Kenyon Street Police station became the headquarters of C Division of the Birmingham City Police in 1862 covering the Hockley, St Paul’s and Newtown districts. The building was condemned in 1923 and in the 1930’s there was a proposal for the station to be replaced and an area of land in Newhall Street was earmarked. The site is presently an NCP car park. Due to the second world war this never happened.
On 2nd June 1943, Thornhill Road Police Station became the C Division Headquarters. The Watch Committee announced, “The Kenyon Street premises are obsolete and utterly congested and are not suitable even for peace-time requirements”, but the death knell of Kenyon Street was a long time coming. Time was not called on the old station until May 1972 when offices were opened in Warstone Lane, in The Big Peg Vyse St. The last remaining relic of Kenyon St is the station Clock which hangs on the wall of the police museum.
The first prosecution in Birmingham using fingerprints was by an officer from Kenyon Street in 1905.
In 1919 was the year of the Police Strike which resulted in 119 officers being dismissed throughout the city. One of those officers was Sergeant Edward Taylor who was the local branch chairman of the union, who by all accounts was not in favour of strike action but was out-voted and a strike was called for on 1st August. The strike was a big flop instigated by the London Union and Prison wardens who gave little support, leaving the Birmingham officers to take the brunt of the back-lash. Sergeant Taylor had 22 years service and was a well respected, trusted and conscientious officer who had been commended 19 times and had two merit stripes. He was also the officer who as a PC lent his hat and coat to Lloyd-George enabling him to escape a mob which had laid siege at Digbeth Civic Hall. At the time of the siege Lloyd-George was not Prime Minister but at the time of the strike he was. The police helmet is in a museum in London. As can be seen by Sgt Taylor’s Police record this made no difference, it reads `Reported by Supt. Penrice for inciting men to leave their duty in the Police Force and going out on Police Strike, and themselves declaring about 10pm, 1st August 1919 that they were on strike – Dismissed the Force.’
Joining Birmingham City Police on 5/1/1920, he was appointed as a constable on 10/12/1920 (after an 11 month probationary period). Initial salary was 70/- a week rising to £6 a week in 1946 when he retired. In 1931 a constable with 12 years service, he received the maximum salary of 90/- a week. PC Jones was posted to Kenyon Street Police Station 4/4/1921.
In the photograph PC Jones displays his medals he received whilst in the army between 1914 and 1919. Also his stripes of merit, the first was received 2/12/1925 when he carried 11 people to safety when Hockley Brook overflowed on 23/7/1925. On 6/1/26 he was presented with a certificate from the Royal Humane Society and the Albert Price Silver Cup awarded for the bravest deed of the year, for the same incident (a silver replica of the Albert Price cup was presented to the winner (now in the possession of his daughter Marie) – the original was kept at Tally-Ho House until it was `accidentally’ melted down some years ago).
According to his record, PC Jones was found to be `unfit for duty due to drink’ a couple of times in 1931 and his punishment was a reduction in wages for twelve months. In May 1932 he was awarded a guinea for the arrest of a loiterer.
The Hockley Brook Disaster
The year 1920 was the occasion of the Hockley Brook disaster in Birmingham. This brook, which rises in Warley Woods and flows into the Tame at Bromford, ran through the Hockley area. Hockley at this time was a hotch-potch of back-to-back houses, courts and workshops crammed into one area. On 15 August 1920, following a heavy downpour of rain the brook suffered a flash flood. The water level rose inexorably.
Whilst patrolling the area Police Constable C187 Bell saw eight children leaning against a wall. As he later told a Coroner’s Inquest from where he stood on a bridge he saw that the wall was being washed away. He shouted at the children, “Get away from that wall, I say,” and made his way towards them. As he drew close, the wall collapsed into the current. He grabbed out and caught one child at risk to his own safety. However, two 14 year old boys were swept away and drowned. On 6 September PC Bell was awarded five guineas by the Watch Committee and given three merit stripes.
Superintendent Penrice was also rewarded for his action in helping those rendered homeless in the flood which by the time it had abated had covered an area of one square mile.
