By Hook or By Crook: A New Weapon for the Millwall Dock Police (1903-05)

  • Originally published on the site on Monday, 30th October 2017

During the first decade of the 20th century, the Millwall Dock area of London’s East End was a notoriously attractive target for all manner of plunderers, who found easy entrance and escape via the Dock’s complex, shifting maze of alleyways.  The Millwall Dock Police, all of whom were former soldiers and whose average height was an impressive 5’11”, frequently found themselves in hot pursuit of agile thieves and looters on foot.

In December of 1903, the Chief Constable of the Dock Police introduced a unique weapon to assist his constables in making arrests of runaway thieves.  This new item was a sturdy staff of 1″ oak with a wide curved handle, very similar to a shepherd’s crook.  As well as proving useful as a general-purpose walking stick, the staff was ideally suited to catching fleeing felons by snaring them around the neck, arm, leg or ankle.

The Chief Constable devised training drills for his men in the use of the hooked staff, “introducing several cuts and guards which are, at present, little known”, according to a report in the Nottingham Evening Post.

In an editorial, a journalist for the West Somerset Free Press remarked that the new weapon seemed to have been designed on the “Japanese self-defence principle”. That comment was very likely intended as a general allusion to jiujitsu but it also, probably accidentally, evokes the use of specialised “mancatcher” weapons such as the sodegaramitsukubō, and sasumata * in ko-ryu martial arts, most especially those associated with police work in feudal Japan.

The same journalist struck a pragmatic note of caution, observing that “there is considerable danger attached to the use of such weapons (…) for a man tripped up by a crooked stick might easily sustain severe injuries, and to maim prisoners is, to say the least of it, not consistent with English use.”

Nevertheless, by 1905 the crook-staff had become standard issue for Millwall Dock police constables.  Very similar techniques were likewise advocated for civilian use by E.W. Barton-Wright and Pierre and Marguerite Vigny, all of whom promoted the use of crook-handled canes and umbrellas to trip and otherwise impede attackers:

A modification of the sasumata has, incidentally, been revived in recent decades and is now widely used by Japanese police, security officers and even teachers; the latter regularly train in the use of the sasumata against knife-wielding school invaders.

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