Policing - Epsom


An artist's impression of the Robin Redbreasts. The 19th Century Police Horse Patrols
An artist's impression of the Robin Redbreasts
The 19th Century Police Horse Patrols
Image courtesy of, and painted by, Mrs A. Reed J.P. © 2009

Although the Justices (of the Peace) had the responsibility for maintaining order and the investigation of crime, and had done so since the creation of the office*, by the 19th century the actual policing in the Epsom area was carried out by Parish Constables, or Headboroughs, appointed by the justices. During the early part of the 19th century, some of the local roads were also patrolled by members of the Horse Patrols, part of the organization of the Bow Street Runners.

These wore a double breasted coat with gilt buttons, a leather stock, white gloves, black leather tall hat, top boots and a scarlet waistcoat, hence the nickname "Robin Redbreasts". They were armed with a pistol, heavy sabre, and truncheon and carried handcuffs. There were four divisions: the second division covered Epsom. There were a number of Horse Patrol stations; among them were Merton, Sutton, Wimbledon and Ewell. From records in the National Archives, it appears there were at least four men, patrolling part of the area adjacent to Epsom. They were: W Wright covering Merton to Mitcham and Sutton, G Drake Merton to the Ewell Turnpike and W Richardson Cheam to Merton Gate. They were paid 3/- (15p) a day. Sometimes the men were employed on what was termed "Special Service" to police fairs, races etc. For such duty, they received an extra days pay.

Epsom Police c.1860
Epsom Police c.1860
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

The following instructions governing their duties are among others contained in an order book of 1827 now in the National Archives:-
iv. When passing persons in carriages the Patrol are to call out in a good and distinct tone, Bow Street Patrol.
ix. They are to live with their family in the house provided keeping it clean and decent and not to have pigs or other animals which feed on corn ..... they are not to be absent from their homes for more than Two miles without permission.
x. Every Patrol when from home is to appear in uniform. Any omission from this order will be deemed as shewing (sic) that he is ashamed of the situation which he holds and consequently unfit to be retained.
Following the 1839 act the Horse Patrols were absorbed into the Metropolitan Police.

Peel's Police Act of 1829 brought into being the Metropolitan Police. Initially the force divided into six divisions, covered a 7 miles radius from Charing Cross, and was directly responsible to the Home Secretary. A further Police Act in 1839 confirmed the permanency of the force and enlarged the Metropolitan Police District. The Act also compelled boroughs and magistrates to disband or make over to the Metropolitan Police their peace keeping officers including the Bow Street Runners.

At the Winning Post, Eve of the Derby 1870
At the Winning Post, Eve of the Derby 1870
By W. Simpson
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum (Opens in a new window).

The proposed extension of the Metropolitan Police boundaries was not met with universal acclaim, if a petition from the Churchwardens and Overseers of the parish of Christchurch a Surrey parish, is to be believed. Particularly as the cost of the "New Police" was double that of the previous Night Constable and Watchmen. The Justices of the Copthorne and Effingham Hundred, under whose jurisdiction Epsom came, express quite a different view. In a questionnaire for the Home Office in the 1830s, answering a question on failure to bring offenders to justice, the magistrates cited a recent failure by a Constable to apprehend two offenders due to his fear of physical injury. He is quoted as saying "If I had my head broke who is to indemnify me?". They go on to comment unfavourably about the practice of the Parochial Constables hiring substitutes and how ineffective these were. Their final comments are generally supportive of a paid and efficient force, but only if the costs were moderate.

A mounted policeman in Ashley Road c.1910
A mounted policeman in Ashley Road c.1910
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum (Opens in a new window).

With the extension of the Metropolitan Police district in 1839, Epsom formed part of V or Wandsworth Division. A police document in the Office for National Statistics shows in V Division, there were six PCs living in a private house in Epsom. A Mounted Sergeant supervised Morden, North Cheam, Maiden, Ewell and Epsom. He must have spent most of his time in the saddle! It is also noted that magistrates would hear charges in their private houses. Although the document is undated, it presumably refers to a period earlier than 1852 when the police station in Epsom was built in Ashley Rd. Another document also undated shows there was a police station or police office in Epsom where charges were taken and six constables were residing in a Section House.

The Epsom Police Station in Ashley Road before the 1919 riot
The Epsom Police Station in Ashley Road before the 1919 riot
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum (Opens in a new window).

Home Office approval was granted for the erection of a police station in Epsom at a cost of £917, 3s, 7d (£ 917.375). This was occupied in 1853; initially by one Sergeant and 11 PCs. The census return of 1861 shows a Sergeant, his wife and 4 unmarried constables residing there. The others were presumably absent on the census night.

The police arrangements were perfect, Derby 1923
The police arrangements were perfect, Derby 1923
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum (Opens in a new window).

In 1919 the police station was badly damaged during a riot by Canadian soldiers and in July 1944 it was hit by a German V1 Flying Bomb. In November of that year a temporary station was set up at Worple Lodge Ashley Rd until February 1946. The present police station at Church St became operational in 1963 and is still in operation. In 1999 the Metropolitan Police handed over the responsibility of policing Epsom to the Surrey Police.

Epsom Police Station, Church Street, Epsom, March 1966
Epsom Police Station, Church Street, Epsom
Photographed by L.R. James, March 1966
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

This article was researched and written by Mr Trefor Jones © 2009


* In 1195. Richard I appointed knights to preserve the "King's Peace" in unruly areas - these knights were known as Keepers of the Peace. The title Justices of the Peace (JP) comes from the reign of Edward III when an Act in 1361 lead to the appointment, in every English county, of "good and lawful men" to "guard the Peace". These JPs had a duty to meet at least four times a year and these meetings were the basis of modern day 'Quarter Sessions'. For many centuries JPs not only carried out judicial work they also carried out many administrative duties, such as overseeing the Poor Laws and building roads, until these tasks were taken over by civil administrative systems.

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Sgt. Green
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Fracas
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Gun Crime
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Highway Robbery
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Kidnapping
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Outrage
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Prize Fight
Prize Fight