Llewellyn William Atcherley, Inspector of Constabulary

On 20 January 1919, Major-General Llewellyn William Atcherley [] C.M.G., C.V.O., Chief Constable of the West Riding of Yorkshire, was appointed to the position of H. M. Inspector of Constabulary. It was a role which would see him not only inspect the police forces of England and Wales, but also influence their development and operations. The position naturally involved a great deal of travel, taking Llewellyn to many different towns and cities from Stourbridge to Sunderland, from Dover to Derby, and from Nottingham to – New York!

Llewellyn actually began his duties as an Inspector of Constabulary six months before being appointed to the post, shortly after his return to civilian life following nearly four years of military service (see Llewellyn Atcherley’s World War One). As Acting Government Inspector of Constabulary he inspected members of the Hull police force on 20 July 1918. He also inspected members of the Middlesbrough Constabulary some seven weeks later on 5 September.

A “high state of efficiency” had been maintained in the Middlesbrough force despite the difficulties of the war, the impact of which was visible in part from the reduced numbers of police officers on parade. Those numbers were swelled by 41 special constables, and Llewellyn thanked them, on behalf of the Home Office, for their services. Another reminder of the toll inflicted by the war was the presence of officers who had been wounded or (in one case) gassed while serving with the armed forces. One of those men had lost an arm. After inspecting the men, “Major-General Atcherley examined the various police-stations, cells, offices, and books, and expressed himself as highly satisfied with the police administration in the borough.”

Because of his “excellent police work in the West Riding”, it had been recommended back in 1912 that Llewellyn Atcherley should be considered for a post in the Home Office. That recommendation had been made by none other than Winston Churchill. Evidently Llewellyn showed, during his time as Acting Government Inspector of Constabulary, that he was more than capable of undertaking the duties involved. And so it was that Churchill’s recommendation was finally acted upon when Llewellyn was appointed to the position on a permanent basis in 1919.

The Times of London reported that Llewellyn’s appointment to this post had “given rise in some quarters to the assumption that the Home Office may contemplate the constitution of a new National Police Force, and the consequent appointment of a controlling head”. It went on to say that “nothing had occurred to support the supposition that any drastic changes in police administration were contemplated.” Changes affecting the police forces of England and Wales were certainly in prospect however.

On 13 August 1918 there had been a strike by members of the Metropolitan Police, organised by the National Union of Police and Prison Officers (NUPPO). At issue had been pay, bonuses and pensions, issues with which there was great dissatisfaction in many other police forces across the country. In response to these widespread concerns, on 1 March 1919 the Government convened a committee chaired by Lord Desborough to review the pay and conditions of the police across England, Wales and Scotland.

As an Inspector of Constabulary, even though newly-appointed to the post, Llewellyn Atcherley gave evidence to the Desborough Committee along with his colleague Sir Leonard Dunning (pictured below). The two Inspectors were not singing from the same hymn sheet however. Howard Taylor, in a thesis written in 1997, has suggested that Llewellyn’s appointment by the Home Office was made in order to balance Dunning’s views:

Quite possibly the second Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Llewelyn Atcherley, was appointed by the Home Office to counter Dunning’s influence since the two Inspectors profoundly disagreed on so many policing matters. Dunning was the leading urban policeman, Atcherley was an innovative county police chief. The timing of Atcherley’s appointment, ‘a few weeks’ before the Desborough Committee, suggests that politics may have played a part in his selection. However, if that was the case, although Atcherley had long enjoyed great status and prestige in the police service, his appointment appears to have come too late for him to exert a decisive influence in the formative period, immediately during and after Desborough, when police establishments were under particular scrutiny.

Dunning’s view was that the police should expand their role into the social sphere, working with voluntary agencies to prevent crime, and that minor offences should be targeted “before the offender had a chance to develop serious criminal habits.” Atcherley, on the other hand, wanted ‘top down’ organisation of the police with strengthened Home Office power or even a Police Ministry at its apex. “He believed,” says Taylor, ”the scope of policing should be limited to the obvious, serious targets and that policing was not a social service.” He certainly did not see a role for ‘policing’ by voluntary organisations, as the following words, taken from the 1921 Report of the Departmental Committee on the Duties of Women Police and attributed to Llewellyn, clearly show:

I do not like separate voluntary organisations. I do not like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; I do not like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; I do not like a Society for the Protection of Girls. I think all these should be comprehended in police work and dealt with in police practice, and that they should be unnecessary, because the policy should be a policy accepted by all and under proper government. If you get voluntary organisations you get cranks. …

The findings of the first report of the Desborough Committee were accepted in full and were implemented by the Police Act 1919, passed by Parliament on 15 August that year. It outlawed NUPPO (the Police Federation was formed in its place) and abolished the right of police officers to strike, but it also removed, for most serving officers, any desire to strike by providing much improved pay and conditions. In his report for 1918-19, issued within months of the Police Act being passed, Llewellyn Atcherley wrote: “A great improvement is evident already, due partly no doubt … to the excellent influence of the Desborough Committee’s report.”

Other recommendations were made by the committee (which issued a second report in 1920) regarding the structure and organisation of police forces. One which was close to Llewellyn Atcherley’s heart was “the development of cooperative arrangements between police forces, for example ‘clearing houses’ for information about crime and criminals”. However, Llewellyn’s call for at least seven more Inspectors of Constabulary to be appointed, covering all of the ‘Chief Constables Conference’ areas, was watered down to a recommendation for just one additional Inspector, “to enable the Inspectorate to cope with its new responsibilities”. Even that recommendation was rejected by the Government, on grounds of cost.

