Organised policing of the Isle of Wight began with the establishment of Newport Borough Police in 1837. This was two years before the passing of the County Police Act that led to the creation of Hampshire County Constabulary in December 1839. As the Isle of Wight came under Hampshire’s jurisdiction it received its own superintendent with a second covering the mainland from a headquarters in Winchester – both reported to a Chief Constable.

For the next thirty years this remained the status quo.

On the 23 July 1868, by Royal Charter, the Borough of Ryde was incorporated within the boundaries of the Town of Ryde as constituted by the Ryde Improvement Act of 1854. The Returning Officer received the Charter on the 29 July 1868. It is possible that Queen Victoria’s affection for the town following her many visits during her stay at Osborne may have influenced her decision to grant Borough status on such a small town. It enabled the Ryde Corporation many autocratic powers resulting in the creation of the Ryde Borough Police in the following year – wrestling policing power away from Hampshire County Constabulary within the town boundary.

For the Corporation to maintain a police force they required policemen. It was considered unwise to recruit wholly from the pool of keen local novices and the net was cast. Among those to apply for and be accepted were John Henry Burt and George Hinks. Burt was appointed the Borough’s Chief Superintendent of Police, having formerly held a similar position in Tooting. Hinks, a 27-year-old from Charlton Hawthorn in Somerset, was one of the Borough’s first constables.

As Ryde Fire Brigade’s superintendent John Langdon resigned from the service due to ill health in the same year, Burt was tasked with the concurrent responsibility for overseeing the brigade. Burt had no experience of firefighting and despite superintending both organisations, was keen to maintain them as separate entities pending the appointment of a suitable permanent superintendent of the brigade. Press reports of fires attended by Burt in 1869 suggest no lack in his command capability but of interest make repeated reference to only one other member of the brigade by name – Henry Buckett, fireman and conductor of the escape ladder. By Spring of 1870 Buckett had been appointed superintendent of the fire brigade and the connection between the Borough police and fire services ended.

Superintendent John Langdon

It was a time of investment and expansion for the town. During the same two years the construction of All Saints Church began, former Mayor Benjamin Barrow established the School of Art at the Town Hall, William Hutt erected Appley Tower, and plans were made to demolish the old theatre in St Thomas’s Square and replace it with a striking construction that became the Theatre Royal.

Benjamin Barrow, nine times Mayor of Ryde.

Policing and firefighting in the town remained unchanged for many decades. While policing was nevertheless predisposed at all times by Act of parliament, the fire brigade, in accord with comparable provincial brigades throughout the country, remained a voluntary if not wise undertaking by the local authority of a town featuring increasingly valuable property and the arrival of persons of influence, either residentially or enjoying genteel sojourn.

When Police Superintendent Burt died in June 1880 at the young age of 45, George Hinks, by then serving as Burt’s right hand man with the rank of sergeant, was the obvious man to be appointed his successor.

In 1890, local application of the Local Government Act of 1888, facilitated the Isle of Wight gaining administrative county status – in turn enabling the creation of the Isle of Wight Constabulary. The new force took control of all parts of the Island previously policed under the Chief Constable of Hampshire – except for Ryde which maintained its Borough force. Ryde’s vigorous defence of its enclave of independent policing was to lead to tensions over the next three decades as pressure mounted to be absorbed into the County Constabulary.

By 1909 Ryde’s fire brigade was under the superintendence of Captain Sidney Sapsworth. Sapsworth was one of those progressive thinkers who moved to Ryde and established business in the town in 1895. Sidney originated from Paddington but in the decade before his emigration to the Isle of Wight had served as fireman and later captain of the Richmond Volunteer Fire Brigade. In moving to Ryde and launching his bicycle sales and repair workshop, he harboured no desire for a return to firefighting.

Captain Sidney Charles Sapsworth

However, when Ryde’s brigade captain, Herbert Vale Carter, handed in his resignation after only two years’ service in 1897, Sapsworth felt a return of the call. His selection as the successful candidate was unsurprising, locals had learned of his endeavours in Surrey and of the esteem in which he was held.

