COPPERING IN THE WEST COUNTRY:
Exploring policing heritage beyond London
Plymouth Special Constables receiving awards, C1940-C1950 (Rodgers’ is pictured on
the far left).
Image reference PA/3/22/3
Over the course of my blog, I’ve interviewed many fascinating people connected to the Metropolitan Police. Whether that be by preserving its heritage through museum collections and archives, or recounting personal experiences from their time working within the service. Clearly, the British police and its history extends beyond the limits of London, though—as we saw with Neil R.A. Bell’s interview last month about his work as the Volunteer Historical Archivist for Leicestershire Police. Keen to continue in this vein, I’m delighted to welcome the Museum of Policing in Devon & Cornwall to this month’s blog to discover the fascinating stories it has to tell.
Please tell us a bit about the Museum of Policing in Devon & Cornwall
The Museum of Policing in Devon and Cornwall collects, preserves and celebrates the history of policing in Devon and Cornwall. We encourage people — through exhibitions, pop-ups, workshops and online activities — to change the way they think about and experience policing heritage.
The Museum holds a kaleidoscope of historical policing material including documents, photographs, and artefacts, and provides an in-depth array of material tracing the social history of the region spanning over two centuries.
We exist to ensure the policing heritage of Devon and Cornwall is made accessible to an
inter-generational audience and preserved for posterity. We support researchers, genealogists, educational institutions, and heritage organisations across the region to engage with policing history, encouraging all our collaborators, partners and audiences to uncover in particular the underrepresented voices and diverse histories preserved in our collections.
Your website features the story of Cecil Wilberforce Rodgers, Devon’s First Black Special Constable. Could you tell us a bit about him and how you discovered his story?
Cecil Wilberforce Rodgers was the first Black man in Devon to join the Special Constabulary. He lived in Plymouth and was a Special Constable with ‘D’ Sub-Division of the Plymouth City Police. Rodgers is also believed to be Britain's first Black Special Constable, further emphasising the significance of Rodger's policing career.
The discovery was made by our volunteer Mark Rothwell. Rodgers name was suggested as an early pioneer by Abdul Maalik Tailor, a member of the Police History Society, who has documented early Black and Asian officers amongst the British police forces. Contact was made with Mr Tailor after he posted a list of known Black and Asian officers on the Police History Society Facebook page; this list included the name ‘Cecil Rodgers – Devon and Cornwall’, a name we were not familiar with at the museum.
Our volunteer Mark then started to research into Rodgers’ life and found that he was born in South Milton, near Salcombe, on 16th January 1899 as one of seven children to John Augustus Rodgers, a Jamaican cabinetmaker, and Susan Bessie Jarvis, a Kingsbridge seamstress. Our Archivist, Alistair Stone, also helped to research the story using the Museum’s archive collection. Rodgers is mentioned as working as Special Constable 295 in one of our charge registers for the Plymouth City Police in 1943. We also hold many photographs of Rodgers in group photographs with his fellow officers at the Plymouth City Police during and after the Second World War.
Readers can read the full story here: https://www.dcpolicingmuseum.co.uk/stories/cecil-wilberforce-rodgers/
How can my readers, fellow writers, and genealogists engage with the museum in terms of research and visiting?
We unfortunately don’t have a physical museum site open to the public, although this is something that we’re currently working on! (Our object collection is currently stored at Okehampton Police Station). The Museum’s archive is held at Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter which is open to members of the public – you can search the archive catalogue here: https://devon-cat.swheritage.org.uk/records/PA
If readers would like to visit the archive, they can contact our Archivist at firstname.lastname@example.org We operate a research and copying request service too, if readers are unable to visit Devon Heritage Centre in person. You can find more information about this here: https://www.dcpolicingmuseum.co.uk/contact-us/
We also hold monthly online events, which feature a different guest speaker each month. If readers are interested in our events programme, details on our latest events can be found on our social media channels and Eventbrite page: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/museum-of-policing-in-devon-and-cornwall-34412908851
If my readers have stories about their experiences with the Devon & Cornwall Police, how can they share them with the museum?
We’re really interested to hear readers’ stories about policing in Devon and Cornwall. Readers can share their stories by contacting us via our website https://www.dcpolicingmuseum.co.uk/contact-us/
or through our social media channels.
I’d like to thank the Museum of Policing in Devon & Cornwall for joining me today. Also, for making me smile and giving me pause for thought in equal measure. I found the stories shared here absolutely fascinating, as I’m sure you did, too. Please click on the links below to explore their website and social media. You can find the museum @dcpolmuseum across their social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram).
~ T.G. Campbell, December 2021
What is the most amusing artefact/document held by the museum?
In the Museum’s object collection, we have a Bogey Perpetual Trophy, which was awarded to the police officer who made the biggest blunder. There are also a lot of documents in the archive about this trophy which tell some amusing stories about the trophy’s winners over the years. One particular officer was awarded the trophy for his blunder in escorting a prisoner on a train. He had gotten off the train at a station to grab some drinks, and the train left before he could return with the prisoner still on board!
What is the most unusual artefact/document held by the museum?
Our most unusual objects are probably some condoms that have landed in the Museum’s collection. They were supplied by the Eddystone Trust (a sexual health charity) and given out at Torbay Price around 2010/11. The Local Policing and Partnerships team at Devon and Cornwall Police did a lot of work with the Eddystone Trust, which is how the condoms came into our collection. The police officers working in the team thought it would be good to donate them to the Museum for posterity, given they’re a rather unusual item! Over the years, many police officers have donated objects, documents, and photographs to the Museum’s collection which we’re incredibly grateful for.