Oswestry was the B Division within the Shropshire Constabulary and the number of officers varied greatly over time, from 23 men including a Sergeant and an Inspector to only 7 men. The Oswestry division had 7 stations in the town as well as stations in West Felton and St Martins etc.
Being a police officer was not considered a worthwhile job and it is clear from the Register of Officers, held at the Shropshire Archives, that the recruitment of suitable men and retaining them was very difficult. From the records many officers were dismissed from the force for drunkenness, theft, lying, sleeping with prostitutes and fiddling expenses.
When World War One broke out it became even more of a problem to recruit and retain police officers. For example P.C.139 Herbert Harold Stanley joined on 11 July 1914, but left the Police Force to join the army on 22 November 1915 and he was reported missing in action on 27 November 1917. A total of 9 police officers were killed in World War One. The records show that the last recruit was in March 1915 and the next recruit was not until 28 January 1919. There were no recruits between 18 October 1921 and 17 April 1923 into the Shropshire Constabulary.
One of the advantages of being a police officer was that your housing was provided for you. These houses were listed and regularly inspected:
24, 26, 28, 30 Vyrnwy Road Oswestry
1, 2, 3, 4, Middleton Road Oswestry
Shirley, Edward Street Oswestry
31 Oak Drive Oswestry
Beechfield House Pool Road Oswestry
The force seemed to have more properties than officers.
In October 1920 there was concern by the Police Committee that oil lamps were still being used and that flash lights were needed. The committee decided that they would not buy any flash lights but give an allowance of 5 shillings a year to officers to buy and maintain their own flash lights.
On 15 October 1921 there was a Home Office circular that requested large cuts in the police expenditure. The fastest way to cut expenditure is to cut the number of police officers and this may explain the lack of recruits, not a single one, in 1922.
In the Shropshire Archives is the ‘B Division Commendation Book’ which lists officers and the arrests they are credited with and a description of the crime, for example the recovery of 6 bicycle lamps and the theft of raspberries from the market.
In 1918 two police women, Anna Westerdick and Lillian Lenn, were working in Oswestry. These women were not fully attested so they did not hold a warrant card and therefore had limited power of arrest and were never included in the Register of Officers. They were the only police women in Shropshire from 1922 until 1947 when the force was ordered by the government to employ women officers.
In 1944 an Auxiliary Women’s Corps was formed in Shropshire these, like police women in 1918 are not warranted. It would take until 1947 for Shropshire to have police women who were fully warranted and listed as recruits in the force records.
Gradual improvements in the 1960s saw women carrying out more patrol duties and working in a wider range of departments such as criminal records or the fingerprint bureau. In 1974, women were still organised separately as “Uniformed Women’s Branch”, headed by a female Chief Superintendent. The next major change that really affected the role of women in the police was the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, which abolished the separate Policewomen’s Departments in the force, harmonised pay scales and opened up all aspects of police work to women. While recruitment of women into police forces accelerated in 1975, as a result of the changes in the law, there was much still to be done. For example, in Greater Manchester police there were only 408 policewomen out of a total of 6,628 police officers by the end of that year.
The uniform the women wore at the time was not the most practical. In 1974 the familiar white topped cap, known as the “hostess” style was introduced, complete with a tunic without pockets. All equipment was to be carried in an official police handbag, including a small, rather useless truncheon. Skirts were the norm for patrol work, and even after trousers were introduced in the mid 1970s, they were initially restricted for use on nightshifts and in winter only. Indeed, it was not until the introduction of body armour, utility belts, batons, speedcuffs and CS spray in the mid 1990s that policemen and police women received identical levels of equipment and protection.