Sapsworth was an instant hit with the firemen, the Corporation, and the public he served. So greatly was he considered by those who served under his command that in 1905, for no other reason than to mark their respect, Ryde’s firemen clubbed together to buy their captain a handsome timepiece manufactured by the Hamburg American Clock Company bearing an inscription carrying the words – Presented to Captain S.C. Sapsworth by the Ryde Fire Brigade as a token of the esteem and regard in which he is held by them. It was hardly surprising that the firemen were steadfast in their support. Sapsworth, in alliance with chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee Arthur Teague, advanced the lot of the fire brigade exponentially. Securing the town’s first dedicated fire station in 1904 and its first steam powered fire engine in 1908 exampled Sapsworth’s commitment to operational efficiency. But it was his unfettered care for his men, their pay, their welfare, and that of their families that particularly endeared him to those he sent into the smoke. In an era when no provincial authority was mandated to provide a fire brigade it was commonly achieved on the cheap with the needs of the men at the bottom of the pile. Under Sapsworth’s authority the firemen of Ryde rose to the top – and reflected the investment in them with a firefighting zeal.

It was with Sapsworth’s dissatisfaction that the Corporation announced, in October 1908, that both he and his firemen were required to swear an oath and to serve as special constables within the Borough Constabulary. By that year, the Borough force had been under the superintendence of Chief Constable Charles Greenstreet for five years.

Captain Sapsworth (with his back to the camera, bottom-right) and his firemen demonstrating the new Merryweather steam fire-engine in St Thomas's Square, October 1908.

Ryde Borough Police photographed in 1903. This image was mounted, framed and given to Chief Superintendent Hinks when he retired on 31 October the same year.

Greenstreet was a man of humble beginnings. The son of an agricultural labourer he was both born (1871) and raised at a messuage known as Lilley Hole near Meeth in Kent. Obtaining an education his father could not imagine by relocating to a relative’s abode, he secured a position as constable in Margate police in 1890. In just two years he was made a detective and by 1901 detective sergeant. When Superintendent George Hinks (infamous for the case of Dr Hastings cat) retired from the Borough Police in 1903, the Corporation took a chance and appointed Greenstreet as 32-year-old Chief Constable in charge of a full complement of 15 constables. He was an ardent Conservative and fanatical freemason, rising to the position of Grand Registrar. Charles and Eliza Greenstreet had no children but took up residence at the spacious Eureka in Melville Street.

His successful canvassing of the Corporation to insist on the appointment of firemen as special constables was no mere matter of manpower shortage, but the first move in a plan to loosen the tightening grip of pressure to absorb the Borough Constabulary into that of the County – and despatch with the need for a borough chief constable.

On the surface Sapsworth and Greenstreet maintained cordial relations and in July 1910 both men, along with their policemen and firemen departed for Bournemouth for their annual outing (in two groups to ensure a sufficient presence of policing and firefighting remained in the town). But by October Sapsworth had become disillusioned with his role. Greenstreet, based on being in command of the firemen when acting as special constables, began exerting pressure on wider fire brigade matters. Only Arthur Teague, the towns leading councillor for fire brigade issues and Sapsworth’s passionate ally, was willing to challenge a Corporation that seemed to be falling under the spell of Greenstreet’s influence and desire. That month Sapsworth revealed that he had successfully pursued the relocation of his family and business to Tonbridge Wells and would be leaving by the end of November.

Greenstreet had achieved a strategic milestone in his plan – almost certainly accomplished in part through associations and tactical recruitment of collaborators either within, or able to influence, the highest levels of the Corporation. It is almost unthinkable that accords established at the East Medina Lodge, where he was a rising star, did not have a hand in his scheme.

Sapsworth was gone from the Island before Christmas.

