Object of the Month May 2020
Metropolitan Policeman’s Whistle
Until 1885, the first policemen in London used wooden rattles to communicate with each other while on the beat. However, the rattles were bulky to carry and proved awkward to retrieve from the pocket of a swallow tail coat. Some provincial police forces were using whistles instead, so the Metropolitan Police Force decided to test their efficiency. The first Metropolitan Whistle was patented in 1884, following an official trial of whistles conducted on Clapham Common. A model by J. Hudson and Company was found to be the loudest of all, having been heard over a mile away. The patent number of the whistle, as shown here, reveals that it was manufactured between 1914 and 1922 when J. Hudson and Company was located at 244 Barr Street, Birmingham. The company continues to operate today under the name of Acme Whistles. .
How policemen used whistles
A single blast on a whistle was used to alert the attention of another officer in an adjoining beat. The same signal was used to alert another officer when in pursuit of a person at night. Three blasts in quick succession were given in the case of emergency, such as a fire or riot. It would then be answered by a single whistle.
As motor cars became more commonplace, whistles became less audible, and by the mid twentieth century they were replaced by hand-held radios. Nowadays, police officers are sometimes presented with engraved whistles on occasions such as their retirement.