Birmingham’s First Fingerprint Prosecution
The first successful prosecution by way of fingerprint evidence occurred in Birmingham in 1905. The circumstances of this case are that at 11.55 pm on 22 September 1905, Mrs Lily Shaw, the wife of the licensee of the Britannia Inn in Hampton Street, Newtown was in bed when she heard the sound of breaking glass below. Mrs Shaw blew hard on a whistle she kept for such purposes. This attracted the attention of PC C538 Ollis who ran to the premises and arrested a well known criminal, George Eccles, close by. Eccles admitted smashing a kitchen window of the pub in order to burgle the premises. He implicated a Dennis Kennedy as his accomplice. Kennedy was arrested but he denied the offence, perhaps knowing that there was no other evidence to connect him other than the word of Eccles. The gods had failed to smile on Kennedy as the previous day PC Ollis and his inspector, Mr Parry, had attended a lecture at Kenyon Street Police Station on the new science of fingeprint impressions. Both officers went to the Britannia and found finger marks on the glass. They developed these latent prints by use of mercury, chalk and graphite. The evidence was sent to Scotland Yard for expert evidence which proved Kennedy’s guilt. At the next Sessions he was sentenced to 18 months hard labour.
The Murder of Police Constable Snipe
The Birmingham Daily Mail for Monday 19 July 1897 reported that PC George Snipe had died in the General Hospital as a result of injuries he had received quelling a disturbance in Bridge Street West with other policemen. The paper stated, ‘Enquiries show clearly that the trouble originated in a row between persons who had had more liquor than was good for them and who were not disposed to take kindly to interference of the police on being turned from the public house at closing time’.
A certain William Colrain was arrested by PC Snipe and PC Mead for being drunk and disorderly. A crowd gathered and tried to rescue Colrain whereupon PC Mead arrested a Charles Elvis. Stones were then thrown at the officers, one of whom blew his whistle attracting the attendance of PC Claydon. The officers were then attacked by a volley of stones, feet and fists.
The police forced their way into the entrance of St Matthews Church. It was here that PC Snipe was struck on the temple by a thrown brick. He collapsed and Charles Elvis escaped. A member of the public ran to Kenyon Street Police Station, from where Bridge Street West Police Station, which was three miles away, was alerted. Several officers attended the scene. PC Snipe died four hours later in the hospital.
A woman came forward and informed Superintendent Monk of the identity of the person who had thrown the brick. This in fact was her boyfriend a James Franklin. He was later arrested in the locality by PC Belfield. Elvis was also recaptured.
The reporter from the Mail described Franklin on his appearance before the stipendiary as, `An inoffensive looking man rather small in stature, pale in complexion with no whiskers’. He denied the offence but was later convicted at the Assizes for manslaughter and sentenced to penal servitude for life.
PC Snipe was 28 years old and left a widow and child. His general character was described as `exemplary’. The helmet he wore on the night of his murder rests in the Force Museum. It bears the marks of the murderous attack upon him.
PC James Power
PC James Power has the misfortune to be the only ex Birmingham police officer to be executed for murder. The murder which occurred on a canal bank in Hockley after he had been dismissed from the Birmingham Police in 1923.
James Power was born on 7 December 1894 in Thomastown Kilkenney. He came over to England and lived at 2 back of 8 Heath Street South Dudley Road, Birmingham where he gained employment as a tram conductor. James Power joined Birmingham Police on 15 March 1920. His record shows that he was disciplined twice, once on 13 July 1922 ‘That he did fail to work his Day Duty Beat Number 18 in accordance with orders in that he did not work Barnsley Road and Rutland Road at about 7 pm on Wednesday 14 December 1921’. He was reduced in pay for 12 months (a pay cut of 1/- a week).
However on 10 January 1923 things got worse for PC Power when he was disciplined in the following terms:
(1) ‘Discreditable conduct by acting in a manner likely to bring discredit upon the reputation of this force by taking Miss Clara Violet Hammersley (15) Domestic Servant in the employ of Mr Frederick Taylor 4 Melville Road Edgbaston against her will down Hagley Road, Holly Road, Melville Road and through a gate to an allotment situate in Melville Road when on Beat Duty in uniform some time between 9pm and 9.30pm on Thursday 14 December 1922’.