When Greenstreet revealed the previous year’s policing statistics to the Corporation in early February 1911, including the turnouts of the fire brigade, it is perhaps pertinent that no-one questioned why nothing had been done to replace the outgoing captain. However, Alderman Hayden, oftentimes a thorn in the side of a string of brigade captains, feared no-one in the chamber and raised the matter in council on 14 March. Fielding the question was Arthur Teague, friend, and confidant of Sapsworth and the head of the Fire Brigade Committee. His stated desire to form a sub-committee to identify a permanent replacement was no doubt sincere but lacked conviction. Soon Teague succumbed to applied pressure and accepted a de facto role as caretaker captain of the brigade. Robert James White, a jobbing tinsmith and Sapsworth’s long serving deputy, was appointed Acting Chief Officer of the fire brigade for fires and drills, with Teague answerable to Greenstreet for all administrative and welfare matters – and also turning out for ceremonial occasions in the dress of chief fireman to convince the ratepaying public that the matter was resolved. When Teague was grilled again by Hayden on 11 April, his stuttering response regarding the evident apathy of the committee, for which he was personally responsible, suggested power without authority. Had Teague’s previous decade of council work been marked by similar indifference and idleness it would not have been so conspicuous – the fact is that the de facto ceremonial head of the brigade had, in the space of six months, been subject to forces that rendered his role virtually untenable.

In keeping with the expectations placed upon him, Teague attended the 1911 police and fire brigade outing in the place of chief officer. Ironically on this occasion Charles Greenstreet did not attend.

Throughout 1911 with Acting Chief Officer White being starved of resources and councillor Arthur Teague impotent to exert pressure to bear fruit, the fire brigade and its firemen spiralled into inefficiency through lack of drills, and morale dropped to its lowest ebb. In August Alderman Hayden again raised a contentious issue – he asked whether the Watch Committee had taken possession of the fire brigade from the Fire Brigade Committee. The Mayor revealed that the matter had been discussed but not resolved and hinged on the desire of some of the policemen to undertake the duties of the firemen.

Robert James White, long-serving Second Officer compelled to act-up as chief when required but consistently overlooked for a permanent role as chief officer.

When Mr Barton raised an objection, suggesting that efficiency of the constabulary may be impaired by policemen performing firefighting duties, the Mayor declared his concern nonsense, that there was everything to be gained by the proposal and that he would be supporting it. When further poignant queries were levelled by Alderman Mears, the Mayor shut down the discussion by asserting that Chief Constable Greenstreet had the full backing of the committee for whatever course he selected to take.

When Firemen Williams and Downer received their long service medals following a drill session on 21 October, no member of the Corporation, nor the Chief Constable, attended to present the awards. No special occasion was organised – Acting Chief Officer White merely handed them out after the men had made up the gear and returned to the fire station in Brunswick Street. Five weeks later Fireman John George Ingram died prematurely and unexpectedly leaving his wife and a 10-year-old son. It was not lost on his colleagues that when Fireman Whittington had died similarly unexpectedly 11-years earlier, Sapsworth had feverishly established and maintained a hugely successful public appeal for assistance for the man’s wife and children. In the case of John George Ingram nothing was done, and his wife and child were left impoverished and despairing. When the County Press published its almanac for 1912 in the 20 December edition, the line spared for the superintendent of Ryde Fire Brigade was notable for its emptiness – the Corporation feeling it not necessary to acknowledge either Robert White or Arthur Teague as its chief, and not appropriate to name Charles Greenstreet – yet. Morale among the firemen could sink no lower.

With the brigade at its lowest ebb since its formation 83 years earlier, it was ripe for political machinations to become public. At council on 13 February 1912, sixteen months since Sapsworth’s departure, it was announced that agreement had been struck to combine the constabulary and brigade and form the Island’s first (and only) Police-Fire Brigade under the command of Chief Constable Charles Greenstreet. In convincing borough ratepayers of the benefits, Alderman Randall made the audacious claim that the fire brigade element costing an average £1931 per annum for the past six years – would be reduced to just £107 14s. It would not have taken an average researcher long to identify the disingenuous factor of this claim. Final payments for the building of the Brunswick Street fire station and the purchase of the steam fire engine, all agreed by the same councillors manipulating figures for political expediency, generated a six-year total far in excess of the norm.

