William Thomas Edwards joined the 30-strong Leamington Police force which had been in existence since 1825, on the 15th October 1863. At that time, a Constable’s pay was 18s 6d (92.5p) per week whilst on probation and on being given permanent appointment, it was increased to £l-0s-6d (£1.025p) per week. The hours of duty (all on foot!) were 10 hours on day shift and 9 hours at night. In the early years coffee was not provided for men on night duty, but this was later allowed. The uniform was a tall beaver hat (a top hat, made by Schofield of Warwick)), a swallow tail coat and an oilskin cape, with an old-fashioned lantern to carry on the belt at night.
Constable Edwards married in 1868, – he and Mary his wife were the first couple to be married at the Clarendon Street Baptist Chapel, and were given a Bible by the Pastor to mark the occasion. Thereafter, he was promoted several times, becoming Uniform Sergeant in March 1871, Detective Sergeant in October1873, Inspector on 16th June 1880 and Chief Inspector on 27th June 1898. As Chief Inspector Edwards, he served under four Chief Constables ( Mr J Lund, Mr J Brabner, Mr A Thomson and Mr T T Earnshaw). In September 1904, on account of of his long and faithful service, his salary was increased from £135 per year to £150. AldermanFlavel referred to him as “so valued an officer” and on his retirement, “the oldest Official of the Borough … whose familiar figure in uniform will be missed in the streets of Leamington.”
The Leamington Spa Courier of 19 June 1886 reports Inspector Edwards’ involvement in “A Spirited Chase”, – a prisoner charged with fraud evaded capture by two constables in Leamington, by bolting along the canal bank in the direction of Offchurch where he hid in the spinney. The two officers failed to find him, and eventually returned to town, At 10 pm that night, it was reported that the prisoner was still at large in the spinney, and Inspector Edwards and a Constable “were accordingly dispatched to renew the hunt. A most spirited chase ensued.” – but they got their man and returned him to the Town Hall in handcuffs.
In the early days of election contests, Inspector Edwards took part in quelling many disturbances, which were of a very lively character in those days. The Leamington Spa Courier in May 1909 reported that “On several occasions [Mr Edwards] .. was roughly handled, and ‘had a few thrashings,’ as he termed it.” He was present at the reading of the Riot Act in Bath Street when much damage was done to shop and public house windows. In the 1860s, when there was a rumour that the Fenians were planning not only to break into Warwick gaol to rescue three colleagues held there for security, but also to blow up the Leamington Gasworks, Edwards and his men were armed with cutlasses, which later hung on the Police Station walls for many years.
Throughout his career, whatever the public gathering or function, where Police presence was necessary, Inspector Edwards was a central figure. He never had a complaint lodged against him.
When Chief Inspector Edwards retired through ill health on 26th July 1909, his pension was fixed at £100 per year, but sadly, his retirement did not last long. He had had an attack of acute bronchitis lasting several weeks in February of that year, which left him with a weak heart. Following a chill at the beginning of September, he died suddenly less than two months after retiring, on Sunday 12th September. The Funeral took place the following Thursday, accompanied by his three brothers and a nephew, the Chief Constable and many members of the force. Mrs Edwards was too ill to attend, having been a housebound invalid for many years. Six colleagues acted as Pall Bearers, great numbers of the public lined the streets on the way to the cemetery, and shops drew their blinds as a mark of respect. Chief Inspector Edwards’ gravestone was donated by the residents of Leamington Spa.
Terry Gardner 2013
Images Courtesy Police Local History Society Archive