“Shields for Police Constables” (Edinburgh Evening News, 15 September 1882)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Sunday, 6th May 2018

Like the shepherd’s crook-type weapon introduced to the London police circa 1904, the police shields described in the article represent an interesting local solution to a local problem. Very similar designs were, however, widely used in India and South Africa during the 20th century.  They are also, perhaps, among the early ancestors of the high-tech riot shields commonly used by contemporary police forces.

The Stafford county constabulary are about to be supplied with an ingenious though simple addition to their present means of defence. Mr. Oswell, the deputy chief constable of the county, whose experience of the risks run by the police in hand to hand encounters with the rougher elements of a mining and agricultural population extends over upwards of 20 years, has invented a light wicker shield to worn by police when on night duty or under circumstances which they are likely brought into conflict with the more desperate characters of the Staffordshire districts.

The shield is oval in form, and though very light is so constructed of carefully woven willow twigs as to be at once strong and serviceable. The willow work strengthened a backbone of 1/4 inch ash, running through the centre of the shield and projecting an inch or two at each end. The dimensions of the shield are 23″ x 13″ and on the inner side there are two semi circular pieces of roundel leather, so fixed that while the forearm thrust through one the other is grasped the hand.

The shield is slung at the back by a strap passing over the right shoulder and under the left arm, in such a way that it can be instantaneously hitched round to the front. The arm having been put through the leather handles, a single pull detaches the strap supporting the shield, which can then be elevated to cover the head in case assault with stones or bludgeons.

Mr. Oswell thinks that, if padded on inner side with cotton wool, the shield would resist the ordinary gun-shot used by poachers at as short a distance as 15 yards. Two small holes left the basket work afford the constable, while protecting his head, the opportunity seeing movements of his assailants.

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