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The player who went from catching footballs to catching criminals

The story of Christopher Charles Charsley, Chief Constable Coventry City Police!


In the late Victorian era Chris Charsley was well known in West Midlands football circles as the goalkeeper of Small Heath F C, then an amateur club which developed into Birmingham City. He was born in Leicester in 1864 and his family moved to Stafford in c.1867, and in his spare time joined Stafford Rangers F.C. as an amateur half back. As time progressed, he became the club’s regular goalkeeper and captain, guested for Aston Villa, represented Walsall Football Association, played one first team game for West Bromwich Albion and won an England cap - all as an amateur.


He earned his living as a shoemaker until he decided to transfer his skills from making footwear to wearing out footwear, by becoming a bobby on the beat. He joined Birmingham City Police in November 1885 and his rise up the ladder was remarkable, as from an ordinary copper on his beat he became Chief Constable of Coventry Police after just 13 years of service! Even in retirement at the seaside he didn’t relax and became active in local politics in Weston-Super-Mare! He was clearly no stick in the mud and was a remarkable man on the football field and off it too.


‘KICKING AND FISTING THE SPHERE IN FINE STYLE’: THE EARLY YEARS OF HIS FOOTBALL CAREER IN BIRMINGHAM


Once settled in Birmingham in September 1886 he joined Small Heath Alliance, again in an amateur capacity, for the first of three spells with the club which finally ended in May 1894. His brother Walter played for the club during the 1890-1891 season. A cartoon which appeared in a publication, probably The Sports Argus, stated Small Heath Alliance were so desperate to sign him that Alf ‘Inky’ Jones, the club secretary, and Charlie Simms the half back, visited him at Ladywood Police Station, where he was in bed in his living quarters! When told that P.C. Charsley was - under a vest- they persisted, and the cartoon shows the trio talking to him at his bedside.



His reputation grew and he was watched by scouts from other clubs. How strange it must have been for a policeman to suddenly become a wanted man! He, however, always proudly stuck to his principles and refused attempts by other clubs to entice him to turn professional. Reports suggest that an un-named club tried to tempt him to sign for them by offering him a bag containing £50 in gold. He told the man responsible that he was happy with his life and would be remaining an amateur. In desperation he was told if he signed for the club he could still be classed as amateur and could keep the gold! Exactly what Charsley said wasn’t reported in the press, he was quoted only as saying: ‘I told him very plainly what I thought of him and his methods, but the only result was that he smiled, and called me a romantic fool.’

He remained an amateur and between 1886 and 1894 he made 80 appearances in the Football League, the Football Alliance and F. A. Cup for Small Heath, playing and leaving them on three separate occasions.


He was once described as ‘a finely built fellow, and a model of agility, a wonderfully active man for his build.’ On 25 February 1893, he became the first Small Heath player to play for England when he was capped for the first, and only time, against Ireland. At least he didn’t have far to travel because the game was played at Wellington Road, Perry Barr! Walter Gilliat scored a hat-trick in the game which England won 6-1. Charsley didn’t have much to do but a series of four saves in quick succession ‘demonstrated his ability between the sticks to everyone's satisfaction’, and he became probably the first ever cop with a cap!

After retiring from the game in 1893 he went from goal to gaol, concentrating on his police career. He was, however, recalled to play in another famous football test match (play-off), when on 28 April 1894 Small Heath beat Darwen 3-1 at Stoke, which took the battling Brummies into the First Division for the first time in their history. He obviously patrolled his area well as The Athletic News stated that whenever Darwen threatened to score, ‘Charsley on all occasions said them nay!’


Reports suggested that failure to gain promotion could well have meant the club being disbanded due to its dire financial state, so policeman Charsley’s efforts had undoubtedly earned the club a few vital coppers!


CHARSLEY THE POLICE OFFICER


In November 1885, just four days before his 21st birthday, he joined Birmingham Police Force and was posted to the B Division as a constable. He remained in that capacity for two years, during which time he formed one of the section of 50 men requisitioned for special duty at the Coventry General Election in 1886.


In 1887, a vacancy occurring for a junior detective clerk, he applied for the post, and out of 50 competitors, proved successful. This appointment carried first class, so that in two years he obtained a first-class constableship to obtain which in the ordinary way would have taken 10 years. After thoroughly mastering the details of the Detective Clerical Department, and familiarising himself with the Convicts’ Registers and Criminal Records, his preliminary training was considered to be complete, and he passed muster as a qualified detective officer, and was sent to the E Division for active duty. In this district he remained for two years, and obtained upwards of 100 cases, being particularly successful in suppressing an epidemic of housebreaking, and warehouse breaking.


This list of cases ranged from burglary to small larceny. About this time, he was promoted to Sergeant, and posted to the Chief Constable’s own office. In this department, which Charsley spoke of as ‘really the hub of the wheel of police administration’, he gained invaluable experience. He was responsible for the recruiting of the force; assisted in the general licensing business; the compilation of government and other statistical returns and gained a practical and theoretical knowledge of the complicated duties of the chief officer. At the time of the visit of H.R.H. the Duke of York to Worcester he was chosen as one of the officers to command the Birmingham contingent of 50 men.


In 1896 a vacancy occurring for inspector he applied and was appointed to the rank and placed at the head of the Public Carriage Department. It was said: ‘This important department, which controls 1200 vehicles and the 2000 also public servants who attend thereon is also responsible for the general traffic of the streets, the carriage arrangements for the Royal visits, festivals, Lord Mayor's receptions, concerts, balls, and other public functions. This experience only was needed to complete his police education. He is a fair horseman; has had charge of mounted men and he is accustomed to facing and controlling large crowds.’


