Bradford Boro Police-Fire Service
Bradford’s Victorian Police-Fire Service.  By kind permission of Bradford Police Museum.




Night Watchmen : Forerunners of Bradford’s Victorian Police.

Prior to the introduction of Bradford’s Victorian Police the streets were guarded by night watchmen.

Night watchmen patrolled the streets of Bradford from 10pm to sunrise.  Their role was to look after the security of the streets and guard property.  They would challenge suspicious characters, prevent crime, and be ready to tackle outbreaks of fires.  They were accountable to the Parish Constables who held ultimate authority for law enforcement.  The streets of England had been patrolled by different forms of watchmen going back to the 12th century.


Night Watchmen or 'Charlies'

Night Watchmen or ‘Charlies’

By kind permission of Bradford Police Museum.

By 1660 they were established patrolmen and became linked to the reign of Charles 1 hence the nickname ‘Charlies’.  They challenged suspicious characters or any other unknown persons ‘wandering abroad’ at night.  By the 18th century urban growth through industrialisation transformed the urban landscape.  There was a significant rise in the number of taverns, restaurants and places of late night entertainment springing up in the towns.  Prostitution also became more prevalent.   The evening economy encouraged people to stay out longer at night and take advantage of the recreational activities now afforded.    The role of the Night Watchmen needed to change to accommodate these changes in society.  By the 19th century public disorder was on the increase and the numbers of public meetings, industrial unrest and political movements presented new challenges to the authorities.  Chartism and the Fenians uprising posed new challenges to civil authorities that would require a more professional stronger enforcement arm together with an investigation department. 



The Metropolitan Police

The first recognisable modern police force in the country was established by Sir Robert Peel in 1829 who created the Metropolitan Police Force with a strength of 1000 constables. They were known as ‘Peelers’ but eventually given the nickname, ‘Bobbies.’ They were the successors to the street watchmen and the Bow Street Runners who had kept the peace on the streets during the previous century.

He would subsequently hold the position of Prime Minister of The United Kingdom from 10 December 1834 – 8 April 1835 and again from 30 August 1841 – 29 June 1846.

His failed campaign to repeal the Corn Laws would ultimately undermine his position.  However he became a hero to working people.

A monument to Sir Robert Peel was errected in Peel Park; Bradford’s first public park.

Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel 5 February 1788 – 2 July 1850



Bradford’s Victorian Police

In Bradford the history of law enforcement goes back to the industrial revolution when Bradford was one of the world’s leading textile manufacturers. The need to prevent crime and protect industry from theft resulted in the formation of of the Worsted Committee who appointed Worsted Inspectors as a small law enforcement body. Their role was to prevent fraud and the theft of textile materials.

By 1793 an annual sum of £103.00 was raised annually to pay for the services of 6 night watchmen.These were supervised by unpaid Parish Constables.

In 1825 a Deputy Chief Constable is appointed on a salary of £105.00 per year and 1840 additional watchmen were appointed and by 1847 the town had 48 watchmen.

By 1846 the force had an established strength of 186 officers: 10 x Superintendents; 9 x Inspectors; 23 Sergeants; 108 first class Constables; 46 second class Constables.

In 1847 Bradford became a Borough and opened it’s own police/fire station and court house in Swaine House.  The Chief Constable was Mr F.W.Graham who was in charge until 1874 when he was succeeded by  Mr James Withers.

In 1873 the construction of Bradford’s Town Hall is completed and by 1874 the police took up occupancy..

By 1894 the force’s established strength had increased to 256 officers (32 fire fighters)


Chief Officers of Bradford Borough Police

William Brigg : Deputy Chief Constable circa 1836

As Deputy Chief Constable during the 26th and 27th January, 1836, he deployed a force of Special Constables against a band of Chartists who had kidnapped two night watchmen and imprisoned them.  He was succesfull in releasing the night watchmen  and quelling the disturbance.

Chief Constable Leveritt circa 1850s

Chief Constable F.W.Graham circa 1860s-1874

James Withers-Chief Constable 1874-1894


James Withers. Courtesy of Bradford Police Museum.
James Withers. Courtesy of Bradford Police Museum.


James Withers began his career in Preston Police in 1862 where he held the post of Chief Clerk.  In 1867 he was appointed Chief Constable of Huddersfield Borough Police.  In 1874 he moved to Bradford and was appointed to the same rank.  He proved to be a ‘hands on’ Chief Constable who would lead the force by example through some extremely difficult times including Listers Mill Strike, the Fenians conspiracy, the Ripley Mill disaster and the Manningham murder case.

He retired in 1894 and died in Blackpool in 1901.


Other Notable Officers:

Superintendent Matthew Laycock

Matthew Laycock was born in 1826 in Hyde, Middlesex.  He joined the Bradford Borough Police in 1848.

By 1871 he had reached the rank of Inspector and by 1876 Superintendent..

He was involved in tackling several incidents of public disorder and major disasters including the dyers strike at Benjamin Ingham’s in 1880 and the Ripley Mill disaster 1882 where 54 people were killed.

In 1887 he was involved in a road accident when the horse drawn cab carrying himself and the Chief Constable were in collision with another can causing him significant injuries including a dislocated shoulder.


Luke Hamilton Talbot (Chief Constable Warrington) Bradford’s Police Poet 1880-1907

Luke Talbot - Bradfords Detective Poet
Luke Talbot – Bradford’s Detective Poet-By kind permission of Bradford Police Museum.

Luke Hamilton Talbot was born in Bradford in 1861 and educated at Bradford Grammar School.

He travelled extensively abroad including visits to Portugal and the United States of America.

He had originally trained to become a Roman Catholic Priest but later changed his mind and decided to join the police.
He successfully applied to join the Bradford’s Victorian Police in April, 1880 and was stationed in A Division at the Bradford Town Hall. It was quite apparent that Constable Luke Talbot was a cut above the average constable. He was well educated and wrote poetry in his spare time. It was clear to his supervisors that he was an officer with potential.   After only two years he was promoted to the rank of detective.

In 1888 he was to achieve fame and recognition for identifying a notorious criminal, namely John Jackson who had escaped from Strangeways Prison after murdering a warder.

Jackson alias Charles Firth was being held in the Bradford Police cells on a charge of burglary and was using another alias, namely Thomas Harrison.   Detective Talbot became suspicious of the man’s appearance and suspected that he was the murderer and escapee John Jackson. He reported his suspicions to his boss Detective Chief Inspector Dobson and together they interrogated him until he confessed to being the wanted escapee Jackson.

Detective Luke Talbot’s career was to blossom and when he was seconded to Scotland Yard for a period of time to assist in tackling Fenians activities in London and Ireland.

On his return he was attached to the Chief Constable’s office for a period of time

His career took off when he was appointed Deputy Chief Constable of Lancaster; eventually becoming Chief Constable of Warrington in 1895. Despite his distinguished career he seemed to suffer frequent bouts of depression.

On the 4th March, 1907, whilst on leave of absence due to ill health, he shot himself in a hotel bedroom in Cairo.  Apart from his widow Alice he left no family.