lthough Tavistock was excluded from the municipal act, the wealthy Duke of Bedford insisted on having a system for enforcing the law. In 1837 the Duke contacted the London Metropolitan Police and requested the services of a superintendent to oversee a police force.


Mark Merritt arrived in Tavistock and was appointed as the first, and only, Chief Constable of Tavistock and was stationed at the Guildhall on Bedford Square. The existing parish constables of Tavistock were placed under Merritt’s supervision and were provided with better equipment and fees. The Duke had the officers housed in the old guildhall but this was soon to prove too small for their purposes.


By 1847 the force had outgrown its police station and the Duke authorised the construction of a new police and court building on the site of the ruined Tavistock Abbey. Since then Tavistock police station has remained in the same building and is the oldest police station in the West Country and the second oldest in England.


Despite resistance in other towns such as Bradninch and Okehampton, the Tavistock Borough Police was unable to challenge the authority of the Devon Constabulary and by the end of February 1857, Superintendent Merritt found himself redundant.


A statue of the generous Duke stands in the station car park as a fitting memorial. Tavistock Borough Police was established in 1837 and became part of Devon Constabulary in 1856.



Above: Built in 1847 for the borough force, the Tavistock Guildhall also housed the Quarter Sessions Court as well as the local fire engine station. The area outside of the building once held the local sheep market but nowadays is a car park. With the exception of the addition of vehicles, the view above, which includes the Duke of Bedford's statue, has remained unchanged over the last century. The above image is from 1899.



A small selection of borough truncheons of Tavistock held at the town's museum (image © Tavistock Museum). These types of truncheon were the badges of office of the parish and, later, borough officers before they were issued with uniforms.


Not only are there a number of these on display in Tavistock's museum but a greater collection is held in the mayor's parlour of this historic town.


It can be seen that the earliest truncheon (on the right) displays the words 'Parish of Tavistock' later to be changed and upgraded to 'Borough of Tavistock'.

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