Former Detective Investigates History of Henley Policing in New Book

Former police officer, CID detective and member of the Special Branch and Fraud Squad, Andrew King has just published a fascinating book on the history of policing in Henley.  It is dedicated to his father William Alfred King who was an Ex-Special Constable 68 in the Oxfordshire Constabulary who features on the front of the book.

Andrew explained, “It is my first book. I didn’t start out to write a book, I am interested in Police history, particularly in towns and boroughs. There is little or no record of early policing in Henley – one publication I found lists police forces in the UK from 1829-2012 stating that the Henley police force was formed in 1838 with no names and the date was wrong as my research established.”

Policing Henley-on-Thames from Parish Constables to the formation of the Oxfordshire Constabulary in 1857 charts the progression from the Parish Constables who were selected by the Mayor, regardless of their wishes through to a more professional police force that was established in 1830 and ending with the policing responsibility being taken away from the Town Council in 1857.

The early Parish Constables would hold the position for a year with little or no remuneration and were discouraged from investigating alleged offences as they would have to bear the costs of prosecuting an offender if a conviction wasn’t made.  The book details the bios of the police constables and their interesting cases from the times which include a range of funny crimes including the stealing of turnips!

One resident, Henry Stephens became the longest serving Henley constable from 1834 to 1862 and was regarded as ‘our active constable’ in local newspapers. A hero by today’s standards he relentlessly pursued criminals (one case being seriously assaulted), bringing them to justice for over a quarter of a century, only to die a pauper. Andrew comments, “I wish I could have met the man. A real servant of the town, Police Officer, Fireman, Town Sergeant for over 25 years. He was clearly a well-respected man who performed his duty as Constable with diligence and integrity, but who ended up in the workhouse, as a pauper and was given a pauper’s burial in the town cemetery. Until now, he remained an unknown but an important part of Henley’s history in the nineteenth century.”

Andrew’s research took 2 years to complete, mainly during Covid lockdowns.  His work was accepted by the Greening Lambourn Trust, a charity which promotes history, architecture and heritage of Oxford and its neighbourhood.  Andrew comments, “My biggest challenge was gaining access to information from the Oxford History Centre, during Covid, although the staff were very helpful in supplying scanned records and of course the internet helped with access to on-line newspapers etc, from which many of the constables are identified by name and cases.”

Throughout the book there are some excellent extracts from newspapers of the times.  In the 1830s there was a big problem of beggars and vagabonds in the town who were responsible for many crimes which continued for many years.  We particularly liked the one from 1856, prior to Oxfordshire Constabulary being formed in 1857 it said “As the time is fast approaching when this town will be under the guardianship of the new system of police, the inhabitants hope that more attention will be given to its internal management, inasmuch as it is thought that more strength will be given to meet the requirements of the place.  The nuisance so long permitted of numbers of persons loitering on the pavements on the corners of principal streets, polluting the ears of passers-by is hoped will be prevented and that the police will not only put a stop this evil, but that they will use their endeavours to effectually rid the town of the number of beggars with whom it is infected.”

This fact was also one of the highlights from the book – In 1851 Lord Camoys proposed that Matthew Morran was appointed as Superintendent Constable for the Henley division and paid £105 a year and had to provide a horse and cart!

For those who thought that the first Henley police station was where Hof’s Bar and Restaurant currently is you would be wrong.  This one opened in 1869.  The first one however was a lock-up and house opening in 1854 in the old Guildhall, then in Middle Row, now the Market Place. .  It had 2 cells and a house adjoining for the residence of the police constable.

This fascinating book is available to buy from The Bell Book Shop, Amazon and Waterstones.

1 comment
  1. Jose M. Griffin says:

    Wow! Incredibly, I too have been also researching Henry Stephens for my own project, always weird to see someones name pop up from what seems like history’s obscurity, who you have also come to know and become familiar with, he was indeed a hero, who lived at Albion House in West Street, but died in the workhouse in the end. can’t wait to get this book.


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