Samuel Eglinton, B.E.M.
The working times of Britain’s 'oldest, and longest serving officer'
On 10th February 1902, twenty-one year old Norfolk native Samuel Herbert Eglinton joined Birmingham City Police. Having ‘joined at 24/- per week’ (24 shillings or £1.20 in today’s money), the former engine cleaner would go on to have a very long career.
Officer ledgers held by West Midlands Police Museum show limited but intriguing information about their subjects. Samuel was described as having a fresh complexion, hazel eyes and dark brown hair. There was no mention of the build associated with his 5’ 10 ½’ frame, but he did have a tattoo on his left forearm. Upon discovering a newspaper article hailing him to be Britain’s longest serving police officer, after spending fifty years working for Birmingham City Police, and another giving him the title of Britain's oldest officer at 71, an investigation into his career was commenced.
Only one grainy photo could be found in the museum files, which gives little away about his commitment to his work for Birmingham City Police or the residents of his beat. His officer ledger indicates too, some limited genealogy. Having joined as a single man, Samuel married Clara Emma Raymond of 56 Anglesey Street, Lozells on 11th April 1907 and they had at least one child, Samuel, born on 23rd July 1908.
Samuel’s policing career did not get off to a good start. Although Samuel and his colleagues were quite literally from another era, there was a process in place that sought to ensure that officers acted in a manner becoming of their role. Officers’ indiscretions were recorded in their ledgers in black ink, and ‘compliments’ for good work, in red.
In December 1903, Constable Samuel Eglinton’s first ‘black mark’ was recorded against him for: ‘being absent from his beat for 40 minutes on the 23rd December 1903, when on day duty’. Again in 1904, Samuel was absent from his beat for two hours but this time found gossiping in a shop doorway in Summer Lane, Birmingham. As a sanction to this indiscretion, his leave was stopped until further orders.
On 25th September 1905, Constable Eglinton left a candle burning in his bedroom at Kenyon Street Police Station: ‘thereby setting fire to his bed clothes and damaging same’. Constable Eglinton’s minor indiscretions were followed by a more serious incident. The Birmingham Daily Gazette noted within its Friday 22nd June 1906 edition of an ‘Early Morning Fight with City Police’. Two brothers, Percy and Thomas Bishop of 22 Bromsgrove Street, Birmingham, were placed before the city’s stipendiary charged with assaulting Constables C120 Deakin and C152 Eglinton. Both Percy and Thomas Bishop claimed that there had been a mistake during the encounter that took place at 1:40am on the previous morning. After the plain clothed police constables had observed the brothers ‘loitering on the footpath’, their introduction resulted in a fight, the brothers believing that they were about to be attacked by ‘roughs’.
The court heard that: ‘two respectable brothers going quietly and soberly home after doing a tiring nightshift at ironworks’, would of course look dirty. The men ‘had lost the last train home’ following their shift at the ironworks of Mr Ebenezer Parkes M.P., West Bromwich, and were walking along Constitution Hill into Birmingham. Constable Eglinton claimed that they were ‘looking around’ and he and his colleague were on special plain clothes duty to prevent and detect night offenders. The case was adjourned to seek other witnesses.
‘The remarkable sequel to the city street affray’ heard from witnesses of the Corporation Interception Department who claimed that Constable Eglinton had set about eighteen year old Thomas Bishop striking him on the face. The stipendiary in the case decided to discharge Thomas and his twenty-two year old brother, Percy. However, the facts of the case were reported to the Chief Constable, who at once, suspended Constable Eglinton.
On 11th July 1906, the Birmingham Watch Committee heard the matter of the unlawful arrest of the Bishop brothers. The committee were aware of the curious case in which the Bishops thought they were resisting two robbers who had claimed to be plain clothed officers. Although they were wrong in their assumption, there were errors of judgement on both sides. The committee also concluded that the constables involved had: ‘exceeded their duty’ and ‘not acted with the discretion and judgement which might be expected from them’.
A total of three constables were cited as involved and it was decided that they had used unnecessary force during the arrest and while conveying them to the police station. The three officers were censured, but Constable Eglinton was the ‘chief offender’ and reduced in class.