1. Edward John Davies
The first Superintendent of Merthyr, Edward John Davis, was sworn in at Bridgend on Tuesday 19th October 1841, at the age of 33 years. He had served in the Metropolitan Police as a constable and sergeant, and in 1840 had been appointed Superintendent in the newly-formed Essex Constabulary. His name and the fact he came to Glamorgan without advancement in rank or apparent financial benefit make it appear likely that he was a Welshman, but there is no proof of this.
Captain Napier obviously placed a great deal of trust in him for he was made responsible for preparing the "Instructions for the Members of the Glamorganshire Constabulary Force" issued as a General Order of the Chief Constable in November 1841. Edward Davis was by far the most experienced of the 4 Superintendents - Leveson-Gower (Ogmore district) and Peake (Neath) had been Army Officers, while although Thomas Morgan Lewis (Pontypridd) had been a Superintendent there for almost 2 years in command of a trial force of 6 constables, had little more than having been a Sergeant at Haverfordwest to commend him. In any case Lewis was not popular with the Chief Constable. It was therefore inevitable that Davis should be selected to take charge of Merthyr, the most populous and troublesome part of the County, and as it turned out, he was the ideal man for the job.
In the beginning the Superintendent must have been severely handicapped by the inexperience of the men under his command, and this is probably the reason why he took such an active part in routine police duties during the first few months, probably as the best means of demonstrating how the work should be done. He set an excellent example and this can be evidenced by a local newspaper account of the time which stated that:
"The Superintendent has been unremitting in his endeavours to trace out more of the property stolen from the Misses Williams of Aberpergwm. A few days ago, while searching the house of one of the suspects at Caedraw and after pulling down a grate and its mantlepiece in one of the rooms, he found concealed behind the latter some of the stolen property, and also a piece of wax candle which corresponded with one the culprit had used at the time of the burglary."
There is evidence too that he was a man of considerable tact, the value of which he had undoubtedly learned from his experiences in the Metropolitan Police, which had had to bear the brunt of suspicion and open hostility shown towards it in the 1830s. He appreciated the value of the Press as a means of educating the public, and went out of his way to secure a "good" Press in its coverage of the activities of himself and his men. The fact that the local paper was printed and published in Merthyr was of considerable advantage to him! From the outset, the Merthyr and Cardiff Guardian were on his side, and many of the references to police matters appearing as editorial coverage were clearly inspired by him.
The report of the police taking over in Merthyr is followed by a statement that "the Superintendent is determined to provide for the respectable people of the town the protection to which they are entitled," and a week later, "the Superintendent had given positive orders to his men for the better performance of their duties as well as for the protection of the public, to use mild and conciliatory measures to all persons, and not for a single moment to infringe upon the rights or liberties of the people by unnecessary or vexatious interference." A warning was then added that "at the same time he was prepared to prosecute with vigour any person who might assault his men in the performance of their duties."
In March 1842, undoubtedly as a means to restore public confidence after lapses on the part of some of his men, the newspaper reports, "last week Superintendent Davis was under the necessity of discharging two men for dereliction of duty. We understand that Captain Napier is determined in future to send all cases of improper conduct on the part of the police before the magistrates. The inhabitants of Merthyr will be glad to learn that they will not be called upon to pay for an inefficient or idle set of men."
There can also be traced evidence of the good relationship that existed with the Press independently of the announcements directly inspired by the Superintendent. No opportunity was lost to add to reports of good policemanship comments calculated to build up the prestige of the local police and of the Force in general. Thus a good detection in crime is described as "a tribute to the keen-eyed peelers of Merthyr," and a saving of life report includes the statement that, "PC Jones with that promptitude and presence of mind which always characterises the Glamorgan Police..." as well as the great improvement in Sunday behaviour being due to the "indefatigable exertions of Superintendent Davis and his men."
His tact was nowhere better demonstrated than in his handling of situations that could easily have led to serious breaches of the peace. At that time the Chartist movement, which stood for greater freedom and liberty and championed the abolition of the new Police, was very strong in Merthyr, and frequent meetings were held in the town where agitators sought to recruit support. Superintendent Davis and Captain Napier went in plain clothes to these meetings and mingled with the crowd. Only occasionally did a policeman in uniform make an appearance to avoid creating bad feeling amongst those present.
