Robert Cyril Morton Jenkins was Chief Constable of Penzance Borough Police Force between January 1937 and October 1941. Police Staff Mark Rothwell has researched RCM Jenkins’ life after becoming inspired by the Stanhope A. Forbes portrait that used to hang in the executive office corridor at Middlemoor (recently re-hung in the Chief Constable’s office). Here we have reproduced the chapter on RCM Jenkins’ time at Penzance.

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Penzance Borough Police

The Penzance Borough Police force was established in 1836 following the Municipal Corporation Act of 1835. The Act required every borough to appoint a Watch Committee to oversee a police force. Its headquarters were situated in the basement of St. John’s Hall on Alverton Street.

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“Over to you, sir.” Jenkins takes over from Kenyon, 1st January 1937.

One of Jenkins’ first significant tasks as Chief Constable was maintaining order on the day of King George VI’s Coronation, which took place on 12th May 1937. On the evening of the 12th, Jenkins arrested Newlyn resident George Thomas Bennetts, who had just been dismissed from his job as a waiter at the Winter Garden Hall for being drunk and disorderly. Bennetts had been asked to leave by his former employer but had refused to do so, forcing them to call in the police. Jenkins had just returned from his patrol in Wherrytown and spotted two of his Constables arguing with Bennetts outside the hall. Testament to Jenkins’ sensibilities, he first took Bennetts to one side and tried to calm him down. Bennetts stubbornly refused to accept that he was drunk, and tried to push past Jenkins and get back into the hall.

When the Chief Constable refused to budge, Bennetts struck Jenkins once in the chest, and was arrested for assaulting a constable. The obstreperous Bennetts continued his quarrel with Jenkins the next morning in police custody, and demanded to see the Chief Constable in his office. Jenkins agreed, and upon marching into the office he demanded the use of the Chief Constable’s telephone to call his wife. Jenkins surprised Bennetts by handing him the telephone handset; he quickly changed his mind and said he would continue his argument in court, where he was fined 10 shillings.

The Policeman’s Ball

Jenkins eagerly embraced the long-standing traditions of the Penzance Borough Police, no less on 3rd December 1937, when he held the first Charity Police Ball of his tenure. The tradition of the Police Ball started with his predecessor Harry Kenyon, who organised and hosted many such events throughout the 1920s. These events were infamously lavish and were well-attended by amateur and professional dancers from all over the county, the Mayor and Mayoress of Penzance and guests from neighbouring Cornwall County Constabulary. The 1937 event was the first to take place in five years, and was revived by Jenkins at the behest of his predecessor Mr Kenyon, who had declined to host one since 1932.

The main hall at St. John’s was put to good use for the occasion, and a stage was erected and decorated with beautiful floral displays. Chinese lanterns were hung from the ceiling, a picturesque country scene was hung on the stage behind where the band would play, and coloured light bulbs peered through the array of chrysanthemums and narcissus. The mirrored walls of the hall added an extra dimension of grandeur to the venue. All officers of the force lent a hand in decorating the hall, and sold tickets to the public during their patrols, the sale of which would ultimately raise money for local charities. Over 400 revellers attended the event, with a number of the guests partaking in a whist drive chaired by Mr Kenyon, with prizes issued by Mrs Jenkins.

At the conclusion of the evening Jenkins promised a “bigger and better” party for the following year. He made good on his promise and on Friday 9th December 1938 the second ball was held, with the highlight of the evening being the “Lambeth Walk” dance, with its signature “Oy!” being called out in unison by over 500 dancers. At the end of the evening Jenkins proudly exclaimed “there is room for another dance next year!” which was met with rapturous applause.

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Jenkins enjoying his rest days at Mousehole Harbour, 1937.

War Looms Again

In 1939, war loomed once again in Europe, and Penzance Borough was required to train up a large number of Special Constables and Police War Reserves. In addition to running a police force, Jenkins had the onerous task of building up and training the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) and wardens of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) service, the latter for which he was the Sub-Controller. Whilst an Inspector with the Canterbury City Police, he partook in ARP training exercises  designed in anticipation of any future war in Europe, and brought this expertise to Penzance. Moreover, prior to the passing of the Fire Services Act, Chief Constables were also the head of the Fire Brigade, and Jenkins had proven himself as an able director of fire-fighting on two occasions when fire destroyed a timber yard in Penzance and a warehouse in Marazion. In the image below, Jenkins is stood with a group of officers and villagers at the scene of a thatched roof fire in Newlyn. It is clear from this photo that he was quite prepared to get into the community spirit, and to cheerfully celebrate a “job well done.”

