As a historian and former serving member of the Hampshire Constabulary, I am now preforming a voluntary role in the police dealing with history enquiries and archives. Over the years police forces around the country have disposed of thousands of documents and files. This was necessary for lack of space and storage, and (especially in the past) because few saw any need to keep old files. Personnel files however were usually kept, as these might be required for pension purposes. Thus today we have good records of past police officers, and this delights many people searching for ancestors who were police officers. They hold a lot of detail,such as physical appearance and past occupation (200M86 H36 series).
These records also give a wealth of social detail. Roger Ottewill contacted me as he is writing up the life of PC Theophilus Roote, who served 1875-1891, for a Family and Community Historical Research Society (FACHRS) project. Here is PC Roote’s 2 page record. It shows all the stations he served at. He previously served in Cambridgeshire..
Hampshire Archives hold records of all Hampshire officers who joined from 1840-1986. Data Protection legislation ensures that records of people who may still be alive are kept closed and therefore the records after 1937 are currently closed.
When we receive requests for records of old officers, we need to establish if the ancestor served in Southampton, Portsmouth or elsewhere as that determines which Record Office holds the information. Portsmouth City had its own police force until 1967 and their records are held in the Portsmouth History Centre. Even Winchester had its own force until 1943 (you can read my book to see more;’ 111 years Policing Winchester ; A history of the Winchester City Force 1832-1943 ‘ (2012) ).
Group photograph of Southampton Borough Police Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps,1944
Group photograph of unidentified Southampton police division sporting tin helmets and gas mask packs, 1941.
Crime files in Hampshire Archives are few and far between. Most were routinely destroyed. Today the Management of Police Information Guidance covers their destruction or retention by police forces. Our history archives contain a few old crime files but they are closed. If you are around in 2025 you could see the open access of the Petersfield Crime Complaint Book 1943-44 for example (200M86 H30/1). If you are after murder files then it is better to look at the National Archives where DPP (Department of Public Prosecution) files are sometimes kept. Newspaper reports are usually the main way of finding out about old crimes.
We do hold however a large selection of other police material such as programmes for sports events, old photographs, reports on changes to policy and such like. A lot of this material is still to be catalogued but hopefully more will be become available for research in the near future. We have to thank those who thought to rescue things from skips and bins for a lot of this material!
PC 66 Poore ushering two young boys over Commercial Road, Portsmouth, with crowded coach and other traffic, c1903
You can find out more by looking at the Hampshire Police History website.
Dr Clifford Williams