Ref noPol
TitleRecords of Bristol Constabulary (1836-1974) and Avon & Somerset Constabulary (1974-)
DescriptionThe collection includes local acts and bye-laws, civil defence and ARP material, financial records, historical notes and booklets, force inspections, notes on inquests, circular orders, notebooks, licencing registers, records of community liaison groups, watch committee minutes, records of offences and concictions, photographs, area plans, newsletters, Home Office circulars, staff records, warrants and summons records.
Extent42 shelves
Administrative historyFollowing the 1831 riots and the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act which ordered boroughs to appoint a paid professional police force governed by a locally elected committee, the Bristol Constabulary was founded on 25 Jun 1836. Before this there was little overall responsibility apart from parish constables, night watchmen and assorted corporation officials. The constabulary comprised 232 men in a uniform of top hat, blue coat with embroidered collar, white dress trousers, a cape, a great coat with an embroidered badge, an armlet and a leather belt. The city was divided into four divisions, each with its own police station. The City station was located in the Guard House in Wine Street (later, a central police station on Bridewell Street/Nelson Street was built in 1844 and demolished 1928, with a new building at the same loccation opened in 1930 until it was closed in 2005). A Clifton station was located on Brandon Hill, a St Philip and Jacob station located opposite Trinity Church, and a Bedminster station in Turnpike Road (now East Street) with a later building on the same site built in 1881 which fell out of use c.1970s. The head of the force was Mr Joseph Bishop, previously a superintendent with the Metropolitan police, who died in 1838. He was replaced by Lieut Henry Fisher RN, the only non-professional policeman to head the Bristol force.

Over the course of the next century the force became increasingly specialised, and developed several branches including: Water Police (1842); Fire Brigade (1876, Albert Tozer being appointed the first superintendent); Detective Staff (established 1880 although detectives were first employed in 1846, the name of the branch changed to Criminal Investigation Department in 1920); Mounted Police (established 1898 although mounted men had been employed since 1880); Women Police Division (formed as a seperate division in 1920 due to women replacing men due to the first world war, with London Bristol and Glasgow being the first forces to appoint women); Motorised patrols (1931 to enforce legislation in the Road Traffic Act 1930).

In 1930 the area policed by the constabulary expanded in line with city boundary extensions to include Brislington, parts of Whitchurch and Bishopsworth, and in 1935 to include Henbury, parts of Filton and Winterbourne. Police telephone pillars were introduced in 1932 to aid communication. In 1955 the River Police station at The Grove opened and in 1967 an annexe at New Bridewell opened (on site of Bridewell prison where 1831 riots occured). The mounted branch and the dog section share facilities at Bower Ashton.

In 1974 the force was re-organised, merging with Somerset and Bath Constabulary, and the the Staple Hill division of Gloucestershire Constabulary, to form the Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

For published resources on the history of Bristol Constabulary, see the following: Bristol City Police, 1836-1936 (1936) - BRO Pol/HM/1/3; A Historical Review of the Bristol Constabulary (1974) - BRO Pol/HM/1/4; The Police: a brief history (1980s) - BRO Pol/HM/1/5; Establishment of the Bristol Police Force, by R Walters (1975) - BRO HA pamphlet 36; Police in late Victorian Bristol, by Brian Howell (1989) - BRO HA pamphlet 71
Access statusMixed
Access conditionsData Protection Act 1998
Related materialFor Watch Committee minutes 1831-1967 see M/BCC/WAT
Archivist's noteIn 2003 the police records were re-catalogued and many items were marked as restricted for 30 or 75 years under the Data Protection Act. These restrictions were reviewed by the constabulary's Force Records Manager in 2008 and although many restrictions were removed, some remain in place for 75 years from the date of the last entry. Following a re-assessment by Bristol Archives in 2016, some additional classes of records were made subject to restricted access as they contain information including names and addresses of those subject to sensitive crimes, involved third parties, named juveniles, and allegations which would not have been reported on as a matter of public record. Where permission is required from the constabulary to view records, the contact is: Corporate Information Management, Police Headquarters, PO Box 37, Valley Road, Portishead, Bristol, BS20 8QJ, telephone 01275 816 376 or email
Custodial historyMajor deposits received in 1975, 1992 and 2003. A printed 'Historical Review of Bristol Constabulary' (catalogued as Pol/HM/1/4) was written at the time of the merger of forces, and many of the records in this collection would appear to have been collected during the compilation of this publication. A further source of records would seem to have been the force museum.
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