Police-Fire Brigades were not uncommon prior to the Second World War, but on the Isle of Wight it only happened once, at Ryde, and wasn't an entirely uncontroversial or successful experiment.

The background story

Organised policing of the Isle of Wight began with the establishment of the Newport Borough Police in 1837 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 a superintendent was installed on the Island on an equal standing with his mainland counterpart at Winchester with the pair reporting to a Chief Constable. Newport's policemen were subsumed into the broad force.

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 29 July 1868. It is possible that Queen Victoria's affection for the Island and the town following her many visits may have influenced her decision to grant Borough status on so small a town. It enabled Ryde Corporation many autocratic powers including the right to form its own Borough Constabulary which it did in the following year, wrestling policing power within the town boundary from Hampshire County Council.

For the Corporation to maintain its own Force required policemen. It was considered unwise to recruit wholly from the pool of keen local novices and the net was cast wider. Among those from outside the Borough who applied and were accepted was John Henry Burt and George Hinks. Burt was appointed as Borough Chief Superintendent of Police having formerly held a similar position in Tooting. Hinks, a 27-year-old from Charlton Hawthorn in Somerset was among the first constables to walk the beat in the Borough.

John Langdon, Superintendent of Ryde Fire Brigade (left), resigned from the fire service in the same year due to poor health. Police Superintendent Burt was tasked to temporarily attend to the concurrent duty of overseeing the fire brigade. 

Burt had no firefighting experience and was keen to keep the two organisations as separate entities pending the eventual appointment of a suitable permanent replacement for Langdon.

Press reports of fires attended by Burt in 1869 suggest no lack of command capability but of interest make repeated references to one particular member of the brigade, Henry Buckett, fireman and conductor of the wheeled escape ladder. 

Clearly Buckett's growing reputation among the men of the brigade, the townsfolk and the Corporation were sufficient to see him appointed as Fire Brigade Superintendent in 1870.

On Buckett's appointment Burt was relieved of his responsibility for the brigade and all formal ties between the Borough Constabulary and Fire Brigade were severed. 

It was a time of investment and expansion for the district. 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 Towers, and plans were laid to demolish the old theatre and replace it with the grand edifice which became the Theatre Royal.

Policing and firefighting in the Borough remained unaltered for many decades. While policing was at all times predisposed by Act of Parliament, the fire brigade remained an unregulated voluntary commitment undertaken by the Corporation as a wise investment rather than a response to legislative obligation. 

When Superintendent Burt died suddenly at the age of 45 in June 1880, George Hinks (right), by then serving as Sergeant and the Superintendent's right-hand man, was appointed to be his successor. Although Superintendent Hinks was at the centre of the 1882 controversy of the incident involving Dr Hasting's cat, the catalyst of a long-standing feud between Hinks and Buckett that infected their constables and firemen, it had no tangible bearing on official matters between the two Borough forces. 

What did threaten to have an effect was the Local Government Act of 1888, which when applied locally in 1890 facilitated the Isle of Wight to gain administrative county status, which in turn removed Hampshire Constabulary from the Island to be replaced by the creation of the Isle of Wight Constabulary. 

The new force took control of all parts of the Island formerly under that of the Chief Constable of Hampshire - except for Ryde which staunchly retained its Borough force. Ryde's vigorous defence of its enclave of independent policing was to lead to tensions over the following three decades as pressure mounted to be absorbed into the County Constabulary.

Superintendent George Hinks

Ryde Fire Brigade - Sapsworth and his men

By 1909 Ryde Fire Brigade had been under the command of Captain Sidney Charles Sapsworth (right) for twelve years.

Sapsworth had moved to Ryde in 1895 to establish a bicycle sales and repair business in the High Street close to The Crown Hotel. Originating from Paddington, for over a decade before his arrival on the Island he had served as Captain of the Richmond Volunteer Fire Brigade, something he had no desire to pursue at his new home where he intended to enjoy an undisturbed family life with his wife and daughters.

However, in the year of Sapsworth's arrival Brigade Captain Charles Langdon quit on principle over the Corporation's refusal to allow him the expense to purchase new hose to replace the rotting and leaking assortment much of which had seen twenty years of operational use. Herbert Vale Carter was selected as an unpopular choice as Langdon's replacement, and put on a six-month trial period to appease his doubters.

He may have harboured self-doubts as less than two years later he submitted his resignation. 

