Heritage100

Victorian Painted Truncheon

Painted truncheon

“The sight of a truncheon often got the message across much quicker than any warrant card could.”

This painted truncheon, dating from around 1890, is a symbol of authority. All types of police forces in the Victorian era used painted truncheons as a way of showing that they were official police officers. 

During the period there were hundreds of different police forces all over the country, each having a different design painted onto their truncheons.  This truncheon belonged to a Military Police Sergeant named Sergeant William F. Barnes. We know this because his identification number 336 has been painted on the truncheon.

Today our police forces carry warrant cards which hold their name, number and other details the public need to identify them. In the Victorian era all this information would be carried on their painted truncheon. The sight of a truncheon often got the message across much quicker than any warrant card could. 

Later, as more of the population learned to read and write, the warrant card was favoured over the painted truncheon. Finally, when photographs were added there was simply no further need for the police to decorate their truncheons. The truncheon quickly went from being a symbol of authority, to just another tool in the fight against crime.

Quick Facts

  • Used at Aldershot, Hampshire, United Kingdom
  • Used by Sergeant William Barnes, Military Police
  • Date made about 1890
  • Made of Leather and wood
  • Dimensions Height 430mm, Width: 40mm
  • Accession number CHCMP:N1007

Facts

  • The first truncheons were issued to the Military Police in 1855, the year that the first Military Police unit was created in the United Kingdom. In total, 21 Military Police Officers were recruited in order to police 20,000 soldiers based in the town of Aldershot in Hampshire.
  • It was said that Aldershot was “...inhabited principally by publicans, Brothel Keepers, Prostitutes, Thieves and Receivers of Stolen property.” Letting 20.000 soldiers loose in a place like this certainly kept the Military Police very busy indeed.
  • Sergeant William Barnes was transferred to the Military Police from the 11th Hussars on 1st September 1891, so it is likely that he would have received the truncheon around that date.

Did you know?

The VR painted on the truncheon stood for “Victoria Regina”.  This is known as a royal cipher and changes with each monarch. The cipher would be painted on the truncheon to show that the police officer represented the authority of the crown.

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