WE HOPE you enjoyed our article entitled ‘Incarcerated’, where we looked at the procedure from arrest to imprisonment in Oswestry.

Today we are going to take a look at the law enforcement from a different angle.

Upon receiving Municipal Borough status in 1835, the new Oswestry Corporation were charged with the responsibility of policing the town. They therefore established a Watch Committee on February 12, 1836, who did not just re-appoint the old committee members from preceding administrations but appointed two serjeants-at-mace.

For those who may not have heard of the Watch Committee, it was the forerunner of today’s Police and Crime Commissioner; it was tasked with regulating the policing of the town and employing the constables to assist the serjeants-at-mace. The committee consisted of the mayor, aldermen, councillors, justices of the peace and the two serjeants-at-mace. The Oswestry Borough Police was thus established and was stationed at the Guildhall and the Market on The Cross; the Oswestry Borough Police would later vacate the Guildhall and move into a building behind Powis Hall on the Horsemarket.

Constables were primarily responsible for patrolling at night and during riotous occasions, but subsequent legislation extended this duty to daytime as well. The serjeants-at-mace were paid the sum of £41 a year, along with a house provided for free by the corporation. However it wasn’t until August 1851 that the constables and serjeants-at-mace were provided with uniforms and contemporary equipment, which would have made working for the police at the time a risky job.

Despite resistance to an earlier amalgamation proposal in 1840, Oswestry’s defiance would not save them this time. On March 18, 1861, Oswestry Borough Police formally amalgamated with Shropshire Constabulary. The amalgamation came into effect on April 1 and the structure was changed from a largely obscure and ever-changing rank structure to a uniform rank structure that is still used today, so now Oswestry’s policing presence would consist of six constables, one sergeant and one First Class constable [a now-obsolete rank, but roughly equivalent to inspector].

This ended the corporation’s responsibility for policing and such responsibility was passed to a joint Police Committee for Shropshire County Council and the Municipal Corporations of Shropshire, including Oswestry, Ludlow and Much Wenlock.

In 1872, a damning report by the chief constable of Shropshire Constabulary was commissioned, where he called the strength of the constabulary “inadequate”, its constables “overtasked” and “one of the weakest forces in the Midlands”. This consequentially saw the Oswestry Division’s roll extended to 14 constables in 1875.

Incidentally, the Police Act 1964 abolished the county’s responsibility for policing and, in 1967, Shropshire Constabulary merged with Herefordshire Constabulary, Worcestershire Constabulary and Worcester City Police to create West Mercia Constabulary. The town’s police station would also move to its custom-built premises in Park Street around this time.

Please note: all the accompanying photographs are of Shropshire Constabulary, as we have no photographs of the Oswestry Borough Police in action.

Sources: ‘Policing Shropshire 1836-1967’ (1984) [Pages 10-11, 24, 51-53, 79 and 89], by Douglas J. Elliott