By then word of Sapsworth's role and achievements at Richmond had become known and he was requested to attend a meeting at the Town Hall where the Corporation wished to recruit his services. Evidently he responded to the call and was appointed as Captain of Ryde Fire Brigade in April 1897.

Sapsworth was an instant hit with the firemen who were still smarting from the loss of Charles Langdon. It wasn't long before Ryde's public and the Corporation were equally awed by his capabilities. However he wasn't a man to acquiesce to authority, and fought a sometimes dirty fight to cajole the Corporation into his way of thinking. This led to the 1904 construction of Ryde's first dedicated fire station in Brunswick Street (now Station Street) and four years later the procurement of a Merryweather steam powered fire engine. 

So greatly was he admired by those who served under him that in 1905 Ryde's firemen clubbed together to buy Sapsworth a handsome mantelpiece clock manufactured by the Hamburg American Clock Company bearing the inscription - 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 wasn't only the upgrading of facilities and operational equipment that had invoked such a response. His unfettered care of his men's pay and welfare and that of their families won their hearts. During an era when no provincial authority was mandated to provide a fire brigade it was commonly achieved as cheaply as possible, with the needs of the firemen at the bottom of the pile. Under Sapsworth's authority and influence the firemen of Ryde rose to the top and reflected the investment with their firefighting zeal.

However, it was with Sapsworth's extreme dissatisfaction that the Corporation announced in October 1908 that he, and his men, were required to swear an oath and concurrently serve as Special Constables within the Borough Constabulary which by then had been under the superintendence of one Charles Greenstreet since 1903. 

Greenstreet's scheme of empire

Above - Ryde Borough Constabulary 1903, photograph was taken to be presented as a framed copy for Superintendent George Hinks, front and centre, on the occasion of his retirement.

Charles Greenstreet had been 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 couldn't imagine by relocating to a relatives abode, he secured a position as Constable in Margate Police in 1890. 

In just two years he was appointed Detective and in 1901 Detective Sergeant. When Superintendent George Hinks retired from Ryde Borough Constabulary in 1903, the Corporation took a chance and appointed Greenstreet as 32-year-old Chief Constable in charge of a complement of fifteen constables. 

Greenstreet was a Conservative and fanatical Freemason, rising to the position of Grand Registrar. Charles and Eliza had no children but together set up their home in the spacious Eureka, Melville Street, Ryde. 

Five years after appointment Greenstreet's successful canvassing of the Corporation to insist on the appointment of the firemen to the role of special constables was no mere matter of manpower shortage, but the first phase of a plan to loosen the tightening grip of pressure to absorb the Borough Constabulary into that of the County - which would have despatched with the need for a Borough Police Superintendent.

Ryde's firemen reluctantly, but dutifully, attended the Police Station to be sworn in as special constables.

On the surface, Sapsworth and Greenstreet maintained cordial relations and in July 1910 both commanders, with their firemen and constables, attended the annual outing to Bournemouth, staged in two parts to ensure a contingent of each remained on duty in the town. 

But three months later, in October, Sapsworth was starting to feel frustrated and disillusioned with his role when Greenstreet, on the basis of commanding the firemen when they were completing duties in their concurrent role as special constables, began to interfere and exert pressure on fire brigade matters. Among the members of the Council chamber only Arthur Teague, Chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee, was willing to challenge the Corporation that seemed to be falling under the spell of Greenstreet's influence and desire. By the late-autumn of 1910 Sapsworth announced that he and his family were returning to the mainland and by the end of November they had left. The family settled in Tonbridge Wells where Sapsworth established a new business.

When Greenstreet delivered the previous years policing statistics to the Corporation in early February 1911, including details of fire brigade turnouts, it is perhaps pertinent that within the questioning that followed no-one asked why nothing had been done to replace the position vacated by Sapsworth's resignation.

Alderman Hayden had for many years proven a thorn in the side of Ryde's brigade officers. Rarely supporting the brigade or requests for expenses in its favour he was oftentimes the most outspoken in the chamber, rarely applying discretion and always facing controversy head on if not inducing it with his own proclamations. By March the matter of the brigade captain remained ambiguous and in the chamber Hayden launched a verbose tirade questioning why it was so. Fielding the question was Arthur Teague, friend and confidant of the retired captain and still the head of the near impotent Fire Brigade Committee. 