The Desborough Committee also rejected the nationalisation of the police (the ‘National Police Force’ which The Times had referred to in 1918. Instead, it proposed uniformity across the various police forces, and these were delivered by the police regulations which came into effect on 1 October 1920. In the report issued by H.M. Inspectorate of Constabulary for 1919-20, Atcherley agreed with Dunning that the new regulations were “working towards uniformity of the Service”. That report, which has been described as “upbeat and optimistic”, was followed by a report in similar vein for 1920-21.

During this period Llewellyn continued his inspections of police forces in his Northern District, with visits to constabularies, divisions and sub-divisions across that area. Among the places he travelled to were Blackburn, Blackpool, Blyth (Northumberland), Cambridge, Derby, Grantham, Hartlepool, Hull, Leeds, Lichfield, Nottingham and Preston. The inspections, which were attended by various civic dignitaries and officials in addition to Major Atcherley, typically followed a set format with the officers parading and conducting drills before Llewellyn inspected the forces’ books and methods of operation.

Llewellyn Atcherley photographed at the Waldorf Astoria, New York, during the International Police Conference of 1922.

In 1922 Llewellyn got to travel rather further afield. An International Police Conference, organised by Commissioner Enright, took place at the Waldorf Astoria in New York in September that year and was attended by Llewellyn and by “Police chiefs from all parts of the United States, from Canada, Cuba, Porto Rico, Haiti, Belgium and Denmark”. The delegates got to see “The latest novelties in electrical burglar tools, the most up-to-date bombs and infernal machines, new finger-printing apparatus and the ‘modus operandi’ system of detecting criminals by the characteristics of their crimes”. The modus operandi system, developed by the New York Police Department, was based on the system devised by Llewellyn in 1913.

On 14 September the New York Times reported:

The methods of the New York Police Department are closely studied by the police of other great cities, according to Major General L. W. Atcherley of the British Constabulary. He said he believed the National Police Conference called by Commissioner Enright would be followed eventually by a world police conference. In time, he said, the countries of the world would co-operate to pursue criminals and stamp out crime. He predicted that an international police clearing house for fingerprints, criminal identification and international detective work would be established.

It was also reported during the course of the conference that Llewellyn’s view on illegal drugs was “the supplier of the drug be heavily punished rather than the wretched user and that if it is the intention to start an International bureau that this question of preventing the distribution of the narcotic supply be made a branch of it.”

Though it did not come about as a result of Llewellyn Atcherley’s suggestion nor with his involvement, it is interesting to note that the International Criminal Police Commission, which later adopted the name Interpol, was established in 1923, the year following that in which Llewellyn made his prediction of an international police clearing house.

Llewellyn, with Commissioner Staneland of Victoria, B.C. and Commissioner McKay of New York, examines “captured ‘jimmies’, burglars kits which had been used on safe-cracking expeditions.”

Picture credits. Extract from London Gazette, issue 31136, 21 Jan 1919, page 1072 used under the Open Government Licence v2.0. Sir Leonard Dunning, 1st Bt.: Picture by Bassano Ltd, © National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG x120233) and used under a Creative Commons licence. Llewellyn William Atcherley at the Waldorf Astoria: Picture by Central News Photo Service, US photo from before 1923 and therefore in the public domain. Llewellyn William Atcherley, Commissioner Staneland and Commissioner McKay at the Waldorf Astoria: Picture by Central News Photo Service, US photo from before 1923 and therefore in the public domain.


[1] The London Gazette, issue 31136, 21 Jan 1919, page 1072.
[2] Hull Daily Mail, 22 Jul 1918, page 4.
[3] Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough, 5 Sep 1918, page 4. Middlesbrough Police Force.
[4] Churchill College Cambridge, Archives Centre item CHAR 2/56/81 shows: Letter from Reginald McKenna (Home Office) to [Winston Spencer Churchill], dated 1 May 1912.
[5] The Times, 31 Jan 1919, page 5. Constabulary Inspectors.
[6] British police strikes in 1918 and 1919. At Wikipedia (website, accessed 22 Sep 2014).
[7] Fight the Power? Formerly online at Police (website of Police magazine; website closed in 2016).
[8] Richard Cowley, Peter Todd, Louise Ledger (2006), The history of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. The first 150 years. (PDF)
[9] Howard Taylor (1997), The Politics of Crime in Interwar England and Wales. (PDF)
[10] Lancashire Evening Post, 1 Jul 1919, page 3. Blackpool Police.
[11] Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 4 Sep 1919, page 8. Police Inspection.
[12] Cambridge Independent Press, 5 Dec 1919, page 11. Inspection of Police.
[13] Hull Daily Mail, 3 Mar 1920, page 3. Hull Police Inspection.
[14] Nottingham Evening Post, 16 Mar 1920, page 5. A Smart Force.
[15] Lancashire Evening Post, 14 May 1920, page 6. Preston Police Inspection.
[16] Morpeth Herald, 25 Jun 1920, page 12. Blyth Police Inspection.
[17] Tamworth Herald, 18 Sep 1920, page 5. Borough of Tamworth.
[18] Hartlepool Mail, 8 Apr 1921, page 6. Police Inspections.
[19] Grantham Journal, 7 May 1921, page 8. Grantham.
[20] Derby Daily Telegraph, 11 Jul 1921, page 3. Derby’s Police Force.
[21] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 6 Aug 1921, page 10.
[22] Lancashire Evening Post, 6 Oct 1921, page 3. Police inspection at Blackburn.
[23] Tamworth Herald, 15 Jul 1922, page 5. Borough of Tamworth.
[24] The Police Journal, Volume X, September 1922, number 3.
[25] New York Times, 22 Aug 1922, page 11. European Police Officials Coming.
[26] New York Times, 12 Sep 1922.
[27] New York Times, 14 Sep 1922.
[28] Interpol. At Wikipedia (website, accessed 21 Sep 2014).