Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Metropolitan Police in the First World War

Richard Wilcocks writes:
I am collecting information and stories about the Metropolitan Police during the First World War. I am particularly interested in the role of the police in relation to wartime medical services, but anything you send will be received with gratitude.

See my new website for the recently published "Stories from the War Hospital" at

Email me at

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Is your police officer grandfather amongst these performers?

Taken about 1930. Get in touch if you recognise an ancestor.

Thanks to John King,  who sent photos of this orphanage medal.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Ralph Wilcocks - one of the Police Minstrels

Richard Wilcocks writes:

Ralph Wilcocks, pictured below in the early 1920s with his two daughters May and Violet Pretoria, and his son Alfred, was my grandfather. He died long before I was born.

He was born in Hillingdon Heath, Middlesex, on 8 March 1868, and married Elizabeth Ellen Doughty on 18 August 1897. They lived in New Denham. After nearly eight years service with the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (South Yorkshire Regiment), much of it in India (Karachi, Hyderabad, Quetta, Zhob Valley Expedition, then Bombay, Poona and Nasirabad), he joined the Metropolitan Police in 1893. He was a constable in K Division until 1896, then in L (Lambeth) Division until his retirement in August 1919. Here is a reference to him from the National Archives at Kew:

Ralph Wilcocks, warrant number 78595. Joined on 1 May 1893, and left on 11 Aug 1919. Last posted to L Division as a PC

 After that, he was a member of the Metropolitan Police Minstrels. These were immensely popular with the public, raised large sums for the police orphanage and were in the well-established traditions of blackface minstrelsy which originated in the United States and which were imported into Britain in Victorian times. This kind of entertainment was generally uncriticised in those days : Al Jolson singing about his mammy in The Jazz Singer was a sensation, and many other stars like Judy Garland and Bing Crosby appeared on screen in blackface at some time or other.

If you have information on any of the people in the photo, or any general comments, please get in touch. Use this email address, putting RALPH into the subject line : OR simply post a comment underneath.

The thought of Lambeth policemen today blacking their faces with burnt cork, putting on wigs, then singing and telling jokes on a public stage in front of a paying audience, is absolutely mind-boggling! On the far side of offensive as well! My now-deceased distant cousin Jim Bramhill spoke to me on the phone a few years ago about them: he remembered being taken to the newly-built RAF Uxbridge as a child to watch a performance, which he described as "very enjoyable". And my grandfather was there, singing.......

Professor Rachel Cowgill from the School of Music at the University of Cardiff has a book in progress entitled The Rise and Fall of the Metropolitan Police Minstrels. 

So, if you can provide more information on the Minstrels, I would be additionally grateful.  Email me! Thanks.

Click on the photo to enlarge.