Teague's reply that he desired to form a sub-committee to seek a suitable replacement was no doubt sincere but lacked conviction and he was placed under the microscope for further questioning, initiated and sustained by Hayden. Under pressure Teague revealed that he would accept a de facto caretaker role as fire brigade captain in the meantime. Robert James White, a jobbing tinsmith and Sapsworth's long term deputy was appointed Acting Chief Officer for the purpose of drills and fire calls, with Teague answerable to Greenstreet for all administrative and welfare matters, in addition to turning out in uniform for ceremonial occasions - giving the ratepaying public the impression that he was the formal Chief Officer of the Fire Brigade and all was well. In effect what this created was a situation where not only the fire brigade, but the Chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee, were subject to Greenstreet's approval.

When Teague was next grilled by Hayden on 11 April, his awkward reply was rambling and near incoherent, but betrayed volumes regarding paralysis of the Fire Brigade Committee and that as its chairman Teague was manacled to much responsibility with little authority. Had Teague's previous decade of council work been marked by indifference and idleness it may not have been so conspicuous, the fact is that in the space of six months he and his position had been subject to external forces engineered by Greenstreet that rendered his role virtually untenable.

In keeping with the expectations placed upon him, Arthur Teague attended the 1911 police and fire brigade outing as Chief Officer - Greenstreet did not.

Throughout 1911 with Acting Chief Officer Robert James White (left) being starved of resources and Arthur Teague being powerless to act, the brigade and its firemen spiralled into inefficiency through lack of drills, demoralised leadership, minimal investment and an atmosphere of suspicion. Morale dropped to its lowest ebb.

In August 1911 Alderman Hayden revealed the elephant in the room, questioning the chairman if it was true that the Fire Brigade Committee had been disbanded and the brigade placed under the control of the Watch Committee. 

The Mayor replied that the matter had been discussed but not resolved and hinged on the willingness of some of the policemen to undertake the duties of a fireman.

When Mr Barton raised an objection, suggesting that efficiency of the constabulary may be impaired by constables performing firefighting, the Mayor declared his concern a nonsense, that there was everything to be gained by the proposal and that he would be supporting it.

When further queries were vociferously raised 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 deigned to attend and make the awards, as per convention. No special occasion was organised, Acting Chief Officer White merely handed them out after the men had made up the gear and returned the engines to the Brunswick Street station. 

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 died similarly eleven years before, Sapsworth had worked hard to establish and maintain a hugely successful public appeal for assistance for the deceased fireman's wife and children. In the case of Fireman Ingram nothing was done, his wife and child left impoverished and despairing. 

When the IW County Press published its almanac for 1912 in the 20 December edition, the line spared for Superintendent of the Fire Brigade was notable for its emptiness - the Corporation feeling it not necessary to acknowledge either Robert James White or Arthur Teague as its chief, and not appropriate to names Charles Greenstreet - yet.

With Arthur Teague suffering a sudden health decline, possibly induced or exacerbated by stress, Acting Chief Officer White did his best to run the ailing brigade single-handedly with occasional unwelcome interference from Greenstreet.

Morale among the firemen had never been worse.

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 after Sapsworth's departure, it was announced that agreement had been struck to wholly 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 ratepayers of the benefits, Alderman Randall made the audacious claim that the fire brigade element costed an average £1931 per annum for the past six years, which by adoption of the Police-Fire Brigade scheme would be reduced to just £107 14s. It would not have taken an average researcher very long to identify the disingenuous factor of this claim. Final payments for the building of the Brunswick Street station and purchase of the steam fire engine, all agreed by the same Councillors who were now manipulating the figures for political expediency, generated a six-year total well in excess of the true annual cost of maintaining an independent fire brigade. 

Randall and the committee added that despite a thorough search, no suitable man had been identified, or had come forward, to command the brigade. The wording of a statement released to the local press left the reader with the preposterous allusion that the inability to identify a suitable brigade commander suggested a lack of fortitude among the local populace, closing with the reassuring message that Chief Constable Greenstreet had swooped in to rescue the imperilled town from the plight of its own apathy.

Councillor Mr Purnell, one of the youngest in the chamber, attempted to joust with the fait accompli, by remarking - 'I know more than one capable man who, owing to interference of the Watch Committee, has been kept from applying'. By this remark Purnell had placed a target on his own back, he advanced to political suicide albeit not without valour by adding - 'Rather than vote for such a scheme I would sooner vote for the police to be handed over to the County'. 