In September 1842, a party of Chartists who had been discharged from the works paraded with placards in their hats soliciting alms from shopkeepers. The paper reports that Superintendent Davis caused extra patrols to be on the alert and advised the leaders to seek aid from the Relieving Officer. This officer arranged for a meeting to be held in the Vestry room to inquire into the facts. Soon afterwards the Superintendent and several of his men appeared in the room, which was full, and "great anxiety prevailed outside as to the result of the interview. After the Relieving Officer instructed the men in the way they should put the matter before the Guardians, the Superintendent addressed the assembly and pointed out to them the absurdity, not to say illegality of their conduct and intimated that it would be his duty to take them all into custody if they persisted. He said it would be a painful duty for the police officers to perform, but he was determined to execute his duty, though to show friendship to the working classes he and his men at this stage preferred to warn them against falling into error."
As a result of his advice and friendly approach the Chartists dispersed. He adopted similar tactics, at great personal risk, in trying to disperse crowds assembling in a threatening mood during the frequent "strikes" and "lock-outs" of the period, not always with success it must be admitted, but in making the attempts he displayed a fine understanding of practical psychology and became very much respected.
Superintendent Davis also made effective use of his horse. Fifty years before the introduction of the Mounted Branch into Merthyr Police, Superintendent Davis not only ensured that his horse was well-trained in police work, but also that it was put to police work, and not, as in the case of the other Superitendents, used in a gig or trap to make routine visits. It is almost certain that Superintendent Davis had had experience of the value of a horse in police work in his years with the Metropolitan Police. He may even have belonged to its "Horse Patrol" for he was an excellent horseman and knew how to handle the animal. He may even have acquired his horse when he was a Superintendent in Essex and then brought it to Merthyr. Superintendent Davis's ostler was a police constable called Frederick Forey. It is evident that PC 35 Frederick Forey and the horse made a formidable team.
The horse was worth an entire squad of men, for a horseman armed with the long baton carried in a special leather sheath attached to the saddle, could patrol the rougher parts of the town, notably China, which would take a company of men to accomplish. The horse was used with particular success in patrolling the tollgates of the town during the Rebecca disturbances in the summer of 1843, but in September of that year, the horse was mysteriously shot in its stable.
At 8.30pm on a Saturday evening, PC 35 Forey who was responsible for the horse, left him in the stable by the "Bunch of Grapes," virtually opposite the Castle Inn. He locked the door, taking the key with him, and proceeded to the Station House below the Market Square, remaining there until he was sent for later.
Sometime between 9.20pm and 9.30pm, Mr Samuel Smith, a Draper, was sitting in his premises when he heard a shot ring out. Mr Smith ran to the lane and was told by a bystander that the shot had come from the Superintendent's stable, which was within a few yards of Mr Smith's house, the other side of the lane. He then ran to PC Forey's house. Mrs Forey informed him that he was at the Station House, and both she and Mr Smith went to the stable, noting immediately that it smelt strongly of gun-powder. The horse was standing with the saddle on its back. A search for a pistol proved fruitless, and PC Forey was sent for. Forey took the horse out of the stable whereupon it became apparent that there was something wrong with him. After attempting to bleed the horse and failing to obtain any blood, they then led him back to the stable and on closer examination found a wound 8 or 9 inches long under the saddle on the offside.
Mr Wiltshire, the Veterinary Surgeon, at the Cyfarthfa Works was sent for but the horse died at 7am that morning. On Monday an examination revealed that the shot had entered through the lungs and liver. The horse was a very valuable animal, estimated at £25 and well trained to his duties.
A reward of £5 was offered by the Superintendent, and of £15 by the Sergeants and Constables for information leading to the conviction of the offender. The average pay of the men was £1 a week, and there were 12 of them. Each was prepared to pay more than a week's wages if the killer could be found. It is highly probable though that this never happened. The person responsible could have been a Rebeccaite, but it was also possible that the killer nursed a personal grievance against the Superintendent.
