Articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History

Essex Police Records

Punch cartoon: a Peeler
An early policeman, sometimes called a Peeler or Bobby
Image from Punch, 1845, courtesy of the Harold B. Lee Library on Flickr NKCR

How to track down your Essex police ancestors

The Essex Constabulary was formed in February 1840 following the passing of the Rural Police Act. As the name suggests, their role was mainly rural policing as the county borough towns of Maldon and Colchester had their own borough constables. Some parts of Essex such as Chigwell were patrolled by the Metropolitan Police Force of London.

Essex was split into divisions, then detachments, then guard or beats. The 200 or so men in the force were thus spread across the county, with station houses and other buildings being supplied for their use.

The officers not only involved themselves in crime prevention and public order, but they also supervised weights and measures, common lodging-houses, and vagrants with the constables in the role of assistant relieving officers under the Poor Law.

By 1861 there were 256 officers in the force. Colchester Borough had 22 officers, and the Borough of Maldon 2 officers.

parliamentary report
Source: Parliamentary commissioners report on Google Books

This table from the Essex Almanac of 1865 sets out the distribution of the force across the county. Officers based at a station were then distributed around the surrounding parishes.

parliamentary report
Source: Essex Almanac on Google Books

The first General Force Register listing all the officers is in the Essex Record Office 'ERO' under reference J/P 2/1. It covers the period 1840 - 1881.

Images of the records are available online, but until now the records have not been indexed by name as the records are arranged by rank and collar number. Now History House has indexed them by name with their place of birth and linked them to the image of their individual record at the ERO. There are over 2000 names on the Register. Some names are repeated as they were promoted through the ranks.

Each record gives name, age, date of joining, height, where born, previous trade, marital status and date and reason for leaving the force.

Some records give health details, grading of their conduct, and disciplinary reasons for discharge. Examples include: having got drunk first night on patrol and again next morning (after one days service!); want of bodily strength; leaving his guard in company with a prostitute; drinking on duty; refusing to transfer; and one was discharged because he was conncted with a religious group called the Memonites.

The turnover of staff was quite high in the early years as the force seemed to struggle to find suitable recruits. Many of them were former soldiers born in Scotland and Ireland. This large turnover means that many fall between between census dates and you may be unaware that your ancestor was even in the police force. So it is worth checking the list.

Alphabetical list of officers' surnames and places of birth 1840 - 1881.

A B - Bo Br - By C - Cl Co - Cu D E F G H I J K
L M N O P Q & R S - Sk Sm - Sy T U & V W Y

The second General Force Register listing all the officers is in the Essex Record Office 'ERO' under reference J/P 2/2. It covers the period 1881 - 1910. Some of these names overlap those above.

Alphabetical list of officers' surnames and places of birth 1881 - 1910.

A B - Bo Br - Bu C - Cl Co - Cu D E F G H - He Hi - Hy I & J K L M N O P - Pe Ph - Pu R S - Sk Sl - Sy T U & V W - We Wh - Wy & Y

Other records (as yet not indexed) at Essex Archives Online) and available online are:

  • J/P 2/4 Promotion register of constables being transferred from 2nd to 1st class 1840-1890
  • J/P 2/3 Promotion register of constables being transferred from 2nd to 1st class 1840-1890

Other Sources:

The Essex Police Museum which contains objects, paper documents and photographs relating to the history of the force from 1840 to the present day.

Their website states that they hold databases on the following:

  • Police officers in the Essex County Constabulary from the 1880s to present day
  • Police officers who served in the Colchester Borough Police and transferred to the Essex County Constabulary in 1947
  • Police officers serving in Southend Borough Police 1914 - 1969
  • Police War Reserves - World War II
  • Women Police Auxiliaries - World War II

They also publish some useful and informative booklets covering a variety of topics and stories about the history of policing in Essex.

More articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History

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