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.
After that incident, Samuel’s ledger entries then turn entirely to red. He was complimented throughout the rest of his service on numerous occasions for general police work that included stopping a runaway horse, a common occurrence at the time, and arresting people for loitering with intent. There were also significant actions of courage and good police work recorded.
On 16th August 1904, Constable Eglinton found a man who had taken a quantity of liniment in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Constable Eglinton removed the man to the General Hospital, who attended court the following morning to explain his offence before the deputy stipendiary.
On 21st September 1910, Constable Eglinton took twenty-three year old John Lennon into custody for being on the premises of the Royal Oak, Barr Street, Hockley, Birmingham, ‘for an unlawful purpose’. Mrs Brown, the landlord’s wife told how her servant heard noises upstairs and Lennon appeared. Mrs Brown set her fox terrier onto Lennon, instructing the dog: ‘fetch him, Lady’, and the dog seized him. Lennon struck the servant girl and attempted to strike the landlord, but plucky Mrs Brown blocked Lennon’s blow. Threatening to do them ‘all in’, Mrs Brown said: 'You will have to do me in before you get out’.
He then came at her with a jemmy catching her on her left arm but Mrs Brown caught hold of him by his throat with her right hand and held him there until assistance arrived. Constable Eglinton found three skeleton keys, a safe key, a jemmy and a pair of gloves on Lennon, who was later imprisoned for a total of four months with hard labour.
On the 4th February 1914 the Birmingham Mail reported that a Royal Humane Society testimonial on vellum was conferred on Constable Eglinton for the successful application of artificial respiration to a woman who had been rescued in an unconscious condition from a canal near Clissold Street, Birmingham, into which she has thrown herself on the 22nd October 1914. Birmingham City Police awarded Constable Eglinton the 1st stripe of merit for his actions on that occasion.
Samuel Eglinton was complimented on at least eight occasions for rendering first aid, from the artificial respiration rescue to scalds and poisoning. On Sunday 10th September 1916, Constable Eglinton and a colleague, both stationed at Kenyon Street, attended what would have been a relatively new type of incident, a tramcar crash. The news of the collision was conveyed to Kenyon Street police station and the officers dispatched to the head-on collision near Unett Street, Birmingham. For reasons unknown, the driver of the Lozells to City tram had failed to stop at the thoroughfare singled track loop. Constable Eglinton and his colleague gave first aid to the injured, with ‘five passengers taken to the General Hospital in the motor ambulance’.
In 1918, Constable Eglinton was ‘awarded the 2nd Stripe of Merit for general good police duty’, and his 3rd Stripe of Merit two years later for arresting a thief and receiver of stolen metal. The officer ledger records that he was complimented for his contribution in the devastating Hockley Brook floods of 1923 and 1925.
Constable Eglinton also received a second Royal Humane Society vellum certificate in 1923 for ‘rescuing persons Hockley Brook Flood’. His record shows that following the 1925 Hockley Brook flood Constable Eglinton was ‘awarded £10.00.0 for exceptional services rendered on two occasions in rescuing persons imperilled by the flood at Hockley Brook’.
Samuel Eglinton was complimented by magistrates on 5th September 1945, when he dealt with a navy stoker who had taken and driven away a police officer’s car that had just been parked in Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham. The defendant, Stoker Frank Wilmot Smith, aged twenty-six, explained to magistrates that on the 1st September 1945 that he had been drinking when somebody suggested the he should take the car. Smith said: ‘I certainly didn’t know what I was doing’.
The court heard that as there was no ignition key in the vehicle, Smith who was on leave at the time, coasted the car down Steelhouse Lane into Lancaster Street, where he was eventually detained by Police Sergeant Eglinton and a colleague. The officers saw Smith zig-zagging the wrong way along Steelhouse Lane before avoiding an oncoming tramcar and smashing into the kerb, breaking the vehicles front spring.