He was later appointed to the rank and pay of Chief Inspector, a post made vacant by the promotion to superintendent of Mr Van Helden. At that time Charsley was the youngest of the 26 inspectors in the service. His meteoric rise continued and when was just 34 years old he made his next jump up the promotion ladder. The Midland Daily Telegraph on 25 July 1899 noted that the Coventry Watch Committee had appointed Charsley, to be their new Chief Constable.


The Coventry Herald and Free Press of 28 July 1899 added: ‘there can be little doubt that the committee have adopted a wise course, for he is a very smart and experienced officer, and he comes to Coventry with the highest of credentials. He joined Birmingham police as a constable nearly 14 years ago at the age of 21 and his very rapid promotion cannot but be regarded as an indication of his exceptional merits.’


His new salary of £350 per annum was a huge leap from his salary as Chief Inspector in Birmingham where he was on £167.12 shillings per annum. In his letter of application outlining his career he stated: ‘I have a genuine love for the service and have worked hard to master the details of each department.’


One particular case of interest in 1890 saw Charsley employing his athletic abilities: John Hughes, Broom Street, Camp Hill was charged with behaving indecently and using disgusting language to several young ladies in Small Heath. The court was told the prisoner had been ‘seized with an unwholesome mania for this sort of detestable offence, and he paid particular attention to schoolteachers at Montgomery Street School, and even the children have been annoyed.’ On the day he was spotted he ran off but Charsley caught him after a mile race. The bench sent Hughes down as a rogue and vagabond for three months, with hard labour in March 1890.


CHARSLEY IN COVENTRY


At the time of his appointment in Coventry the force consisted of 88 men and by the time of his retirement he had 137 men under his command and four policewomen. During that time, it is estimated the population of the city had tripled from around 63,000 to around 180,000.

Upon announcing his retirement his local paper, The Coventry Herald stated: ‘In losing Mr Charsley Coventry loses a devoted public servant. His resignation will be greatly regretted. His wide knowledge, ripe judgement, and never-failing courtesy and tact have been most valuable factors in local police administration.’


The Coventry Herald noted: ‘Coventry Street traffic, always a difficult matter to supervise in consequence of the large number of narrow thoroughfares, required careful attention, and it speaks well for Mr Charsley’s system of point duty and other provisions that in spite of the enormous and rapid growth of the city they have been, comparatively speaking, so few serious vehicular and pedestrian accidents.’


He steered the force through the First World War and the paper notes, ‘when special constables were first enrolled after the commencement of the great European conflict there was a large response by enthusiastic volunteers, Mr Charsley has found this body of auxiliary policeman of great value.’ The paper added: ‘During his tenure of office Mr Charsley has organised many important functions, has arrested some notorious criminals, and has had to be responsible for the peace in many strange circumstances, notably during the railway strike some years ago. He has had much work to do in connection with various phases of the war, especially in relation to threatened air raids.’


He was for a while, president of the Coventry Police Fruit and Vegetable Association, and was chief judge at their first annual show at the Masonic Hall in aid of Police Orphanage in August 1918. He observed that he thought ‘those present would agree when I looked around at the exhibits that it was very creditable to the police force to produce such a capital lot of vegetables.’


CHARSLEY IN RETIREMENT


He retired from the police force in 1919, after nineteen years in Coventry, and was presented with a grand piano. Pianos were, possibly, the ‘in thing’ as Benny Green, a Birmingham footballer had been presented with a piano to mark his achievement of scoring the first ever goal at the St Andrews ground in 1906.


Charsley had always taken a keen interest in music and the stage. He was mentioned in the local press in March 1899 when he sang ‘sentimental and comic songs’ at the Birmingham Police Concert held at the Town Hall. Later in his career he was involved in the Coventry Amateur Operatic Society and held leading parts in various operas and also wrote several plays, thus going from arrests to arias and making a song and dance about it!

Rather than just sit back and tinkle the ivories there are vague mentions of Charsley taking up a government post after his retirement, but not many notes are available about this.

What is known is he never lost his love for football and after Birmingham City reached the F.A. Cup Final after beating Sunderland in the semi-final in 1931, he wrote to the club to congratulate them on their achievement: ‘Bravo! My congratulations to you and the team. I hope to see you at Wembley. I missed playing with the club last time you were in the semi – final, being two days short of the registration period. I would’ve gloried in standing in Hibbs’s shoes today. Please congratulate him for me. Your sincerely, Chris Charsley.’


At some stage in his retirement Charsley moved to Weston-Super-Mare and rather than just amble along the coastline looking for the sea he dipped his toes into local politics. True to form he wanted to achieve the best he could and was elected to represent the West Ward of the town in 1935. He became Deputy Mayor of Weston-Super-Mare in 1939-1940. He served on the town council for the rest of his life.


He passed away, aged 79, in January 1945 just a week after his wife died bringing an end to a life fulfilled both on and off the football field.


Researched and written by Norman Bartlam with additional information from:

Dave Cross’s research in the West Midlands Police Museum archive.

Tony Jordan, keen researcher into the history of Birmingham City F.C.

Colin Mackenzie and Robert Bradley, keen researchers into the history of West Bromwich Albion F.C.

October 2020

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