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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
First Glasgow police force organised in A.D. 1800


THE following excerpts are from particulars furnished by Dr. John Aitken, a former respected member of the Town Council, who was present on the occasion of the Glasgow police force being first brigaded.

Our first start with a police force took place in 1800 in the Laigh Kirk session-house, which was the first office. There were sixty-eight watchmen and nine day officers. Greatcoats and staves were served out to each watchman. Each man’s number was painted on the back of his greatcoat, between the shoulders, in white-coloured figures about six inches long. The staves were joiner made, about four feet long, painted of a chocolate-brown colour, and numbered. A lantern and two candles were handed to each man—one lighted and one in reserve. Before going out for the first time, the men exercised their lungs and showed their proficiency in calling the hours, as was long the custom. The uniform consisted of blue cloth coats, with blue vests and blue knee breeches, but the seams were welted over with red stripes, and the sergeants, nine in number, wore shoulder-knots of red and blue mingled worsted thread.

The second police office was up one stair in the locality long known as the Herald Office Close, north-west corner of Bell Street, with a front to Candleriggs, and the third in the last named street.

In those early times, the sergeants and watchmen had a good deal left to their own discretion or personal inclination, and it was no uncommon thing for a watchman to take a man to the office and lock him up for a few hours, without any charge being entered, or any record kept of what had been done. For instance, the story is told of one, a stern old pensioner, named Jaikey Burns, who had a mortal antipathy to Irishmen, and, whenever, in the case of any disturbance, he heard the brogue uttered, he was sure to take the unhappy owner of it into custody, whether he was the assaulting or assaulted party, holding it to be a sufficient evidence of guilt that the man was from the Emerald Isle.

Each watchman had a wooden box, called a sentry-box, for resting in when fatigued, or when the weather was cold or rainy. The wild youths of the town used often to lock Dogberry in his nest, and sometimes they even tumbled the box over on its face, in which position the poor fellow lay till relieved by one or other of his fellow-watchmen. One result of the establishment of a regular police force in the city was the driving of most of the bad and criminal class into the suburbs, to the no small peril and discomfort of their then denizens.

The Glasgow police force has now the reputation of being the heaviest and most powerful body of men in the world.


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