On the 27th January 1946, Sergeant Eglinton retired from Birmingham City Police on superannuation, ‘discharge marked, exemplary’. An article in the Birmingham Gazette of the 5th June 1952 informed that retirement from the regular force was not the end of his police career as he joined the first reserve the day after. On 10th February 1952, he celebrated an unbroken fifty years’ service, aged seventy-one, then working as a plain clothes officer in Hockley. The Birmingham Gazette continued: ‘the oldest serving officer in the country is awarded the British Empire Medal in today’s Birthday Honours List’.
Samuel Eglinton’s officer ledger shows a small and faint undated, pencilled comment, ‘B.E.M.’, but no further comments relating to the award, which was made as part of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II first ever birthday honours list. The Birmingham Gazette also told of how in the 1920s, the then Constable Eglinton had ‘won him warm regard among the people of the Kenyon Street district’, rescuing people from hunger.
The publication continued: ‘It was a time of severe industrial depression and food was in short supply in many homes. Good Friday dawned and PC Eglinton, as he was then, was seen going from house to house. By lunchtime he had distributed eight cases of fish for the traditional meal of that day. Under his guidance, too, old clothes were given out from the Kenyon Street police station’.
Additionally: ‘Birmingham Magistrates have commended and rewarded him on more than 40 occasions for exceptional work’. Samuel Herbert Eglinton served under four Chief Constables and for five different monarchs. He died on 8th July 1952, having served 50 years and 150 days. At the time of his death, it was reported that he was Britain's oldest serving officer at 71. Current regulations mean that the current compulsory retirement age for police officers up to the rank of Chief Inspector is 60 (65 for Chief Inspector and above), although forces can decide if they want to accept applications for extended service.
The Birmingham Daily Gazette (1906), ‘Early Morning Fight with City Police’, The Birmingham Daily Gazette, 22nd June 1906, p.6, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000668/19060622/098/0006 (last accessed 16th February 2021)
The Birmingham Daily Gazette (1906), ‘Constable Suspended: Remarkable Sequel to City Street Affray’, The Birmingham Daily Gazette, 26th June 1906, p.6, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000668/19060622/098/0006 (last accessed 16th February 2021)
Birmingham Mail (1906), ‘The Constitution Hill Affray: Police Constables Censured’, Birmingham Mail 11th July 1906, p.2, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000644/19060711/072/0002 (last accessed 16th February 2021)
Birmingham Mail (1914), ‘Local Heroes Honoured; Humane Society’s Presentations in Birmingham’, Birmingham Mail, 4th February 1914, p.6, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000644/19140204/147/0006 (last accessed 17th February 2021)
The Birmingham Daily Post (1916), ‘Serious Tramcar Smash in Birmingham: Several Persons Injured in Collision’, The Birmingham Daily Post, 11th September 1916, p.8, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000033/19160911/179/0008 (last accessed 17th February 2021)
Birmingham Mail (1904), ‘Birmingham Man’s attempted Suicide’, Birmingham Mail, 23rd August 1904, p.2, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000644/19040823/031/0002 (last accessed 17th February 2021)
Lancashire Evening Post (1910), ‘Seized by Throat: Landlady’s Plucky Fight with a Burglar’, Lancashire Evening Post, 29th December 1910, p.5, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000711/19101229/201/0005 (last accessed 17th February 2021)
Evening Dispatch (1945), ‘Drove Away Policeman’s Car’, Evening Dispatch, 5th September 1945, p.4, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000671/19450905/098/0004 (last accessed 17th February 2021)
Birmingham Gazette (1952), ‘A Birmingham P.C. at 71: B.E.M. for Oldest Policeman’, Birmingham Gazette, 5th June 1952, p. 1, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000669/19520605/007/0001 (last accessed 18th February 2021)
Birmingham Gazette (1952), ‘P.C. Eglinton, B.E.M., dies’, Birmingham Gazette, 9th July 1952, p. 5, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000669/19520709/124/0005 (last accessed 18th February 2021)