Master of Police John Stenhouse

John Stenhouse was born in 1743 and was a member of Merchant’s House in Glasgow in 1800, when he was asked to take the on roll of Master of Police for the new City of Glasgow Police. He accepted the appointment on an annual salary of £200.

He took up the role as Master of Police on 29 September 1800 under the new Glasgow Police Act which had received Royal Assent on 30 June 1800 the first Police Act in the United Kingdom.

He immediately set about organising the new force which he decided would be based in the Session house of the Laigh Kirk in Trongate. The session house had been used by the Town Guard for many years, but the Guard was disbanded on the establishment of the police. A plaque was erected on the church (now the Tron Theatre) on the bi-centenary of the Glasgow Police Act 1800, 30 June 2000.

Plaque erected on
30 June 2000
The Laigh Kirk, Trongate

He recruited a Clerk responsible for the upkeep of the administration and accounts. Nine police officers, two of whom were given the rank of Sergeant were also recruited.

As the force would operate a two tier system of policing of police officers and watchmen, he also recruited sixty-eight watchmen to guard the streets during the night while three officers patrolled the streets in support of the watchmen. Three officers would patrol the streets during the day and the other three would rest for twenty-four hours. The watchmen were also required to call the hours during the night and sweep the streets in the early morning.

He arranged for the construction of sentry boxes for the watchmen. They were to be made of seasoned wood and have a stable style door, so that the top half could be opened. As street lighting was also a requirement of the Police Act, he also arranged for the construction of metal street lamps which would be hung by a bracket from buildings.

On 15 November 1800, Master of Police John Stenhouse, mustered the new Glasgow Police for the first time. One of the Police Commissioners, Dr. John Aitken described the scene: “Our first impression was that the force was so large and overwhelming that it would drive iniquity out of the City as though by hurricane. Greatcoats and staves were served out, the latter being about four feet long and chocolate brown in colour. Each watchman was given a number and this appeared in white figures in the back of the greatcoat between the shoulders. The sergeants and officers wore a uniform of blue cloth coat and vest. Both ranks wore tall hats and the sergeants were distinguished by shoulder knots of red and blue mixed worsted thread.

Police Officer and Watchman

On 5 September 1803, Master of Police, John Stenhouse, resigned from the post. He continued as a merchant and died in Glasgow in 1822. He is buried in the Ramshorn Church Yard, Ingram Street, Glasgow.