Randall and the committee added that despite a thorough search no suitable man had been identified, or come forward, to command the brigade. The wording released to the local press suggests almost a fault of Ryde’s populace to be unable to suffice their brigades need. Councillor Mr Purnell, one of the youngest in the chamber, attempted to joust with convention – I know more than one capable man who, owing to the interference of the Watch Committee, has been kept from applying. As if Purnell hadn’t already placed a target on his back, he displayed political suicide concurrent to personal valour by expressing – Rather than vote for such a scheme I would sooner vote for the police to be handed over to the county! Was Purnell’s suggestion merely coincidental outburst, or had he deduced or otherwise become privy to the truth behind the two-year plan - to first coerce Sapsworth’s abdication, second to reduce the firemen to objects of leaderless impotency and dilute potential insurrection by inserting policemen within their ranks, and finally dazzle ratepayers with the hint of a reduced rate.

Ryde firemen working the Merryweather steam fire-engine when the Esplanade railway tunnel became flooded.

As for a lack of leadership – a brief analysis of the firemen themselves would have highlighted several attractive options. Robert White had more than capably acted up during periods of captains absence or illness and more recently during the political scheming – his only weakness lay in his inability to battle the forces set against him, a battle no single man was likely to win. Fireman Williams was a time-served veteran, decorated for heroism at the Appley Towers fire of 1904, evidencing leadership values in real work at real emergencies. Henry Jolliffe was the perfect fireman, dependable, skilled, calm and efficient – values that would, after a decade of the police-fire brigade debacle, see him immediately appointed to the role of Chief Officer that could, and perhaps should, have been his ten years earlier. But then, in 1912, those men were the wrong sort – working men, tradesmen. Chief Constable Charles Greenstreet required the concurrent position of Chief Officer of the Fire Brigade to reinforce both his position and the autonomy of Ryde’s constabulary in the face of mounting pressure to combine with the county. Had Ryde’s ratepayers been provided with accurate data concerning the savings from combining the borough police and fire brigade, compared to the potential savings achievable by absorbing the borough constabulary into the county – public reaction might have differed. As it was, Ryde residents proved apathetic to the news and even the firemen, ennuied by over a year of uncertainty and ambiguity, were satisfied that that, at least, was coming to an end.

Greenstreet may have adopted the façade of Chief Officer, but he had little intention of getting his hands dirty at fires. Less than a month since public announcement of the formation of the Ryde Borough Police-Fire Brigade, the Watch Committee appointed Harry Hammond as superintendent of the firemen. Hammond was a first-class constable and senior fireman in charge of Fratton divisional fire station of Portsmouth Fire Brigade. His move to Ryde was hastened by the offer of a weekly wage of 23s 7d for his police duties coupled to a concurrent 15s for superintending the brigade.

Within a month of taking the job a spate of fires ensured Hammond a warm welcome to the town. On 24 April he had a fortunate escape when the blazing roof of North View Cottage, located to the rear of St James’s Church, collapsed just as he scuttled out of the door with Constables Newnham and Webb. The County Press report remarked on the owners devastating uninsured loss and alluded to inefficiency of the police-fire brigade by suggesting the response to the fire was delayed due to members of the brigade being at work in other parts of the town. Ryde’s firemen had been called from their homes and workplaces far and wide ever since establishment of the organisation in 1829 – why did the County Press choose to highlight this if not in example that the growing police element were unable to respond effectively?

By mid-July, the On Dits columnist of the IW Observer remarked that residents of Ryde were increasingly concerned about the efficiency of the brigade as they were seldom seen drilling. During a council meeting two weeks earlier Mr Souter passed a sarcastic remark during a discussion concerning the rates regarding Hammonds apparent inability to locate and don his uniform – a between the lines allegation that he was rarely on duty and more likely located on the bowls lawn.

