Author: Harry Cummings

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Friday, April 27th, 2012 at 11:39 am
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Adam’s Legacy

Distinctively marked cars hurrying in to emergency calls; beat officers equipped with small personal radios, police stations containing highly sophisticated computer and communications equipment, forensic scientists. I wonder what Adam Colquhoun would have made of it all.

Adam who? No, the name is probably not familiar to many people today but the highly professional police service we now enjoy in West Lothian had its beginnings with Adam Colquhoun nearly one hundred and sixty years ago.

Before that time, professional policing was unknown in the County but this was to change as a result of an Act of Parliament in 1839, which provided for the formation of County Police Forces. In 1840, the first Constables were appointed to the Linlithgowshire Force under the command of Adam Colquhoun who had previously served as a Lieutenant in Edinburgh City Police. Colquhoun was appointed to his new post with the rank of Superintendant, the highest available to Police Officers in those days.

With the creation of the new Police Force, it became necessary to find suitable premises from which it could operate and Linlithgowshire’s first police station was set up in teh County jail, the prisoners having been moved to a new jail nearby. It is rumoured that part of the corridor floor could be moved to expose a passage which led to other buildings and eventually to Linlithgow Palace. The cellars of these buildings were certainly connected, but, whatever the truth of this, there is no trace of a passage today. This station remained in operation until 1942, when it was demolished and a new station built on the site.

From 1857 onwards, a number of small police stations were opened all over the County, the disposition of manpower iften dictated by the presence of industrial works in the various areas.

So what kinds of problems did Adam Colquhoun and his men have in those days? Well, even a cursory glance at the records for 1853 reveals that some of today’s major difficulties did not exist in the mid 19th century. The motor car, with all its attendant enforcement issues, had not yet put in an appearance, although at least one case of ‘furious’ driving, presumably relating to a horse, is recorded. And there was no sign of a drugs problem.

Far and away the most common offence was Breach of the Peace, often, but not always, associated with drunkenness. Those brought before the courts and charged with this crime usually received a small fine or were reprimanded. Fines were also likely to be imposed on those guilty of ‘Malicious Mischief’, the offence of  ‘Keeping Too Many Lodgers’ and that of ‘Day Poaching’. ‘Night Poaching’ was viewed much more seriously and could attract a sentence of imprisonment.

Minor assaults were quite common and led to higher fines than for Breach of the Peace, while thefts of any kind always resulted in short terms of imprisonment. These sentences could, however, increase considerably in cases of Theft by Housebreaking or other aggravations of the crime. Perhaps not surprisingly, in a largely agricultural county, less serious thefts often included the purloining of potatoes and turnips.

Thankfully most of those committing crimes or offences in West Lothian did so on their own or with only one or two others. However, on one memorable occasion, recorded in 1868, no less than 22 apprentice shoemakers, the oldest of whom was 16 years of age, were all charged with the same offence as a result of the same incident. Their crime? That of playing shinty in West Well Wynd, Linlithgow. It is pleasing to note that no proceedings were taken against them.

Life must have been very hard for for policemen in those days; Constables were almost permanently on duty and liable to be called out at any time. There was also little in the way of specialist support as evidenced by the fact that the first detective in West Lothian was not appointed until 1876. It is also recorded that@should there be nothing in his own line of work to do, he should assist the uniform branch”. I doubt very much if today’s busy detectives in West Lothian will ever be in that position.

There does not appear to be any existing record of the uniforms issued to Officers in Linlithgowshire in 1840 or beyond. I suspect, however, that these would be similar to those issued in Edinburgh during the same period, namely: a three quarter length coat with a high collar marked with the Officer’s number. Headgear was a tall (top?) hat, perhaps made of cork and probably reinforced with leather.

1857 was an important year for the police service as another Act of Parliament standardised the police rank structure and created uniform conditions of service throughout the country. It also redesignated the heads of police forces as Chief Constables. Adam Colquhoun became, therefore, the first and, as it turned out, the only, Chief Constable of West Lothian.

Even by the standards of the times, Chief Constables were not well paid. In 1859, they could look forward to an annual salary of only 200 pounds per annum, inclusive of travelling expenses. By 1870, the total force numbered only 21 officers, including the Chief Constable.

Adam Colquhoun remained in post until his death in 1877 at 73 years of age, well past today’s retiring age. By this time, authority had been given for a Chief Constable to be appointed covering 2 or more adjoining Forces. Colquhoun’s immediate successor  was placed in charge of both West and Mid Lothian while later incumbents also covered East Lothian and Peeblesshire.

One of these, Captain David Munro, went on to become H. M. Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland. During his tenure, Munro campaigned against the many extraneous duties which had been placed on Police Officers, including those of School Board Compulsory Officers, Inspectors of Lighting, Cleansing, Paving and Draining and in some instances, the collection of County and Burgh rates.

Many changes and improvements occurred over the years, not least in the field of training, where a strong West Lothian connection existed through the Scottish Police Training School, which opened at Whitburn in 1946 and served all Forces. First year recruits attended this school while those in second year received more advanced instruction at Polkemmet House. In 1950, improved facilities were found at Tullieallan Castle, Kincardine.

Changes also took place in the transport provided, although in 1919, the yearly allowance granted to Police Officers for the maintenance of their bicycles was increased from 30 shillings to 2 pounds. Inspectors who owned their own motor cycles received 1 pound and 5 shillings reimbursement for their excise and driving licences.

It was not until 1935 that the first traffic patrol car, a 12 horse power Riley, became operational in the County. Drivers in those days were, however, somewhat at a disadvantage as they could receive messages by Morse Code but could not transmit replies!

As society changed, many of the smaller Forces were were incorporated into larger organisations and West Lothian, in 1950, became a part of the new Lothians and Peebles Constabulary. The County then became a separate division of that force and, after 1975, or the present day Lothian and Borders Police.

It may be that the transport, communications, equipment and technology of today’s force would all be strange to Adam Colquhoun. I am, however, quite sure that he would instantly identify with the ethos of service and professionalism he instilled so long ago and which still holds good today.

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