1913 - the Birmingham City Police Ball

1913 could very well have been a different world in terms of policing. In Birmingham, it was two years before the Chief Constable traded in his horse and carriage for a motorcar, and whilst lock-up matrons had been introduced in 1902 as the first ‘operational’ female role, it would be a further 4 years before we recruited our first two policewomen

And of course, it was a year before the start of the Great War, where 550 Birmingham officers left the police to join the forces.

The police band was in its heyday (not to take anything away from how successful they are now, especially after an outstanding performance last weekend at the COPS Service of Remembrance) with rehearsals, performances and operational duties being frequently mentioned in police orders. The band also held a concert for which they sold tickets, the proceeds of which would likely have gone to the Benevolent Fund or the Police Orphanage.

The Police Ball, where the band performed, was a huge event and the vast majority of officers would attend. Most of the attendees from 1913 are featured in the above picture - each officer was allowed only one guest.

Marian James (who met her husband in 1914 and became Marian Wheeler) was a singer performing at the Police Ball. Marian is the third lady from the right on the front row, sitting next to Lady Rafter (Chief Charles Rafter’s wife). She went on to do very well as a singer and performed with Violet Carson, who later featured in Coronation Street.

Birmingham Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 100th birthday in the same year – Birmingham City Police had to police a banquet with various dignitaries.

It was this year that the weekly rest day was introduced and officers were able to take 4 days off a month instead of the previous 3. Privilege indeed!

Rumblings were starting about a police wanting to form an ‘association’ – the first hint of the great police strike in 1919 which saw hundreds of officers in Birmingham and Liverpool go on strike in protest against pay and conditions, which led to the formation of the Police Federation, which actually saw police wages double. Unfortunately for those who took part in the strike there was no leniency shown and they were all dismissed with no exception.

The Chief at the time (and in the picture (front row seated, in the middle) Charles Haughton Rafter was the longest ever serving Chief in Birmingham, possibly the country, with 36 years’ service – right up to his death in 1935. He was hugely respected by both the police and the public and pre-empted much national legislation and guidance by introducing policewomen, separating juveniles from adult courts, focussing on crime prevention and ensuring that all of his officers paid particular attention to the living and working conditions of children. He was also deemed largely responsible for stamping out the Peaky Blinders gangs – they were rife from the 1880s right up to around 1920 then seem to have disappeared from history.