A paragraph which appeared in a newspaper a couple of weeks prior to the shooting may shed some light as to its motive. A constable said in evidence that his prisoner had told him he knew where large quantities of pistols and guns were being kept and that soon the policemen would feel bullets in their heads and bodies. Commentating on this in Court the Superintendent was reported as saying, " It would be idle of me to pay the slightest attention to menaces thrown out by a set of drunk and disorderly fellows, but I am not frightened by mere words or idle inferences, and I assure them they will find me no schoolboys' play."
The Superintendent himself had only a year longer to live, although he was only 36. He died of Cholera in December 1844.
2. Joseph Harrison Hemer
Edward Davies’ successor was Joseph Harrison Hemer, aged 40 years, whose arrival at Merthyr was reported in the Press during the first week of 1845. Hemer had served for 4 years and 6 months with the Liverpool Police before joining the Lancashire Police as a Sergeant on 31st August 1840. He had served as a Sergeant at Bolton and Warrington and as an Inspector, from August 1844, at Bury and Amounderness.
Hemer was 6 feet tall with a fresh complexion, grey eyes, light brown hair and sandy whiskers. He was a married man with 3 children and had been a joiner before becoming a constable.
During the 15 months he served as a Superintendent at Merthyr, he does not seem to have successfully filled the shoes of Superintendent Davies, nor to have enjoyed such a good relationship with the press. He did not feature in any Press report except as prosecutor in the Courts and on one occasion when the speed and distance of his travelling by rail seems to have occasioned some surprise.
The paper said he left Newcastle on the 5.30am train on Monday with a prisoner and at 9.00pm that day he was at Bristol with his charge, having travelled through 4 cities and 300 miles of railway. From Bristol he sailed to Cardiff (there was no railway to South Wales until 1850), and travelled from Cardiff to Merthyr by the Taff Vale Railway, arriving at 10.15am on Tuesday. The case was one of deserting a wife and child.
Very little is known of Hemer, but this report and the fact that in February 1846 he took over a much inferior position as an Inspector of the Glamorganshire Canal, in the employ of the Cyfarthfa Iron Company, he was not at all happy in his job. Certainly his journey to Newcastle left the District of Merthyr unsupervised and was one that a junior constable could have carried out.
3. Arthur Webber
The third Superintendent was only in post for 3 months. Arthur Webber took over in mid March 1846, having served for just over 6 years in the Metropolitan Police. He finished in early June to marry a very rich widow.
4. Henry Wrenn
In June 1846, Henry Wrenn, then stationed at Dowlais, became the first man of this Force to be promoted to the rank of Superintendent. This ended the period of nearly 5 years during which all vacancies in that rank had been filled from outside.
Captain Napier had made an excellent choice in appointing Edward Davis, but neither Hemer nor Webber seems to have possessed the qualities of leadership required to cope with the problems that the policing of Merthyr posed. Wrenn though was exceptional. A policeman to the core, in the period of more than 20 years that he remained at Merthyr he acquired a reputation that would have taken him to the top of his profession, if it had not been for the class barrier which existed for nearly a hundred years and made it impossible for a professional policeman to become a Chief Constable. Had it not been for this, Wrenn might well have become the first Chief Constable of Monmouthshire when the Force for that County was introduced in 1857, or have succeeded in his application for appointment as Chief Constable of the Glamorgan Constabulary on the death of Captain Napier in 1867.
Wrenn was only 27 years old when he became Superintendent, the youngest man ever to attain that rank in the Force. He was one of the first batch of men sworn in at Bridgend on 23rd October 1841 to form the Glamorgan County Police Force. From Bridgend, as PC 16, he was sent to Dowlais with PC 23 William Fair as his fellow constable, and PS 11 Thomas Dawkins in charge. Within 6 months he had succeeded Dawkins as the Dowlais Sergeant, taking the latter's number and uniform as was the practice in those days, Dawkins having left to take up a more restful occupation as a watchman on the Dowlais Ironworks.
