Kent Archaeological Review extract

Kent Police Museum.
by Chief Inspector J Tyler.

The Kent Police Museum has been open to visiting parties of the public since December last. Whenever a police museum is mentioned there is a tendency to think of display cabinets filled with gruesome exhibits and there certainly is a corner of the Kent Museum reserved for the more infamous crimes that have occurred in the County.

But the history of a Police Force is an integral part of the history of the public it serves and therefore reflects the social conditions at any given time. It is this that the Museum attempts to depict, e.g. the problems to an infant organised Police Service brought about by the Industrial Revolution or by the roaming bands of thieves and cut-throats after the Napoleonic Wars, or by the widespread poverty and illiteracy of many people. This is illustrated very well by the story attached to a truncheon -- a truncheon owned by one John MEARS, a Constable, who in 1838, armed only with this, was given the task of arresting Sir William COURTENAY, Knight of Malta, King of Jerusalem, Prince of Arabia, King of the Gipsies and the only male child of Lord Courtenay of Powderham Castle, Devon, (all self-styled) who had gathered around himself a band of thirty armed men convinced of his divine origin and confident that he could lead them from the depths of their miserable existence. He succeeded too, some were killed and the rest transported.

We have evidence also of a later Pretender, a Pretender on a much larger scale and one who, in 1940, dropped leaflets over Kent headed: "A Last Appeal to Reason", (followed a little later by his final demand for submission - ie "doodle-bugs").

We have a display of other not quite so intricate offensive weapons, but weapons nevertheless constructed to cause dreadful injury. Misplaced ingenuity is again evident in an exhibit which caused the death of a would-be burglar in 1952. The owner of a house already twice burgled devised a contraption consisting of water-piping, springs, hammers and twelve bore cartridges, which he hid in a large trunk in his bedroom. Perhaps he only intended the shot to hit the intruder in the legs but this one, to get a closer look at his spoils, probably knelt down as he lifted the lid.

Just as today the Police face violence in football crowds, in former days they were kept busy trying to locate and disperse crowds who had come to watch illegal prize fights. Whole train loads used to set off from London to secret destinations in the country.

There is an account (and photograph) too of the first known railway accident in Kent -- at Staplehurst in 1865 -- written by Charles DICKENS, himself a passenger on the wrecked train.

Despite the help we have already received, much more useful material must remain outside the Museum than in it. If you come across anything useful to add to our collection, please contact Chief Inspector TYLER, Public Relations Officer, Police Headquarters, Maidstone, or telephone Maidstone 65432, extension 394.

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