The 1913 County Press almanac included Charles Greenstreet as Chief Officer of Ryde Police-Fire Brigade. At the annual dinner on 16 January Greenstreet congratulated Hammond on his role as its superintendent – the town is fortunate in securing the services of so efficient, tactful, and conscientious an officer.

As calls to fires pockmarked the next eighteen months, the firemen, those of the pre-police era, gradually warmed to Hammond who exhibited the courage and leadership the men expected and respected at fires. Open dissension to the police-fire brigade withered. When Arthur Teague died on 23 May 1913 aged 64, the last vestige of political opposition died with him. When Sidney Sapsworth returned to the island to attend the funeral of his former ally and friend five days later, he wasn’t entirely surprised to learn from his former subordinates how the brigade was being managed as an adjunct to the constabulary.

When the Watch Committee represented the policemen’s pay appeal in council on 8 July much was made of their lower recompense in comparison to counterparts in Winchester, Southampton, and Portsmouth. Reminding all that the policemen’s pay (Hammond excepted) captured their fire brigade duties, the Mayor’s vote carried an agreement to raise the rate by two shillings per week – but the firemen, being tradesmen of the town who weren’t full-time constables, received no raise but were expected to continue to observe additional duties as unpaid special constables. Despite the pay differential the firemen, both full-time constables and part-time tradesmen, continued to serve the brigade and protect the town come what may at fires and other emergencies whilst working side by side on two incomparable rates of pay.

Then came the First World War.

The immediate effect on the brigade was not profound other than it coincided with Harry Hammond’s successful application for the role of Chief Officer of Margate Fire Brigade. He departed the island to pursue his new career in February 1915. In difficult circumstances it is a mark of the man’s capability and leadership that the firemen, those who were not full-time constables, contributed to a clock from the service as a whole, and an illuminated address from them as a separate group.

By 1915 the needs of the armed forces were beginning to take its toll on all fire brigades across the island, Ryde being no exception. With the advent of the Military Service Act in March 1916 – the ranks of the fire brigade were further stripped of their young men by the call-up (the role of fireman was not considered for exemption until the Second World War). So devastating was the effect that the brigades inability to attend a house fire in Binstead compelled the village to create its own fire brigade – albeit on rudimentary and barely equipped lines – which served the neighbourhood admirably for a number of years.

Since 1909 pressure had been brought to bear on firemen to serve as special constables. A lack of manpower due to the war effort ensured pressure was redirected to special constables who were not firemen to begin training for the role. Greenstreet ensured their compliance by appointing one of their own, Henry Bartrum Hill, as head of the fire brigade at a salary a little over £22 per annum. Of interest is that when Alderman Hayden questioned Hill’s status within the brigade, the Mayor assured him that he was to serve as Chief Officer, not superintendent – although he was still accountable to Charles Greenstreet who, as Chief Constable, retained over all command of the Police-Fire Brigade. The County Press 1916 almanac cited Hill as the chief of the brigade.

The veterans of the brigade no doubt experienced angst in taking orders from a man with no previous firefighting experience. Chief Officer Hill was more concerned with eking out an efficient response from a rapidly diminishing collection of fit young men. Hill was a 39-year-old married father of one who originated from Newtown, lived in Ventnor and for a time in Overton in Hampshire before returning to the Island and establishing the successful Hill’s Stores at the corner of High Street-Newport Street. He was offered and accepted assistance by Colonel George White Lewis, officer commanding 1st (Reserve) Garrison Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. The good-humoured Irish officer was concerned that his contingent deployed to Ryde had too much time and too little to fill it. What better than to train and fulfil the role of firefighter until the war called them away. Bartum Hill could not have been more appreciative. The member of the public who wrote to the local press in concern at the diminishing fire brigade in respect of a recent Zeppelin raid on the midlands might have been assuaged – were it not for the news that the Corporation had insured the fire station and equipment for £1000 if destroyed by enemy air attack.

