Saturday, 3 June 2017

From Handbags to Handcuffs


Thanks for visiting.

I've been to an entertaining talk on the changes in a Policewoman's life since the 1960s and thought you may be interested to hear a bit about it.

In the 1960s there were only 55 Women Police Constables in Surrey. Travelling around their patch on a bicycle, there were no radios so to keep in touch with the police station, they were given a card with a list of phone boxes and times when they needed to be at the phone box to receive a call from the station.  They had to wait for ten minutes and if anyone was using the phone, they had to finish their call immediately and come back later, which they just accepted.  The list also gave the addresses of people that were going on holiday and had asked the police to keep an eye on their houses while they were away, as well as those people she was to keep a lookout for.  Radios arrived in 1968 but were quite unwieldy with long aerials and difficult to use on a bike.

During WWI with the men away fighting, Edith Totten and the Women Police Reserve at the MET was set up with volunteers and suffragettes.

Edith Smith was the first Police Woman who was paid to deal with a particular problem  - in Grantham, her job was to keep the prostitutes from Nottingham from coming to the army camp of 200,000 men.  A two mile exclusion zone and a collating system was set up.

Mary Allan and Margaret Damar Dawson campaigned to keep their jobs in the Police once the war had ended and the men returned.  In those days Policemen had to be 5'8" and women 5'4" compared to nowadays 5'1" and 4'11" respectively.

1921 saw the arrival of the first Inspector in the MET, Lillian Wyles.

1923 WPCs were permitted to arrest people whereas it wasn't until 1937 that they were authorised to take finger prints.

By 1967, WPCs had handbags and umbrellas as part of their uniform although nothing to protect themselves, just manuals and road traffic accident books.  Wooden truncheons which would fit in the handbag came in 1973.

Various new uniform designs appeared including one by Norman Hartnell which was abandoned as the velvet collars and polka dot cravats did not set the right tone.

Hampshire Constabulary in the 1970s from their website

The first woman appointed to the Mounted Branch was in 1970 and 1971 saw women becoming dog handlers.  With the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, women had to work nights, shifts between 6 am - 11pm had been the hours previously.

Trousers were allowed in 1985 but only at night and in the cold weather.

1995 saw Pauline Clare become the first woman Chief Constable.

PCSOs were introduced in 2003.

Now there are no WPCs, all are Police Constables and women have reached the highest of police ranks, like Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the MET.

The equipment that Police Constables need to carry for all eventualities, including a printer, speed measuring equipment, stab vests etc, is really heavy.

To me, 1960 doesn't seem that long ago, hasn't an awful lot changed since then.



  1. Such a lot of changes and like you it doesn't seem that long ago.

  2. Doesn't seem that long ago to me either and yet so many changes have occured in every area of police work:)

  3. A lot of changes indeed. Takes a lot of courage to be a police officer, can't imagine doing their job.

    1. Me neither especially in these turbulent times.