Police Whistles

Inspired by some recent investigative eBay research of police history objects being sold online, it was interesting to see that a very popular item seemed to be the Metropolitan patent J. Hudson & Co. police whistle; a type that we hold multiple versions of within the Historic Collections of Devon & Cornwall Police.The J. Hudson & Co. whistle manufacturers (still trading in Birmingham on Barr Street; now as ACME Whistles) boasted the rights to make whistles for the Metropolitan Police from the 1880s, and it was this patented whistle that came to be the most popular model in forces across the country.

Prior to the whistle coming into use, a constable requiring attention or needing to alert others would ‘spring his rattle’. The police rattle was superseded by the whistle in the 1880s, the latter being far superior in raising the alarm over a greater distance (read below the story of how this was tested out by the Metropolitan Police). From the 1960s, the whistle itself has gradually been superseded by the personal radio and subsequent developments in technology (see John Bunker’s excellent ‘From Rattle to Radio’ for a history of these developments up to the 1980s).

Plymouth City Police whistle. Stamped on body of whistle is THE METROPOLITAN; J. HUDSON & Co; 13 BARR ST; BIRMINGHAM; PATENT.  Catalogue number Audit 1975.00283.001

Note the wording on most of the whistle examples given in this blog ‘The Metropolitan’ or ‘The Metropolitan Patent’; you may be thinking ‘wrong Force!’ The best explanation for why this was stamped all over the Devon & Cornwall borough and county forces’ whistles can be found in a piece by Martyn Gilchrist on Leif Bailey’s website www.whistleshop.co.uk – an excerpt of which is reproduced here:

In 1883 tests were carried out in open country with favourable wind conditions, at the Rifle Range, Hounslow Heath. A regulation rattle competed against a Manchester City Police whistle. The official tests showed that the rattle could be heard faintly at 500 yards and not at all at 800 yards. The whistle could be clearly heard at 900 yards but was ill-defined at 1000 yards. The Metropolitan Police decided to go ahead and advertisements were placed in the press inviting whistle manufacturers to submit models. Exactly how many companies submitted whistles is not known but three names are on record; C J Piejus & Co, Bent & Parker and J Hudson & Co. The various whistles submitted were tested on Clapham Common and one of the patterns sent by Hudsons, similar to the Manchester City Police whistle, was chosen. A mix-up led to the contract being placed with Bent & Parker….

Joseph Hudson was informed that a whistle had been chosen but not whose model. He wrote asking for his whistles to be returned, and also made inquiries as to whose pattern had been chosen. Discovering that his own whistle was the chosen one, but the contract had been placed elsewhere, he contacted the Metropolitan Police who quickly put right the mistake. On the 8th January 1884 the Metropolitan Police Receiver wrote to the Commissioner informing him that an order for 7,000 whistles at eleven shillings (55p) a dozen had been place with J Hudson & Co (within two years 21,000 had been ordered and delivered)….

On 2nd February 1884 Hudsons applied for ‘The Metropolitan’ to be registered as a trademark for GSWs [general service whistles], which was granted. Whistles issued to police are marked with the forces name and most were also marked with the trademark ‘The Metropolitan’. The phrase ‘Metropolitan Police Whistle’ is ambiguous as it can mean a GSW issued to the Metropolitan Police or, more frequently, it refers to a GSW with Hudsons’ trademark.

© Martyn Gilchrist; excerpt used with permission from Leif Bailey of http://www.whistleshop.co.uk/history.html

The J. Hudson & Co. ‘Metropolitan’ whistle therefore became the standard for general service whistles, and thus why we have it stamped on the Hudson whistles we have in the Collection.

Metropolitan Whistles in the Historic Collections of Devon & Cornwall Police

One of the objectives of this Heritage Lottery Funded project is to open up the Historic Collections of Devon and Cornwall Police to a wider audience. As we are based in a police station, which is not open to the public, the best way we can find of achieving this goal at present is to publish and promote interaction with the collection online. As well as the Plymouth example above, we have many other Hudson Metropolitan patent whistles in our collection, in varying designs and from various time periods. The great benefit of having the (county/borough) force name stamped on the whistle is that it can help us to date it (along with the Hudson address). For example, we see the whistle below:

Whistle; Barnstaple Police; no chain; stamped:
Whistle; Barnstaple Police; no chain; stamped: “THE METROPOLITAN; PATENT; BARNSTAPLE POLICE; J. Hudson & Co.; 131 Barr St.; Birmingham”.
Catalogue number Audit 2004.05800

We can be fairly certain of the small date range that the whistle above could have been made within, due to the borough force name and the address stamped on the body of the whistle. Barnstaple Borough Police were active between 1836 and 1921, however, 131 Barr Street was used as the premises of J.D. Hudson & Co. for only three years, between 1885 and 1888. Therefore, we can fairly accurately date the origins of this whistle to the late 1880s.

Whistle; double-ended with pea; Cornwall Constabulary; no chain; small chain loop on side of whistle; stamped on body:
Whistle; double-ended with pea; Cornwall Constabulary; no chain; small chain loop on side of whistle; stamped on body: “THE METROPOLITAN; PATENT; J. HUDSON & CO.;244 BARR ST. BIRMINGHAM”; stamped on mouth piece: “PATENT”. Catalogue number: Audit 2004.05801

The above example has ‘Cornwall Constabulary’ stamped on it. We know the dates for this county force were 1857 (after the 1856 County and Borough Police Act) and 1967 (when the county force amalgamated with the Devon and Exeter Police and Plymouth City Police to form Devon & Cornwall Constabulary that we know today). The J.D. Hudson & Co. address on the whistle (244 Barr St.) covers a wide range of time from 1909; in fact still serving as the address of ACME whistles today. We can therefore be certain that this whistle dates from after 1909 but before 1967, and  welcome the keen eye of any police whistle experts in dating it more precisely.

Air Raid Precaution whistle, inscribed A.R.P. J. HUDSON & CO. BARR ST. HOCKLEY BIRMINGHAM. Catalogue number 1975.00285
Air Raid Precaution (ARP) whistle, inscribed
A.R.P. J. HUDSON & CO. BARR ST. HOCKLEY BIRMINGHAM. Catalogue number Audit 1975.00285

Finally, held within the Collection are many objects (as well as archival records) relating to the measures taken during WWII to provide Air Raid Precautions across Devon and Cornwall. Included within this is the above example of a J.D. Hudson & Co. whistle inscribed ‘A.R.P.’ This would have been issued to an ARP warden, whose role would have included such responsibilities as registering those in their sector, enforcing the blackout, attending air raids; providing first aid and helping to coordinate the emergency services. Whistles were provided by the Home Office, and we can trace the conversion between them and the Treasury in regards to providing individuals with their own whistle, as opposed to a system of sharing (June 1939 HO 186/1788). Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery have an excellent mini-site on the Blitz in Plymouth, with many examples of these whistles (and other ARP equipment), as well as further information. In terms of dating this whistle, we can be fairly certain it comes from the period 1939 – 1945.

If you are/were a police officer in Devon & Cornwall Police, or have knowledge of police whistles from our area, we would love to hear about where, when and how you last used a police whistle – please contact us.

For more information and further reading:

On police whistles:

Bunker, J. 1988. From Rattle to Radio. Studley: Brewin Books

Gilchrist, M. and Topman, S. 1998. Collecting Police Whistles and Similar Types. Birmingham: Topcrest






J.D. Hudson & Co. Patent information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J_Hudson_%26_Co#Patents.2C_registered_designs_and_trademarks

On Air Raid Precautions:



One thought on “The J. Hudson and Co. Police Whistle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s