Johnstone History Museum
Johnstone History Society • Scotland

When Johnstone Police Wore Straw Hats

When Johnstone Police Wore Straw Hats

The Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, May 4, 1907, page 6 reported

Police Inspection, Johnstone The Annual Inspection of the Burgh Force under the command of Chief Constable (also known as Captain) Charles Forbes took place on the Tuesday forenoon (April 30, 1907). Major Ferguson was the inspecting officer. There were on parade one Chief Constable (Forbes), one Inspector, one Detective Sergeant, one Sergeant, and eight Constables, all dressed in their new uniforms and straw caps. The average of the force is 32, height 5ft 10 and a half inches, length of service eight years, and nationality all Scottish.

Major Ferguson commented on the smart appearance of the force, and the unique and trim look of the new caps. He also expressed satisfaction with the accommodation and with arrangements being made for the provision of a new Muster Hall and Barracks.

Provost Lang afterwards entertained Major Ferguson, Captain Forbes, Mr A.W. Finlayson, Mr Robert Reid, Burgh Prosecutor, and the following members of the Town Council to luncheon in the Municipal Chambers - Bailies Ferguson and Guy and ex-Bailie Ritchie.

“Round The County” commented - Looking spic and span in new straw caps and wearing new uniforms, the Johnstone Police ushered in May. The caps are quite a novelty in this part of the country and are quite coast-like, a little piece of ribbon is attached to the front of each bearing the legend “E.R. VII,” which seems to disclose their English manufacture. Wouldn’t “J.B.P.” (Johnstone Burgh Police) or those immortal words “Gang Forward” be more appropriate ? The Theodore Napiers in theTown Council will perhaps have something to say about the present badge.

Note - The original Theodore Napier was born in Melbourne to Scottish parents in 1845. This Scottish Australian played a key part in the Neo-Jacobite revival of the 1890’s. In 1893 he moved to Scotland and was a strong supporter of the House of Stuart and a reversal of the Acts of Union 1707, his desired outcome being a loose federation of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales under a strong Stuart monarchy. He objected to the Coronation of King EdwardVII in 1902, believing that no King Edward had ever sat on the throne of Scotland, therefore the next king could not be Edward VII. He petitioned that Edward use a different name, and when that request was refused, he announced his intention to attend the Coronation ceremony and “challenge the King’s champion to mortal combat.” Generally regarded as an eccentric, he died in 1924.
The Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, June 22, 1907, page 6 mentioned - New Police Barracks.

The report of the Government Inspector, Major Ferguson, has been so emphatic in recommending a Muster Room for the use of the Johnstone Force that the Town Council at length agreed to accept Captain Forbes plan to transform the upper flat of the Corporation’s property at 9 Collier Street into a Barracks for the unmarried men and a Muster Room for the Force. Last Saturday (15 June 1907) five men moved into the altered premises and the renovated Muster Room is also expected to be opened at an early date. The portion occupied by the men consists of a kitchen and two bedrooms.

The official opening took place, as mentioned in the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 18th Jan., 1908, page 8 - A remarkable statement was made by Captain Forbes at the opening of the new Johnstone Police Barracks. He stated that no fewer than 747 persons were dealt with at the Police Court during the year (1907), and he confessed that he was surprised to find that the cases had attained so high dimensions. The most startling thing, however, was the fact that Johnstone had recovered more in fines and forfeitures than Kilmarnock and Airdrie, which were bigger Burghs. The figures were far in excess , too, of say any other Burgh of a similar size in Scotland. The Captain had a suspicion that the cause for this lawlessness was the nature of the inhabitants, judging from the difficulty the Provost experienced - if press reports were to be relied on upon - in preserving order among the body over whom he presided ! A very serious allegation this against the Town Council, but it is satisfactory to know that the representatives of the ratepayers have been improving in behaviour, and their meetings lately have not justified the presence of a policeman.

“Round The County” commented in the same newspaper that - Captain Forbes, at the opening of the Police Barracks on Monday evening (13 Jan., 1908), told a story which he assured a doubting audience was true. It was to illustrate the innocence of prisoners, and the party concerned was of that nationality not unknown in police circles, namely an Irishman. This “drunk” stated that he was going up the High Street sober when he saw one of the Captain’s men standing up against a door helplessly drunk. He conveyed the Constable to the Police Office, but the latter was no sooner inside when he suddenly sobered up and charged the amateur “copper “ with being drunk !

In the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, June 20, 1908, page 8, “Round The County” commented - Johnstone Police have erected a tent adjoining the Barracks, but the heat wave will have to come back before they make it their sleeping quarters.

An increase in the number of police using the Barracks ?
Note - The use of the straw hats by the force seems to have been confined to summer wear only, and they appear to have been worn for a short time as later photos show the use of the traditional police cap being worn.