Birmingham’s parks were initially patrolled by the city police force. During the 1880s, the Parks Committee had to apply to the Worcestershire police force for additional officers to patrol Cannon Hill Park, pointing out that although the park was maintained by the Borough of Birmingham, it was largely used by Worcestershire ratepayers.1 The Parks Committee was keen to get more police to patrol Cannon Hill Park because ‘several cases of indecent and immoral conduct’ had occurred there during the previous summer, and reports in the Birmingham Daily Post show that both Cannon Hill Park and Calthorpe Park were the location for sexual assaults on both adults and children during the 1880s and 1890s. In one of these incidents, a 46 year old labourer living at Hope Street was prosecuted in 1887 for assaulting a young girl in Calthorpe Park, after persuading her and two other children to go with him to the far end of the park behind some shrubbery. The park keeper was quoted in the report as saying that ‘complaints of indecent conduct towards children in the park were on the decrease’, which suggests that they had not been unusual.2
The Parks Committee minutes suggest that police provision in the parks was not sufficient to control disturbances there and that park employees were often left to deal with situations themselves. In 1907 it was reported that ‘the ordinary park employee is ineffective to control certain classes frequenting the parks or recreation grounds, and in many instances is practically set at defiance by the rougher element’.3 A dedicated Birmingham Parks Police force was formed in 1912, and patrolled the parks until replaced by Park Rangers in 1962. Following the appointment of a Parks Police force, it was noted that proceedings had been started against several people for ‘indecent exposure and indecent conduct with young girls in the parks’.4
During the First World War, women were appointed to the Parks Police force, partly to replace men who had joined up, but also apparently to help to supervise children playing in the parks.5 After the war, it was also thought that women police officers might help to prevent indecent exposure and sexual assaults on children. The National Council of Women presented an appeal to the Parks Committee in 1924 for more police, particularly women police officers ‘in the interests of public morality and decency and particularly for the safeguarding of little children’, complaining that the supervision of parks was inadequate, and citing several recent cases of ‘misconduct and indecency’ particularly at Warley, Cannon Hill, Swanshurst and Sparkhill parks.6
The reality was that, from the 1880s to the 1950s, parks were not safe places for children to play. The Parks Committee minutes contain regular reports of prosecutions for indecency towards children, which were dealt with by the Parks Police, and it is likely that still more went unreported.
1 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 28 February 1881 [BA&H: BCC AL/1/1/7]. Worcestershire Quarter Sessions agreed to provide additional forces, but Birmingham Corporation would have to pay for this service. 2Birmingham Daily Post (14 June 1887) 3 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 16 July 1907 [BA&H: BCC AL/1/1/14] 4 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 29 July 1912 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/1] 5 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 5 July 1915 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/3] 6 BCC Parks Committee Minutes, 5 May 1924 [BA&H: BCC 1 BO/1/1/6]
Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery
Donor Ref: '
Copyright information: Copyrights
to all resources are retained by the individual rights
holders. They have kindly made their collections available
for non-commercial private study & educational use.
Re-distribution of resources in any form is only permitted
subject to strict adherence to the guidelines in the Full
Terms and Conditions statement.