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In December 1910, the murder of three City of London Police officers and the wounding of two others was, and continues to be, one of the largest multiple murders of police officers on duty carried out in Great Britain.
The three officers – Sergeants Bentley and Tucker and Constable Choat - were shot dead whilst trying to prevent a burglary at a jewellers in Houndsditch on the evening of the 16th of December and this incident and the events surrounding it formed the precursor to the famous Siege of Sidney Street in January 1911.
Today, 11 Exchange Buildings, Houndsditch no longer exists, a casualty of the Second World War, but the street layout remains unaltered and it is still possible to follow in the footsteps of the three murdered officers – all of whom left behind family responsibilities in an era without a welfare state or benefit system.
The force has come a long way, and changed a great deal, since the Houndsditch murders in 1910. Imagine a time with no patrol cars, radios, traffic lights or even electric street lamps.
Having found out how the officers lived, if you’d like to know more about how they died and the Siege of Sidney Street, a small booklet has been produced by the City of London Police to coincide with the centenary of the murders that gives more information.
What life was like for the officers
This section will show you what life was like for the three murdered officers from typical duties, their uniform, and how they were recruited to an ordinary day and the pay and benefits.
Standard uniform issue in 1910 consisted of trousers (for summer and winter), a high collar tunic with brass buttons, a winter greatcoat, helmet, cape, belt, boots and duty band.
Typically, a PC would carry a pocket notebook, truncheon, single locking, non-adjusting Darby handcuffs and a whistle which was suspended from a brass chain from the second button of the officer’s tunic. Some officers also carried an ambulance call box key. The City of London Police ambulance and call box system was extremely innovative one hundred years ago, having been introduced in 1907.
Crime levels in 1910 were lower per thousand of population than they are today. Typically, an officer would be called to pub brawls, noisy street traders and burglaries or robberies.
Light years ahead of the Policing Pledge, PCs would also be sent out to update victims on how the investigation of their crime was going. With only 8 homicides per million population in England and Wales in 1910, murder was extremely rare.
City of London Police officers had to be at least 5 ft 10 inches tall to be considered for the service, although many were over 6 ft tall. They had to be of good character, with references sought from people in positions of authority such as doctors and magistrates.
They would also be expected to pass a medical. Many officers who joined the force had also served in the military.
Pay and conditions
The average wage in 1910 was around 26 shillings a week for men and 11 shillings a week for women. A Sergeant with the force would earn around £1 10 shillings a week. Other benefits included accommodation, health care, training, education and a pension.
City officers were expected to live in City-owned accommodation. Married officers were housed in flats at the back of Bishopsgate and single officers like Constable Choat were in smaller flats in the area. The force also had accommodation blocks in the East End and in Brixton. If an officer wanted to move to private accommodation, he had to ask permission to do so from the Commander.
Police Officers with the force also received free health care – a real benefit bearing in mind there was no National Health Service in 1910. Officers also received a pension based on their conduct and record, although no pension was guaranteed – officers without a good record would not receive a pension.
As part of their duties, officers also received training in marching, saluting, patrolling, first aid and self-defence. They were also examined in reading, writing, maths and philosophy, taking exams and receive certificates to indicate how well they had done.