With the assistance of the troops of the Worcestershire Regiment, the Police-Fire Brigade struggled through the next two years. But when the latter were finally sent to the front in November 1917, the local press reported on the woefully inadequate number of firemen left to defend the town. Fortunately, the work of the Military Tribunals, in assessing applications for deferment of military service, were able to direct certain members of society whose pleas were upheld, forcibly into fire brigade and special constabulary service. This achieved the appearance of a well-staffed fire service but embroiled Bertram Hill in all manner of issues. Many of those relieved of military service were less than enthused at enforced firefighting and approached drills in a resentful mode. Being a relatively inexperienced fire commander, and having never served as a firefighter, Bertram Hill was not best placed to enthuse a fluctuating crop of men ordered to report to him by the Tribunals. Fortunately for him and despite the years of political intrigue and regression of the brigade, stalwart firemen such as White, Jolliffe, and Williams remained loyal to the cause and undertook a growing responsibility (without formal authority) for drills and increasingly for decision making at fires. The Military Tribunals were masters of righteous indignation, quick to remind exempted men that orders to undertake firefighting were to be considered something of a punishment. This did not always work out as desired. Much mirth was occasioned at the fire station when plumber and metalworker George Pocock was exempted from military service but with a lash of the tongue of the Tribunal chairman was ordered to report immediately to the chief officer of the fire brigade – Pocock’s calm retort that he thought this unnecessary as he’d served as a fireman since 1903 did nothing for the imperious chairman’s blood pressure. Once bitten twice shy – two months later when Fireman W.H. Taylor approached the Tribunal with the same story, the chairman had the last contemptuous word by ordering Taylor to continue with his brigade service, plus join the Rifle Volunteers because his job as a baker could be done by a woman so he must have plenty of spare time. However, Oscar Victor Mainstone stumped the chairman by accounting for his time as manager of the Union Street Raleigh Cycles depot, 8-hours per week as a special constable, orderly work at Hazelwood and brigade service as a fireman. The chairman dismissed him with a mute scowl – it was the morning of 11 November 1918.

As some, not all, of the young men returned from the war the numbers of fit, young, firemen stabilised and the remaining brigade veterans of the pre-police era hoped that the poor record of police-fire brigade management, albeit negatively affected by the war, would provoke a review leading to fairer conditions for the true firefighters. In December 1919 Chief Officer Bertram Hill dashed all such hopes by appointing Police Constable Swann as Second Officer following the retirement of the long-serving Robert James White. To Jolliffe and Williams, men with a combined 55 years’ service between them, the appointment tore a sore wound. The County Press offered a lame rationale – PC Swann’s previous knowledge as a chauffeur will stand him in good stead in working the engine.

The IW Observer’s On Dits columnist weighed in on the side of the veteran firemen as the Town Hall chambers echoed to the sound of an emerging set of dissenters. When the firemen read in the press that, in the opinion of the council – no one coveted the position – they submitted a letter to the IW Observer citing dissatisfaction with the arrangements – that they had made every effort to ease the difficult business of the brigade being commanded by the police – and in particular the appointment of young PC Swann over the heads of those remnants of the pre-police brigade who both signed the letter and added their years of service in brackets – H.F. Jolliffe (32), C. Williams (23), E. Spragg (17), G. Mundell (9), A. Perkis (5), T. Cass (18), W.H. Griffin (17) and A. Langdon (16).

The modest Ryde Police Station, dwarfed by the Chief Superintendent's abode, No.1 Brunswick Street (the same plot used by todays police station). The building to the rear-right is the fire station.

The Ryde section of the IW County Constabulary photographed in 1932. Third from left in the middle row is Constable B.Swann the man briefly appointed as Chief Officer of the Police-Fire Brigade in 1919.

