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Thursday, 14 June 2018

A Policeman's Lot: Sepia Saturday

This week’s prompt photograph from Sepia Saturday is a formal one of a group of British policeman, taken in 1875.

My mind took me back to a motley group of policeman  who in 1879 made their  debut on stage in the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta  Pirates of Penzance” which was premiered that year and features the song   "A Policeman's Lot is Not a Happy One"  where the policemen have a key hilarious  role in trying to apprehend the pirates.

Rather a long time ago,  I sang in the chorus of the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group.  Our  performances were the highlight of my year, a wonderful experience  and "Pirates" remains my favourite - lovely costume, ringlet hair pieces, great  choruses to sing,  and even some dancing.  How could I ask for more?

Here I am, the the third girl from the right, with the orange lining to my hat, singing in a rousing double chorus with the policeman as we send them off to "Death and Glory". 


There is a police connection  with my family but it puzzled  me and  provoked the question to my father  "What exactly do  you do, Daddy? " 

In the 1950's I have  memories at primary school of being asked every year to fill in a form with personal details, one of which was the occupation of my father.

I knew the answer to this was   "commercial traveler" - not something I could come to terms with, as to me a traveler meant someone such as Marco Polo or Sir Walter Raleigh.  who undertook daring journeys across the world in centuries past.  Dad used to go away for days at a time, but usually from  Lancashire to Westmorland and Cumberland - not exactly exotic destinations for an explorer.   

I also remember relating at school that on Sundays he was a policeman - something again  I could not quite understand.   I  saw him go out in the evening  in his uniform, though he did not wear the traditional flowerpot helmet of the regular constables, but a peaked cap.   

The reality was this was a voluntary role as a Special  Constable.  I remember feeling very proud seeing him on duty,   as I stood with the Brownies waving our flags, when the Queen came to Blackpool.   Sadly no photograph. 


A  long-held story in my husband's family recollected a photograph (sadly lost) of a White ancestor in a top hat in the uniform of the River Tyne police.   A silver uniform button  (left) is  still held by the family who came from South Shields. 

Tyne and Wear Archives provided some answers. The Nominal Roll of the Tyne River Police gave details that  two sons of Matthew Iley White  (senior),   had been  members of the river police force – but both with rather a chequered career.

Henry White  joined 9th January 1882 and brother Matthew June 1896.  The Police Defaulters Book recorded on 11th June 1889 their  misconduct in the same incident -  "for assaulting a seaman A. W. Hanson and other irregularities, whilst off duty".   

 Henry was fined 2/6 and transferred to Walker Division at his own expense.  The Nominal Roll of 1904 noted his age as 42 and that he had 22 years of service, with a wage of 29/6. Matthew was fined 2/6 and transferred to the Newcastle Division at his own expense.  However he resigned a few months later.
Here is an aerial view taken as we were coming into land at Newcastle Airport, with a clear picture of the River Tyne, its north and south piers. and on the left South Shields, the home of my husband's ancestors.  The first purpose-built lifeboat in the world was built in South Shields in 1789.  


Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity 
to share their family history through photographs.
To discover more policeman tales from Sepia Saturday bloggers, click HERE


  1. Nice photo of you in the musical. Wish it could be enlarged for a better view!

  2. A nice connection to your theatrical endeavors.

  3. Oh yes, the operettas had such great music! Loved hearing about the "policemen" in your life!

  4. Good connection to the prompt! Especially with your Father's role in a police patrol. Love the "Pirates of Penzance" photo. Gilbert and Sullivan is always a lot of fun with great music! I know you were in several of their operettas and loved every moment! :)

  5. I always enjoy your memories of singing in a Gilbert & Sullivan performance. You don't even need to tell us it was the time of your life because that fact is apparent in every word you use. I had a good laugh at your confusion about your dad's work. I remember filling out those forms too. I hope the ones I completed have been destroyed because if future generations find them, they will get a lot of misinformation from me.

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  6. Thank you all for your kind comments. Yes, Wendy, I agree those school forms will have wrong information. My other childhood confusion was over my father's middle name with the initial P - he pulled my leg that it stood for Philip (like the Duke of Edinburgh - this was the 1950's so he was in the news a lot). In reality it was Percy which he always hated -- I reckon he must have been teased at school about it. I did come across a school log book entry where he was down as Perce!


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