The following newspaper account illustrates the type of situation frequently met with by a Merthyr Constable. The military had been billeted at the Dowlais barracks since the Merthyr riots of 1831, and groups of soldiers pursuing their drunken and boisterous pleasures had for some years been able to bully the populace without official hindrance. It took great courage to oppose them:
"On Sunday last an affray took place in Dowlais between soldiers, civilians and the police which threatened to terminate in a serious manner. A party of privates of the 73rd Regiment were coming drunk through the town when, in a quarrel with a working man, one of them drew a bayonet to attack the man, but fell down allowing the workman to get away. Some civilians began to stone the soldiers.
Sergeant Wrenn coming up at the time was requested by some of the soldiers to take civilians into custody for throwing stones at them, but this he declined to do, not having witnessed it, but said that if they would go to the barracks he would try to protect them from molestation.
Upon this the soldiers became very violent. One of them struck the Sergeant on the head and was promptly seized by the latter. The soldiers then attempted a rescue, one of them drawing his bayonet and swearing with horrid imprecations that he would "Rip the b....y guts out of Sergeant Wrenn," who nevertheless, kept his hold on the prisoner. Fortunately, PC Parker arrived on the scene at this moment and helped the Sergeant to take the original prisoner and two more soldiers into custody, one of them badly wounded on the head by a blow from a police truncheon.
The following evening a party of the same regiment, inflamed by liquor, assembled at the front of the police station swearing they would have revenge and commenced an attack on the door, which fortunately was too strong for them, or the consequences must have been serious for there was only one officer, PC Jarrett and his wife in at the time. While the attack was going on Sergeant Wrenn arrived, got in at the back, and having armed himself and PC Jarrett with cutlasses and pistols, proceeded out to the street, calling on the inhabitants to assist them, which they did, and the soldiers were dispersed."
It would appear that Sergeant Wrenn, a single man, lodged with the Jarretts at the station. PC Jarrett was employed by the Iron Company as a "private company" man. Dowlais station was in fact a house, situated at the entrance to the Dowlais Works provided by the Iron Company for use as a lock up. The County Police, however, were also allowed to use it. Jarrett, who had been a Sergeant at Cowbridge and reduced in rank in 1842 for misconduct, later became a Sergeant on the Ironworks at Rhymney, and went on to become Superintendent at the Tredegar Ironworks.
As soon as he was appointed Superintendent, Wrenn renewed with the greatest vigour the police campaign against the trouble spots of "China" and Pontstorehouse which Superintendent Davis had begun, but which his predecessors, Hemer and Webster, do not seem to have continued. Within 12 months, 60 or more of the notorious characters from these districts had been lodged in prison. The local paper rejoiced:
"Amidst the towers (China) policemen's hats are seen, and desolation reigns where joy has been"
The lines are a parody of two lines from a famous poem, "The Deserted Village," by Goldsmith.
Superintendent Wrenn personally featured in the apprehension of many of these. He even arrested John Wilde, described in the press as a "notorious bully," and who threatened to "bash the brains out of the first constable who came near him." By 1855, "China," that part of Merthyr notorious for many years as a den of inequity and vice, could not be differentiated from other parts of the town other than by the squalidness of the locality and the violence still prone to break out there from time to time.
To go "charging in" regardless of consequences, was characteristic of Wrenn. In the records concerning him there is ample evidence of his quick temper and his touchiness with regard to anything which he regarded as an attack on himself or any of his men. Solicitors exceeding what Wrenn considered proper bounds in cross-examining a constable as to his credibility or as to his character roused the Superintendent to fury. Letters to the press criticising the police received immediate response from him in the same columns. One solicitor, in an outburst in Court said: "It is as dangerous to touch the police of this district as to put one's finger in the fire. Immediately he comes under the command of Wrenn he becomes infallible." Wrenn retorted: "I do not stand up for worthless men. I have brought 5 constables before this very Court for wrongdoing, and I am not going to sit here to hear myself villified."
Wrenn left the Force in 1868, after having served for 27 years, to become Governor of Cardiff Prison. In 1872 he stood accused of certain malpractices in administration at the gaol and was forced to resign. Wrenn later obtained an appointment as an Inspector of Hackney Carriages under the Metropolitan Police and resided with his family in Brixton.