks.

During the Second World War, one George medal, an MBE, six BEMs, five King’s Commendations were awarded to thePortsmouth Police Force, for acts of gallantry during the German air raids on the City. Eight members of the Force were killed by enemy action, during the air raids on Portsmouth.

Out of 119 men from the Force, who joined the Armed Services, 16 lost their lives, and three were invalided out because of their wounds.

During the Air Raids on the City, the Portsmouth City Police Choir was formed on 3rd January 1941, from Police officers on stand-by duties during these raids, when they started a “sing song” Mr C J Cracknell, a Special Constable was appointed as Musical Director.

Following the destruction of the Guildhall “A” Division of the Force was accommodated in part of the Municipal College, and Police Headquarters moved to “Byculla” Queen’s Crescent, Southsea. Prison Commissioners later agreed to allow part of Kingston Prison to be used for Police accommodation.

In May 1942 all Policemen under the age of 25 years would be liable to be “called up” in the Armed Services.

The Home Office allowed for large establishment of Police Auxiliaries

315 War Reserves

400 Part-time Specials

125 Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps

30 Police Auxiliary Messengers

After World War Two saw the standing-down of some Auxiliary Police, WAPC and PAMS.

H.M.I. inspection of the Portsmouth Police Force in 1927 at the Victoria Barracks,Portsmouth

Further developments in 1946 saw Portsmouth extended its boundaries, the Portsmouth City Police Information Room was opened. Two years later “C” Division (Southsea) moved from Albert Road Police Station to “Craneswater Towers” 16 Festing Road, Southsea, to enable the Station to be rebuilt. July 1952 saw the opening of the new Cosham Police Station at the junction of Northern Road and Wayte Street, Cosham.

June 1958 Portsmouth City Police received its first Police dog “Mounts Browne Ingot” followed later by another “Knightly Dignity” and some years later, the third “Prince”.

31st July 1959 – the new “A” Division (Central) police station was officially opened. The former station had been located in unsuitable accommodation in St Michael’s Vicarage since 5th December 1944.

31st March 1967 – the authorised strength of the Portsmouth City Police Force was as follows:

1 Chief Constable

1 Assistant Chief Constable

7 Superintendents

4 Chief Inspectors

24 Inspectors

76 Sergeants

413 Constables

1 Woman Inspector

3 Women Sergeants

20 Women Constables

Making a total of 550

In addition there were 18 Police Cadets, 78 School Crossing Patrol men and 25 Traffic Wardens.

Following a directive from the Home Secretary it was decided that the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary, the Southampton City Police and the Portsmouth City Police should be amalgamated to form one force, with the title of the Hampshire Constabulary with effect from midnight on 31st March 1967.

Contributed by Terry Swetnam

Transcribed by MS

In 1887 The Borough Police Stations were as follows:

  • Russell Street, Landport (Chief Station)
  • Penny Street, Portsmouth
  • Ordnance Row, Portsea
  • Albert Road, Southsea
  • Buckland Road, Buckland

Strength 152Chief Constable Mr A. W.Cosser


  • Robert Gibbs (Chief)
  • Thomas Hood
  • Samuel Hales
  • Charles Bidgood (Det. Insp.)
  • William Porter
  • George Cosser
  • George Coles

Note – Two Inspectors, 11 Sergeants and 22 constables formed the Fire Brigade

Portsmouth City Police Roll 1918 – 1967

(click – PDF)