Uncovering the story of DS James Edwards

I often wonder if we will ever uncover details of all of the police officers and night watchmen from the current West Midlands area that never made it home from duty. After spending hours trawling through old ledgers at the museum and Saturday nights spent browsing the British Newspaper Archive (yes I know how to live) you would think all those fallen officers would have been identified, but that is proving not to be the case.

One such example has recently been uncovered. It started with a request to the museum last year for the records of DS James Edwards, a detective sergeant in the Birmingham Borough Police (as it was then) who had died in 1862.

It sounded like an innocent enough story, an officer who had sadly died whilst still serving - not uncommon back then, the life of a police officer was a hard one, particularly in Victorian Birmingham where many of the diseases we thankfully don't see much of today were rife.

I didn't see the original request for the records, however I recently stumbled across a discussion about it on the Facebook group Birmingham Ancestors Family History and Genealogy Group as I was looking for any mention of the Birmingham Police. The wonderfully helpful and friendly people on this site quickly found newspaper and other records in relation to DS Edwards which highlighted that he actually died whilst on duty. This makes him eligible for the national Police Roll of Remembrance (for officers who die whilst on duty, not directly linked to any activity they are undertaking) as well as the local West Midlands Police one displayed at Lloyd House. This complements the Roll of Honour, which is specifically for officers killed whilst on duty or who die as a result of an injury received whilst on duty.

After doing a bit more digging in the records and confirming some details from the inquest, I was able to have him added to both the national list and the West Midlands one.

DS Edwards arrived at Aston Hall on the 30th of December just after quarter past seven, to police an event being held there. A member of the Birmingham detective force, he apologised for being late and said he had just finished a very hard day at the Moor Street offices.

It was not long after this when he was found, face down in the courtyard. He had evidently collapsed and fallen onto his front. Colleagues later described at the inquest how he had complained of 'stuffiness of the chest' and his inspector stated he had complained of a pain in his left side for weeks. The surgeon who conducted the post mortem stated that the DS Edwards' heart was inflamed and he must have been in considerable pain. It was felt that any kind of exercise or strong emotion could have killed him, and 'considering the active employment the deceased had been engaged in, it was surprising he had lived for so long'. In the coroner's opinion DS Edwards died from disease of the heart. The jury recorded the verdict as 'by the visitation of God'.

DS Edwards' story is a very sad one, and typical of officers who died during this time period, where a widow and several children were left destitute and struggling to make ends meet. He left a widow and five children, with a sixth on the way. This is where charities such as COPS (Care of Police Survivors) and the Police Dependant's Trust would have a significant role to play today.

We are always looking to ensure every fallen officer is remembered as they should be, with a photograph wherever possible, and that their name and sacrifice are never forgotten. If you think you know of someone missing from the Roll of Honour or Roll of Remembrance, please get in touch via

#RollofHonour #rollofremembrance

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