These eight men had been the unbroken thread which held the brigade together through its most troubling times – and none of them were given the opportunity to take command, in fact every effort appeared to have been made to prevent them from even being allowed to express an interest. The pressure became too much for Bertram Hill – he resigned in late December 1919 – doing so very publicly with a letter published in the IW Observer in which he implied that the firemen’s protest made his position untenable.

The Corporations reaction, nudged from behind by Chief Constable Charles Greenstreet, was to elevate the totally inexperienced firefighter Constable Swann from Second Officer to Chief Officer. The reaction from the firemen was as explosive as it was immediate, and the town was under threat of losing the combined 137 years of service of the protestors.


Chief Constable Greenstreet was beside himself as the Corporations support for the police-fire brigade began to waver. This was not only due to local firemen’s insurrection. Rebellious policemen across the nation held strikes over pay in 1918-19. Whilst the trade union activities of the National Union of Police and Prison Officers (NUPPO) appears to have had little direct effect on the Isle of Wight, and particularly not within the ranks of the Ryde Borough Constabulary, the governments rush to receive Royal Assent for the Police Act 1919 had serious ramifications for Greenstreet’s plan to maintain command of an autonomous borough force. His scheme received a major blow on 9 March 1920 when the Corporation announced that the plan to promote Swann to Chief Officer was rescinded, Fireman Henry Frederick Jolliffe was to take the position in an acting role, with Williams as his second and Cass his third officers.

Greenstreet’s castle was under siege.

Its walls were breached, and its defenders put to the sword five months later when the Corporation announced that ties between the borough constabulary and fire brigade were to be severed. Henry Jolliffe was appointed substantive chief officer and finally, after eight and a half years of constabulary rule fire brigade autonomy was restored. On hearing the news of Jolliffe’s promotion Alderman Sweetman sardonically commented – The only wonder is that the committee had not appointed him before?

Henry Frederick Jolliffe, photographed in 1935.

The effect of the Police Act was to prove the final blow to Greenstreet’s redoubt. In accepting the disbandment, in law, of the NUPPO, and surrendering any future right to strike, policemen nationwide saw their salaries almost doubled.

The Corporation could not afford the raised salaries. Disbandment of the borough constabulary was unavoidable. By March 1922 it was no more – no enclave of Ryde policing remained – the Isle of Wight County Constabulary took primacy over the entirety of its geography.

Charles Greenstreet, being offered no role in the County force, chose early retirement.


Chief Constable Charles Greenstreet is represented in a poor light in this tale. It remains an unavoidable fact that his scheme to sustain his own position by co-opting the fire brigade caused years of difficulty for eight resolute Ryde firemen and compelled the exceptional Captain Sidney Sapsworth to leave. Sapsworth, so highly thought of that he was granted a full-page feature in a 1901 edition of The Fireman, re-established his business in Tonbridge and lived a happy family life until dying in 1926 – but never returned to firefighting.

To give a balanced view of Greenstreet he was highly thought of within the field of policing over the course of a 31-year career without a single sick day. On his retirement the Mayor of Ryde reflected favourably on Greenstreet’s voluntary social work with underprivileged local children, establishing a fund to buy them new footwear, and winter soup kitchens for them and their families. The Mayor’s thoughts were echoed by HM Inspector of Constabulary’s Sir Leonard Dunning. On behalf of the constabulary, Sergeant Orchard presented Greenstreet with a framed photograph of the borough force and commented on how the policeman’s lot was improved during Greenstreet’s tenure.

Charles Greenstreet spent his retirement tending to the garden at Highlands, Marlborough Road, and died in 1932 aged 61. His modest headstone in St Johns Cemetery gives no clue as to his importance in the town. He was never a bad policeman, records suggest entirely the opposite, but his involvement in the fire brigade was as poor as his reasons for doing so and represent one of the darkest periods in the history of Ryde Fire Brigade.

The image of Ryde Borough Police that the policemen presented to Chief Constable Greenstreet, in a frame, on the occasion of his retirement. One assumes Greenstreet is the officer sat front and centre.