Purnell's poignant outburst let the cat out of the bag.

Greenstreet's plan, two years in the making, was reaching its conclusion. First the coercion of Sapsworth's abdication, secondly reduce the firemen to objects of leaderless impotency and paralyse the Fire Brigade Committee, dilute possible brigade insurrection by demanding they swear oaths as special policemen and insert actual constables into their ranks, and finally convince the ratepayers that the move was for the best with the hint of a reduced rate based on manipulated financial accounting.

The result was that Ryde Police-Fire Brigade would be safe from external pressure to be absorbed into the County Constabulary, and Greenstreet's position as its Chief Constable was weakened not one jot, and in fact strengthened by the additional power and influence he had acquired by inveigling the fire brigade into his empire.

It was small town political scheming at its finest delivering Greenstreet the status he desired - a very large fish in a very small pond from where he could more capably defend his policing enclave, and his lucrative position, from County Constabulary encroachment.

In his earlier statement Councillor Purnell had alleged interference from the Watch Committee prevented a capable man from stepping up to command the brigade. We can never be sure to whom he referred but a brief analysis of the existing brigade membership offers suggestions. Robert James White had more than capably acted-up during periods of his seniors sickness and more recently during the political scheming. Fireman Williams was a time-served veteran, decorated for heroism at the Appley Towers fire of 1904, evidencing leadership values in real life emergencies. Henry Jolliffe was the perfect fireman - dependable, calm, skilled and efficient, values that would, after a decade of the police-fire brigade debacle, see him eventually appointed to the Chief Officer role that could and perhaps should have been his in the wake of Sapsworth's resignation. 

The only factor that went against those three men in the pre-First World War environment was that they were working tradesmen, with no access to influence those in positions of power at the Town Hall or, poignantly, the local Lodge. Chief Constable Charles Greenstreet had both, and needed the dual roles of head of the Constabulary and the Fire Brigade to reinforce his position. 

Had Ryde's ratepayers been provided with accurate data concerning the savings from combining the police and the fire brigade, compared to the potential savings of absorbing the Borough Constabulary into the County, public reaction would surely have differed. As it was, folk of Ryde accepted the matter as a fait accompli and to some extent so did the firemen, ennuied by over a year of uncertainty, ambiguity and suspicion, resigned to the fact that at last, if nothing else, it had come to an end. 

Greenstreet may have adopted the façade of Chief Officer of the Fire Brigade, but he had little intention of getting his hands sooted. Less than a month after the public announcement of the formation of the Police-Fire Brigade, the Watch Committee appointed Harry Hammond as Superintendent of the firemen. Hammond was a first-class constable 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 command a spate of fires ensured Hammond a warm welcome. On 24 April 1912 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 the members of the brigade being at work in other parts of the town. The CP's remark is of interest. Ryde's firemen had been responding from their homes and workplaces far and wide since the establishment of the brigade in 1829 - so why did the press choose to highlight this on the occasion of this fire? None of the original members of the Fire Brigade are mentioned in the report, but several Police-Firemen are.

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. Although the Brigade had been afforded its first dedicated fire station in 1904, they still depended on accessing public spaces for drills so their absence would have been noted. During a council meeting two weeks before the On Dits comment, Mr Souter sarcastically asked if Constable Hammond had mislaid his brigade uniform as he hadn't been seen in it for some time, despite appearing fit and well on the bowls lawn. 

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

Calls to fires were liberally sprinkled across the following eighteen months. Gradually the firemen of the pre-police era warmed to Hammond who exhibited courage, tenacity and the leadership that the men expected and respected at fires. Open dissension to the Police-Fire Brigade withered. When Arthur Teague succumbed to the poor health that had plagued him for some time and passed away on 23 May 1913, the last tangible political opposition died with him. When Sidney Sapsworth made a fleeting visit to the Island to attend Teague's funeral five days later he probably wouldn't have been surprised to learn from his former subordinates how things had panned out in his absence. 

When the Watch Committee represented the Policemen's pay appeal at Council on 8 July, much was made of their pay being substantially lesser than that of their counterparts in Winchester, Southampton and Portsmouth - although conveniently no-one highlighted the fact that they would be better paid if they were employed by the County Constabulary. The argument for their raise was that the constables received one wage for both policing and firefighting which undervalued their brigade work. The Mayor's vote settled an agreement to pay them an additional two shillings a week. Raises for the true firemen that remained in the brigade were overlooked. For the firemen it was a slap in the face. The constables were to receive one wage as policemen and the additional sum as firemen, whereas the remaining firemen of the pre-1912 brigade received an unincreased paltry recompense for attendance at fires and drills and nothing at all for continuing duties as special constables - in which they had no choice as the additional role was by then requisite to brigade membership. From then on firemen and constables labouring shoulder to shoulder at the same fire incidents were on incomparable rates of pay. 