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“A job well done.” Stood far right holding a teacup, Jenkins poses for a photograph at the scene of a pre-war thatched roof fire in Newlyn in 1937.

preparing for war

On Sunday 17th March 1940, RCM Jenkins led a large-scale practice run for the Penzance ARP. Numbering over 260 volunteers, the drill was overseen by the ARP County Controller, Major G.H. Johnstone, and Chief Warden Mr F.S Shaw. In an operation that was hailed as a rousing success, Jenkins supervised twenty incidents, including a mock rescue operation at a ruined building on Coinagehall Street, an oil fire at Taylor’s Garage and various demolition and decontamination exercises at sundry points. Equipment involved included two fire engines, eight AFS pumps, four ambulances, five cars for treating casualties, a mobile first-aid post and three mobile water vans. ARP personnel engaged included twenty umpires, twenty control room operators, over one hundred members of the Auxiliary Fire Service, seventy “casualties,” ten decontaminators, ten paramedics, ten demolition workers, twenty messengers and a large number of police officers, Boy Scouts and Air Cadets.

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Inspection of the Fire Brigade and AFS by Mr Mabane MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Home Security, 1940. With him is Regional Commissioner Sir Geoffrey Peto.

On 30th May 1940, the Cornishman newspaper reported serious problems with the ARP, which included matters of lacklustre enthusiasm amongst the ranks, a problem which was enforced by the public’s automatic reliance on the police to sort out the aftermath of air raids. Another point of contention amongst the ranks was their lack of powers to enter private properties, for if a warden spotted a light on during a blackout, he was not permitted to intervene; rather he had to call upon the assistance of a police constable. In his capacity as Sub-Controller, Jenkins reasoned that the Home Guard was a more appealing role, and in trying to maintain the interest of air raid wardens, “the rattle in this instance is as important as the rifle.”

Chief Warden Mr F.S. Shaw would later reason that the ARP would perform better if they were provided with uniforms, but in a time of war, such provisions were scarcely available, with the police and Home Guard receiving priority service.

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Inspection of the AFS by South-West Regional Commissioner Sir Hugh Elles, 1940.

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RCM Jenkins and the Penzance Special Constabulary, 1940. Seated left of Jenkins (front; centre) is Mr F.S. Shaw, Chairman of the Police Watch Committee, and seated right is Mr John Birch, Mayor.

On 27th June 1940, at Penzance Police Court, Jenkins raised the issue of young police constables being criticized for not being in the Army. Jenkins voiced his disdain at the idea that some young constables were being asked why they weren’t in the Army, and reminded the court that a serving police officer of conscription age was prevented from going to war for good reason. In his statement, Jenkins said:

“It has become increasingly prevalent by certain offenders when spoken to by the police to become abusive to the policeman, and young policemen are being asked: Why are you not in the Army? Young policemen are not allowed in the Army because they are not allowed to join. It is the policy of the government to retain trained men in their particular jobs, and no policeman can go into the Army no matter how much he wishes. It is not fair to these young men to have this thrown at them, and I would ask the persons who make these remarks what they are doing.”

The threat of attack by air meant officers were required to enforce so-called “Blackout Offences” on the population of Penzance. The seriousness of such offences can evidenced from a court session held on 24th September 1940, when Jenkins gave advice to the Penzance Police Court on the proper use of a car side lamp, which he said required “covering with two sheets of newspaper or something of equal thickness to diffuse the light…” Local resident William Groves had been stopped by a constable for driving with an improperly covered side lamp, and was fined 5 shillings. Fines went as high as £2 for other residents who failed to comply with Air Raid Precautions during “blackout hours.” In a later court session, it was recommended by Alderman John Birch that the increasing frequency and seriousness of blackout offences should result in higher penalties, as high as £10 per person or three months imprisonment, or both.

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Inspection of the Penzance Police War Reserves by Acting Inspector of Constabulary Charles Chitham, 1941.

