The Neath Borough Police Force was inaugurated on 9 February 1836 by the appointment of David Protheroe as its first policeman. When giving evidence at the Assizes for the first time, Protheroe was asked by counsel if he was the Chief of Police at Neath. On replying in the affirmative, counsel then enquired how many men there were in the new Neath Police. Protheroe answered, "Myself, sir."
The Report of the Municipal corporation Boundaries of England and Wales 1835-1837, stated that in Neath "there is at present only one policeman maintained in the town at a cost of £52 per annum, the amount being partly raised by private subscriptions, partly out of the rate for lighting."
Protheroe continued to constitute the force until December 1837 when he was replaced by Jenkin Francis who became head policeman, with Samuel Stephens and Thomas Francis as his assistants.
In May 1837, Jenkin Francis resigned. Three policemen were subsequently appointed: Penry Gwyn, William Rees and Edward Davies, implying that Samuel Stephens and Thomas Francis must also have left the force by this time.
The inability of the newly formed Neath Police to keep its staff continued. Penry Gwyn did not remain in office long. Records show that he was given a month's notice the following November. Thus, the force reverted back to operating with two police officers and remained at that strength for ten years.
The report of the quarterly meeting of Neath Town Council, quoted in the "Cambrian" dated 14 August 1841, records payment to William Rees and Edward Rees (in error of Davies) of the sum of £6 10s and £5 4s respectively for their quarter's salary. With the departure of Penry Gwyn, William Rees had become head policeman with Edward Davies his assistant. However, these officers do not appear to have satisfied the council, for they were both given their notice the following December! Interestingly, only William Rees did actually leave the force. He was replaced by William Morgan in May 1842.
Captain Charles Frederick Napier, Chief Constable of the Glamorgan Constabulary, recognised that policing the town of Neath and its environs with just two policemen was totally inadequate, and that Neath would be far more efficiently policed by merging Neath Police with the Glamorganshire Constabulary. The merger was proposed by Quarter Sessions but the town authorities would not agree to it. Quarter Sessions also recommended that a joint police station and gaol be set up to serve both forces. This suggestion was likewise turned down by the Town Council in 1842, who decided instead to build a gaol of their own. This decision appears to have been reversed at a later date, and a joint police station and gaol was built as originally suggested.
The James Street Gaol
The new police station and gaol comprising of two identical wings was built in James Street, one wing being occupied by each police force. The building proved to be a disaster. The chimney was poorly constructed and smoked whenever a fire was lit. The gutter which ran underneath, overflowed with raw sewage and manure, and this was piled up in the slaughterhouse yard behind the station.
In February 1844, the council again had occasion to change the police officers, and Morgan and Davies were given one month’s notice. Two new policemen were appointed, the head policeman occupying the new gaol house rent-free. In March, William Rees returned to the force, and in April the same year, Thomas Owens was appointed. The more experienced William Rees, although listed as the head policeman, was evidently reluctant to reside at the gaol house. This would have been understandable given the appalling conditions there. Nevertheless, a policeman had to live there and records show that this responsibility fell onto the new recruit Thomas Owens.
The cholera outbreak of 1849 killed Thomas Owens. Despite Captain Napier's repeated attempts and the tragedy of Owens' death, the borough did little to improve the conditions of the building, and the county police station was not moved to a new premises until 1862.
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