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 mans 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 manone 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
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.