Held within the Historic Collections of Devon and Cornwall Police, but on display in Truro Police station (moved into the new station site in 2014), are a set of six cutlasses, believed to date from around 1857. These are particularly interesting as we have been searching for many years to find information on their provenance, and whether or not we can securely date them to the mid-nineteeth century.

1975.00257.001 overall
Photo of the cutlasses taken during their documentation. Photo taken by David Forward. Catalogue number 1975.00257.001

It is believed that the cutlasses were in the old Truro Police Station, and when the police station moved they were found in the attic. They were taken by  an ex-Chief Superintendent or Chief Constable (who made up the plaque) and displayed in the station foyer – later moved to the Police Club. They were then moved to the conference room, and once again into the new site in 2014.

After research performed by Heritage & Learning Resource volunteer Peter Hinchliffe, with Frank Grigg, at the Cornwall Record Office, reference to the purchase of police equipment has been found, with the possibility that those held by the Historic Collections of Devon & Cornwall Police are being referred to in this document.

Cornwall County Constabulary General Orders 1857-1889. Catalogue number 1975.00368.001

As a result of the County and Borough Police Act of 1856, Cornwall was required to create a county constabulary, which it did the following year in 1857. Prior to this there were borough forces in the different areas, many of which were not brought under the county constabulary for a long time (Penzance Borough and the Isles of Scilly maintained their own forces until 1947). Later, in 1967, Cornwall County Constabulary merged with Devon & Exeter Police and Plymouth City Police to form today’s Devon & Cornwall Police.

Held within the collection is the Cornwall Constabulary General Orders book from the first few years of the force. The ledger contains hand-written General Orders from the Chief Constable’s office at Bodmin – the Headquarters for Cornwall Constabulary.  The entries begin at 16th March 1857, and end at 5th April 1889, so span the first thirty years of the new Constabulary.

We have been struggling to find a record of reference to the purchase of these cutlasses, however we may now have the document that does this. Although there is no detail in the reference that can allow us to definitively say our cutlasses are the ones below, when paired with comments made by Bonhams we can certainly say that the cutlasses date from a similar period to that of the creation of Cornwall County Constabulary;

The cutlasses are standard issue police hangers, Victorian, probably 1860 to 1870 and would have been issued to police constables for events such as riots or other disturbances of the peace. (comment made by Bonhams)

Below is an extract of the Cornwall Quarter Sessions Order Book that details the plans for the fitting-out of the new constabulary:

Cornwall Quarter Sessions Order Book | Extract taken from the Meeting on the 6th January 1857 at Bodmin Court

(Original Document held at the Cornwall Record Office, Truro – Ref: QS/1/17):

(Page 297) –

“It is Ordered that the Committee on the County Constabulary Act be revived and that they be empowered to report to this Court on such proceedings as they may consider necessary with at these Sessions.

The said Committee having made to this Court the following Report that is to say –
That the County be divided for police purposes into 6 Superintendant’s Districts each to be under the charge of a Superintendent and that one extra Superintendant be appointed for Head Quarters….

Truro police cutlasses
The six cutlasses now displayed at Truro Police Station (the two outside swords have been removed from their scabbards to show the blades). Catalogue number 1975.00257.001. Image by kind assistance of @trurospecials

That to provide horses – carts – harness – saddles and bridles – handcuffs – lanthorns (lanterns) – cutlasses and belts – slaves – lamp belts and cape straps – books – printing – Stationery and Stable necessaries, rugs – office fittings and other furniture essential to the formation of the force a sum not exceeding £800 be allowed –

That for the clothing of the force a sum not exceeding £1,050 be allowed to include the allowance for boots –

That for annual contingencies including forage for horses, repairs removals, printing postage and stationery, oil for lanthorns a/c a sum not exceeding £400 per year be allowed –

Pay of whole force – £8,933. 12s. 0d

Clothing – £1,050

Annual Contingencies £400

Rent of Stations £200

Total = £10,583. 12s. 0d

With thanks to Peter Hinchliffe and Frank Grigg for researching the above, the Truro Specials Twitter for providing an image of the cutlasses in situ in Truro Police Station, Angela Sutton-Vane for research, and David Forward for photographing of the cutlasses.

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