(2) ‘Neglect of Duty for failing to report a complaint made to him by Mr Frederick Taylor 4 Melville Road Edgbaston at 9.40 pm on Thursday 14 December 1922 that a police officer had behaved improperly to his Domestic Servant Miss Clara Violet Hammersley just previously, which complaint should have been reported by him when reporting off duty at Dudley road Police Station at 10 pm the same date’. Officer Suspended 22 December 1922.
At a hearing before the Joint Standing Committee on 10 January 1923 he was dismissed immediately. It transpired that when Mr Frederick Taylor complained to PC Power, Mr Taylor was not aware that PC Power was the offending officer, PC Power was reported to have said to Mr Taylor on receiving the complaint, “It’s that Bugger on the next beat he is a right sod I will speak to him.”
James Power got employment at Cannings Constitution Hill.
On Saturday 2nd July 1927, 18 year old Olive Turner of Ford St Hockley was murdered on the canal. Brief circumstances are a man posing as a police officer approached Olive and a Charles Broomhead whilst they were walking the canal at about 9.44pm. Charles became suspicious and managed to run to get help but Olive was not so lucky and her body was found next day in the canal. Her watch stopping at 11.41 pm the time her death appeared to be pinpointed with accuracy. Initial suspicions fell on Broomhead but his story was corroborated by witnesses who also described a large powerfully built man dragging Oliver.
As a result of all the witnesses a detailed description was obtained, ‘a man about 40 years, 5’10”, broad, dark hair, wearing a dark suit; dark cap; walks somewhat splay-footed and has a rather swinging gait’. This description was recognised by Det. Sgt. Albert Edwards as resembling James Powers the ex Police officer from Kenyon St who left the force under a cloud. Arrangements were made and Powers was identified by Broomhead in a street as he left his place of work – Cannings Constitution Hill. Eventually enquiries revealed that Powers had been preying on courting couples on the towpaths demanding money by menaces and a girl came forward stating she had been raped earlier that year under similar circumstances. Power appeared before Birmingham Crown Court 7/12/27 on charges of Murder; demanding money with menaces; assault and rape, but only the most serious charge was considered as was customary at that time, the Murder of Olive Turner. After two days Powers was found guilty of Murder and the other offences were left on file.
On Tuesday 31/1/1928 Powers was hanged at Winson Green Prison. The hangman was Thomas Pierrepoint. Thomas Pierrepoint’s nephew Albert also became a famous hangman assisting his uncle in the early days of his career; his sister lived just off Broad St and another descendent is a police officer.
Poor PC Capewell
The sad case of PC Arthur Capewell, aged 22 years, was reported in the `Birmingham Mail’ on 4 March 1921. Capewell had appeared before Birmingham Assizes charged and indicted on four offences of arson and one of breaking and entering.
On 25 October 1920 the premises of Mr Yardley, a furniture remover, in Wheeler Street, had been fired and damaged to the cost of £200 caused. On 3 December 1920 a workshop in Great Hampton Row was also fired and damage caused costing £320. On 7 December the premises of Brightside Plating in Brearley Street were completely destroyed by fire. On this occasion the cost of the fire was put at £5,000. All these fires were on PC Capewell’s beat and he had raised the alarm.
On 8 December he found another fire in a workshop in Wheeler Street. At the scene he was seen by another officer with a padlock in his hand and said, “There is someone doing all this: Keep it to yourself.’ Poor Arthur was only stating the obvious but he forgot he was working with professionals who were quite capable of putting two and two together.
He was kept under observation and later that same evening was seen breaking into 296 Summer Lane. He was arrested and taken to Bridge Street West Police Station. He handed a detective a piece of iron and said, “That’s done it. It’s all over for me now.” Capewell admitted causing the fires saying that he had wanted to give the impression he had been working hard and admitted feeling funny. His one request was that his mother was not told of his misdeeds.
A common enough type of story, but what separates Arthur Capewell from the run of the mill attention seekers was his defence. He had joined Kitchener’s Army in 1914 by lying about his age when only 15 years old. He had been buried alive by a shell explosion in the trenches on the Somme and later gassed at Ypres. He then developed epilepsy and was given a 100% disability pension which was unknown to the police. At his trial he admitted all the offences except the most serious at Brearley Street adducing a defence of automatism. The jury found him guilty but insane. He was sentenced to be detained at His Majesty’s Pleasure.