After temporary relief that the debacle caused by Greenstreet's scheming was over, the veteran firemen of the original brigade were struggling to stay motivated within the ranks of the Police-Fire Brigade. If they thought the previous three years had been a trial, they couldn't have anticipated the next shattering event to appear on the horizon - the First World War. 

War and its effect

The immediate effect of the proclamation of war wasn't devastating to the Police- Fire Brigade. A handful of Borough constables and firemen voluntarily joined the armed forces and were not prevented from doing so amid a patriotic fervour and the belief that it would all be over by Christmas. The numbers involved were not of significant concern. What concerned Greenstreet more was that his right-hand man, Superintendent Harry Hammond, had successfully applied for the role of Chief Officer with Margate Fire Brigade. Hammond departed the Isle of Wight in February 1915. It is a mark of the mans capability that his departure was accompanied by the receipt of a commemorative clock from both the constables and firemen, and an illuminated address from the firemen alone - suggesting that despite the difficulty thrust upon them all by the manner of the organisations creation, Hammond had clearly impressed the firemen with his abilities on the fireground. 

Hammond was to enjoy a long and successful career in charge of the Margate brigade before retiring in December 1938 amid much admiration for the work he had done in preparing his brigade, auxiliary firemen and the locality for the aerial warfare that was to come. 

With Hammond gone and a dribble of constables and firemen leaving to join the fighting forces it was with great concern for the home front services that the Government enacted the Military Service Act in March 1916. The needs of the front line quashed all other concerns and unlike the second global conflict of twenty-five years later, in this war there was no schedule of protected occupations. Constables and firemen, whether they were keen to do it or not, were subject to the call-up. Ryde's brigade, like all others, were rapidly stripped of their younger more capable firemen. So devastating was the effect that the inability to despatch a resource to tackle a fire in Binstead compelled the village's Parish Council to create their own ad-hoc service armed with a hose cart loaded with buckets and a hose reel. 

Since Greenstreet's dominance of brigade matters it had been requisite for firemen to swear an oath and serve as special constables for no pay, and for the Borough constables to serve part of their time as firemen for an additional recompense. Other special constables who had volunteered for the role from outside the realm of the fire brigade were now being pressured to add firefighting to their voluntary commitment. Greenstreet smoothed their compliance by employing one of their own, Special Constable Henry Bartrum Hill, to replace Hammond. 

When Alderman Hayden questioned the need to employ Hill on a £22 salary to superintend the Police-Fire Brigade the Mayor assured him that Hill was not Superintendent, he was to carry the title of Chief Officer, although he remained answerable to Chief Constable Greenstreet who retained overall command of the organisation. The IW County Press almanac of 1916 reflected Hill's status.

The veteran firemen, too old for the military call-up, were beside themselves to be taking orders from a man who had never fought a fire in his life. Chief Officer Hill was more concerned with eking out an efficient response from a rapidly diminishing collection of fit young men whose positions were being partially backfilled by firemen who had previously retired due to their age. 

Hill was a 39-year-old married father of one who originated from Newtown, lived in Ventnor and for a time at Overton in Hampshire, before returning to the Island and partnering with his brother at the firm established by their father, the successful Hill's Stores at the corner of the High Street and Newport Street. 

Not long after his installation as Chief Officer, Hill was offered and accepted assistance from Colonel George White Lewis, Officer Commanding 1st (Reserve) Garrison Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. The good humoured Irishman was concerned that his contingent of troops at Ryde had too much time on their hands and too little to fill it. What better for them than to train and serve as firemen until the war called them away. 

Hill could not have been more appreciative. A member of Ryde's public who wrote to the press concerned about the diminishing brigade in respect of Zeppelin raids on the Midlands may have been assuaged by news of the addition of the soldiers which more than quadrupled the potential manpower Hill had at his disposal - albeit representing a ragtag mix of energetic uneducated troops, constables, and ageing firemen.

