Joseph Martin could have ended up a nobody, just one among the millions of people who lived in London in the first half of the 19th century. However, on 1st April 1832, he started work as a police officer in a brand new police force, the City Police, a force that, seven years later is remodelled and rebranded as the City of London Police. For reasons now lost to us, it is Joseph and not his fellow joiners, who is allocated warrant number “1”. It is his name that occupies the very first line of the very first of the Warrant Books that since then have allocated a sequential warrant number to every person joining the force. And so it is Joseph Martin who, on 1st April 1832 becomes the very first police officer to join the City of London Police, the force that still polices the Square Mile today.
It is likely that Joseph was not new to policing. Amongst the court records of the Old Bailey (https://www.oldbaileyonline.org) there’s a Joseph Martin who first appears as a witness in 1807. Then he calls himself “a city officer”. A Joseph Martin pops up from time to time in subsequent years, variously stating his profession as a “constable”, “police officer”, and with a tantalizing glimpse at a possible past career, as “an officer – I have been a jeweller”. He plays a major role in a heart-rending case in 1819 when a fourteen month old child, Benjamin Schrier, is snatched while being looked after by his brothers in Mile End. Joseph tracks the suspect, who had lodged in the City, to Birmingham and recovers the child. The suspect is Mrs Mary Ridding and the court hears how, her husband having frequently said how he wished her to have a baby, she in her desperation had travelled to London and taken Benjamin, subsequently passing him off to her spouse as their own. She is shown “mercy” by the court on conviction and receives a fine of one shilling and twelve months in the House of Correction at Cold Bath Fields rather than the sentence set by law of seven years’ transportation. While there is no direct evidence that this pre-1832 Joseph Martin is also the holder of City Police warrant number 1, “our” Joseph joins the City Police not as a constable, but as an Inspector, a rather strong indication of some past connection with keeping law and order in the City.
In common with many of London’s inhabitants then (and probably since), Joseph was not a Londoner by birth. He was born in Bedfordshire around 1783. At some stage he had married, and he and his wife had two daughters: Mary born around 1815 in the City of London, and Emma born in Clerkenwell around 1823. The 1841 census finds both daughters living at Bridgewater Square, St Giles without Cripplegate, while Joseph is at work performing his 24 hour long shift as one of the two Inspectors in charge of the 2nd (Smithfield) Division of the City of London Police. He was based at 13 West Smithfield – not a purpose built police station, but a converted public house, the former Greyhound public house in fact. If you stand beneath the statue of Henry VIII that bestrides the gateway into St Bartholomew’s Hospital and follow the Monarch’s stare across to the west side of Smithfield, you will be looking more or less at the spot where the Greyhound once stood. It had a side gateway that led to the yard of the Greyhound Waggon Office which, on market days, would be teeming with jobbers, horses and other livestock.
Smithfield Police Station had six cells that would be totally unrecognizable to custody Sergeants of today. There were no beds – prisoners slept on the floor – and no heating. No food was supplied to those in custody. Conditions so troubled Inspector Martin that, in 1840, he wrote to the Commissioner of the force, Daniel Whittle Harvey:
“I respectfully beg leave to state that the Lock up Rooms at this Station, being recently built, and not having been dried in any way, are so cold and damp, that many of the Prisoners who are detained in them, sometimes from 15 to 18 hours at a time, are in such a state with the Cold that when they leave them, they appear as though they had lost the use of their limbs; as the weather is likely to be more severe, I trust you will give orders that the said Lock up Rooms may be warmed in some way, they are likewise totally dark now, from 5 pm to 7 am, so that the conveniences are entirely useless.”.
In July 1846, he leaves Smithfield’s cold and damp cells behind taking with him a “handsome watch and gold key” presented to him at the White Hart, Giltspur Street “as a token of respect by a few inhabitants of the ward of Farringdon Without, on his removal from West Smithfield to Cripplegate, and for his great assiduity and faithful discharge of the duties imposed upon him” as an Inspector of the City Police. But he remains at his new posting for only two years and, after 16 years’ service with the City of London Police, Inspector Joseph Martin resigns on 22nd June 1848. He appears only twice further in official records of the time. The night of 30/31 March 1851 finds him living in Spencer Street, Islington with both daughters. The 23rd September of that year finds him being buried at the age of 69 years at St Mary’s, Islington – Joseph Martin, former Inspector of the City of London Police, a man who could have been a nobody who ended up being number 1.