Penzance and The Blitz

Between May and August of 1941, Penzance suffered serious bomb damage from air raids. The most serious of these raids occurred on 8th June, when ten high explosives and a number of incendiary bombs fell on the town. Six houses on Alma Place were destroyed, with another thirty suffering serious damage. Another bomb landed in St. James Street, killing nine including a Police Sergeant. Further serious bombings came on 21st June and on 18th and 23rd July. Penzance had significant infrastructure that interested the Germans, and the Luftwaffe were known to have possessed aerial reconnaissance photographs of the town. To help bolster the town’s defences, anti-aircraft guns were installed in areas around Penzance, most significantly at Jubilee Pool and Penzance Railway Station. The 12th Battalion Home Guard were stationed in Penzance, and trained and worked closely with the Penzance Borough Police. RCM Jenkins tenure in Penzance was cut short, however, in December of 1941. Realising that the county of Kent would become critical to the war effort, the Police Watch Committee decided to draft him back to Kent to sort out serious issues of misconduct at the Folkestone Borough Police, which had become marred with scandal. A strict and fair disciplinarian, he was the perfect man for the job, and faced the difficult task of weeding out criminality amongst the ranks at a time of total war when the force should have been focusing on preserving life and limb in the face of air raids, cross-channel shelling and civil unrest. Aided by detectives from Scotland Yard, Jenkins’ enquiry into the misconduct of the Folkestone Borough Police successfully cleared the force of all dishonesty. Folkestone became part of the Kent County Constabulary in 1943, with Jenkins taking the post of ACC of No.3 District, based in Folkestone.

Lasting Impressions

Jenkins’ lasting mark on the Penzance force would be its efficiency, and he would be commended by the Police Watch Committee for transforming the rural force into a highly organised and professional organisation. He is also credited with introducing a Criminal Investigations Department and a Motor Patrol Group. On 10th November 1941, Mr F.S. Shaw, in his capacity as Chairman of the Police Watch Committee, addressed the Penzance Town Council and paid tribute to the Chief Constable and announced that Jenkins would be leaving Penzance for Folkestone. In his statement he said: “soon after his appointment Mr. Jenkins had reorganised the force and raised it to a high degree of efficiency…” He also commented: “There was no force in the country working with greater efficiency than Penzance Borough Force…” Jenkins was present during the meeting, and modestly replied “If I have achieved any measure of success it is due to the willing co-operation I have received.” His successor at Penzance was Mr Frederick George Beale, who held the post until the Borough merged with Cornwall Constabulary in 1947.

Jenkins held a warm affection for Cornwall, and he frequently holidayed in the county with his wife and three children, Donald, Roy and Marjorie, long after he moved back to Kent. On Saturday 2nd June 1944, Donald Jenkins returned to Cornwall to marry his fiancée Effie James, at Gulval Church, with the reception held at Chirgwin’s Cafe in Penzance. His sister Marjorie was bridesmaid. In 1939, Irish artist Stanhope A. Forbes, a resident of Cornwall, was tasked with painting a portrait of RCM Jenkins. The painting survives to this day, and is still on display at Police Headquarters in Exeter. In 1970 Jenkins donated the painting to Devon & Cornwall Constabulary as a tribute to the Penzance Borough Police.

Read the full article on the life of Chief Constable Robert Cyril Morton Jenkins here.


In writing this piece, Mark Rothwell has been in touch with the great-nephew of Jenkins, Robert Mott, who has additionally written some words about his recollections of RCM Jenkins, including the below excerpt: 

In 2013 I called in to the Kent Police Museum to say farewell to the Curator, Anna Derham, on the Museum’s closure and leaving the post. I mentioned the photograph of RCM Jenkins, and the photograph of the portrait of him by Stanhope Forbes. By coincidence, she had had a recent enquiry from someone in Devon & Cornwall Police, who turned out to be Mark Rothwell.

Thus it is thanks to Mark that the family and I now know so much more about RCM Jenkins and his police career. It makes for compelling reading.


With grateful assistance from: Robert Mott, Brian Jenkins, Roger Hext, Simon Dell, Kenneth Searle, Reverend Alan Pinnegar, Anna Derham, Angela Sutton-Vane & Carmen Talbot.

All photos reproduced with kind permission of B.P. Jenkins.

© Mark Rothwell 2015