In respect of the threat the Zeppelin's represented to Ryde the Corporation were publicly dismissive, but behind the scenes they attended a conference of all Isle of Wight authorities to agree a fourteen-point plan of action in the event of aerial attack, and had enhanced the insurance of several civic buildings, including the fire station and equipment, for up to £1,000 of cover if damaged by aerial bombardment. 

With the assistance of the troops of the Worcestershire Regiment the Police-Fire Brigade struggled through, still actively recruiting for both Special Constables and firemen. 

When the men of the Regiment were deployed to France in 1917 local press reported on the woefully inadequate firefighting resources remaining in the Borough. The only steady stream of unwilling assistance came from the direction of the Military Tribunals. Those objecting to the call-up for whatever reason were compelled to attend their local Tribunal and state their case. Where the case was upheld it was usually associated with a determination that they should assist the war effort in another capacity at home. The Brigade reaped several new members, some less enthusiastic than others, from this arrangement. Arrival of the enforced recruits gave the appearance of a well staffed service but blighted Chief Officer Hill with issues.

Hill was still an inexperienced fire commander, not in the best position to enthuse the steady crop of resentful recruits despatched his way from the Tribunals. To make matters worse, where the Tribunal upheld a refusal for military service it was accepted on a temporary basis, usually for six months. By the end of that period the individual was obliged to return to the Tribunal and re-state their case. The Tribunals nominally comprised a retired senior Army officer flanked by eminent figures of local high society and operated as the masters of righteous indignation. Press reports of the time leave the reader in no doubt that the Tribunals applied little objectivity and summarised their judgements with thinly veiled accusations of cowardice. Accordingly a person attending for a second, or further appeal was treated with increased disdain and would be ordered to undertake an additional role in support of the home front of a somewhat lesser grade than that previously ordered to partake, such as agricultural labouring. This led to the Brigade losing the services of a resentful recruit just at the point that he had acquired sufficient knowledge to be of some use. Neither Chief Officer Hill or even the mighty Chief Constable Greenstreet had any control or influence over this fluctuating factor. 

The Tribunal panel, in animated exasperation to mete out new punishments, occasionally goofed. 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 immediately report to the Chief Officer of the Fire Brigade. Pocock's calm retort that that wouldn't be a problem since he had served in the brigade since 1903 did nothing for the imperious chairman's blood pressure.

However the Tribunal learned from the experience. Two months later Fireman W.H. Taylor approached the Tribunal with the same story, for which the chairman enjoyed the contemptuous declaration ordering Taylor to continue with his brigade service and that he must concurrently join the Rifle Volunteers for home service because 'your job as a baker can be done by a woman so you must have plenty of spare time'.

Oscar Victor Mainstone stumped the chairman of the Tribunal when accounting for his time as manager of the Union Street Raleigh Cycles store, plus eight hours a week as a special constable, orderly work at Hazelwood and brigade service as a fireman.

The chairman, one of the landed gentry who had never done a days labour in his life, dismissed Mainstone with a scowl.

Mainstone's Tribunal hearing had been held just before eleven o'clock in the morning of 11 November 1918.

Post War

As some, but not all, of the Island's young men drifted home from the war, the numbers of fit young firemen stabilised. The remaining veterans of the pre-Police Fire Brigade era, who had held the unit together without recognition for the previous six years, hoped that the experience of officiating the service during its most difficult years might be enough to compel a review of the brigade's future.

In December 1919 Chief Officer Hill dashed those hopes by appointing Police Constable Benjamin Swann as his Second Officer following retirement of the long serving Robert James White. For Jolliffe and Williams, two renowned Ryde firemen with a combined fifty-five years service, the appointment of the young constable reopened old wounds. 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 On Dits columnist of the IW Observer weighed in on the side of the veteran firemen as the chambers of Town Hall echoed to the sound of an emerging set of dissenters. When the firemen read in the press that the Corporation defended Swann's appointment because - no one coveted the position - they collectively submitted a letter to the Observer citing dissatisfaction with the arrangements for managing the brigade. 

The letter stated that they had all made every effort to ease the difficult business of the brigade being commanded by the Police, but were particularly incensed by the appointment of PC Swann over the heads of those who signed the letter. What followed were the signatures of the seven veteran firemen and their years of service in brackets - H.F.Jolliffe (32), C.Williams (23), E.Spragg (17), G.Mundell (9), T.Cass (18), W.H.Griffin (17) and A.Langdon (16). 

Those seven named men had been the unbroken thread that connected the post-war brigade of 1919 with the motivated and well managed Sapsworth era of pre-1910. None of them had been afforded the opportunity to take command and in fact every effort had been made by Greenstreet to ensure that any avenue to express an interest was closed to them. Reverting to the press remained their only discourse.

The pressure became too great for Chief Officer Hill. He resigned in December 1919 very publicly due to a letter he submitted to the press stating that the letter from the firemen rendered his position untenable.

The Corporation's swift  reaction, driven by Greenstreet, was to elevate PC Swann from Second Officer to Chief Officer of the Police Fire Brigade. The reaction from the firemen was as explosive as it was immediate and the Borough was under threat of losing its most experienced and long serving firemen in one fell swoop.

Above, the modest Police Station in Brunswick (Station) Street, dwarfed by the neighbouring Chief Constables house. The fire station can be seen to the rear right of the photo.

Greenstreet was deeply concerned as the Corporation's support for the Police-Fire Brigade began to waver, due not only to the local firemen's insurrection. 

Rebellious policemen across the nation held strikes over pay through late 1918 into 1919. 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 lesser still within the ranks of the Ryde Borough Constabulary, a Government push for Royal Assent of the proposed Police Act had serious ramifications for Greenstreet's plan to maintain autonomous command of his force. 

The Act received Assent in late summer of 1919. 

Greenstreet's scheme received a further blow when the Corporation rescinded its appointment of PC Swann to Chief Officer of the Brigade in March 1920. Instead Fireman Henry Frederick Jolliffe was appointed as Acting Chief Officer with Williams as his Second and Cass as his Third officers. It was a major return to the Old Guard and hugely damaging to Greenstreet. 

Greenstreet's empire 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 the Fire Brigade were to be severed and that Henry Jolliffe was confirmed as substantive Chief Officer.

Finally after eight-and-a-half years of Police rule, the Fire Brigade had regained its independence and was under the command of one who knew the job better than all. On hearing of the decision Alderman Sweetman remarked to the press - The only wonder is that the committee had not appointed him before.

The effect of the Police Act was the final blow to Greenstreet's empire. NUPPO achieved the pay deal they desired but at enormous cost - their own disbandment as decreed by the law, and the acquiescence that from that date United Kingdom police officers rescind their right to take industrial action. The policemen of the era sold their souls for a pay rise and in effect left generations of their successors impotent to protest against changes to their working conditions.

As anticipated, the Borough could not afford the increased salaries of its policemen. Disbandment of Ryde Borough Constabulary was unavoidable.

In March 1922 the Isle of Wight Constabulary took primacy over the entirety of the Island by extending its reach into Ryde. 

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

Above - the last photograph of Ryde Borough Constabulary, taken in 1922 at the disbandment of the force and given as a framed presentation on his retirement to Chief Constable Charles Greenstreet who is sat front and centre with his dog.


I have represented Chief Constable Charles Greenstreet poorly in this feature. 

It remains an unavoidable fact that his scheme to sustain his position by co-opting the Fire Brigade into his realm caused years of difficulty for the resolute veterans of the Brigade and cost the Borough arguably its best and most influential Chief Officer, Sidney Charles Sapsworth. 

Sapsworth was so highly regarded in the field of firefighting that a 1901 edition of the The Fireman magazine dedicated an entire page to his service and achievements. Relocating with his family to Tonbridge Wells afforded happy times and his continued success as a salesman and repairer of bicycles which in his latter years extended into motorcycles and cars. He passed away in November 1926 aged 66. After departing Ryde he never returned to firefighting.

To give a balanced view of Greenstreet, he was highly regarded within the field of policing over the course of a 31-year career noted for not taking a single day sick. 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 provide 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 of the Borough force presented Greenstreet with a framed photograph of the Force and commented on how the policemen's lot was improved during Greenstreet's tenure. 


Charles Greenstreet spent his retirement tending to his gardens at Highlands, Marlborough Road, where he died in 1932 aged 61.

His modest headstone in the graveyard of St Johns Church gives no clue as to his importance to 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. 

Above - the Ryde section of the IW County Constabulary photographed in 1932. Third from left in the middle row is Constable B.Swann, the man with the shortest appointment as Chief Officer of the Brigade from December 1919 until March 1920 - the catalyst for the beginning of the end of the Ryde Police-Fire Brigade. 

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