'Father' of Luton Police Force retires

On March 6th, 1919, Inspector Walter James Hagley, 'father' of the Luton Borough Police Force, retired after 31½ years service with the Force.

Born in Tiverton, Devon, in 1866, he was a farm bailiff before being appointed a constable at uton on September 30th, 1887. On October 10th, 1902, he promoted to sergeant, and he became inspector on November 19th, 1909.

When Inspector Franklin retired, he became the senior inspector, and for several months between the death of Chief Constable David Teale and the appointment of Chief Constable Charles Griffin, he carried out the duties of Acting Chief Constable.

Police Inspector HagleyDetailing one element of his career, The Luton News (March 6th, 1919), said that on February 12th, 1912, Inspector Hagley (pictured) was awarded the Merit Badge for conduct in connection with a sensational incident in Dallow Road. The entry in his papers stated: “Awarded the Merit Badge, with extra pay, for apprehending, at great personal risk, a man armed with a loaded revolver.”

This, said the newspaper, was probably the most exciting incident in his police career. A young man who kept a shop in Dallow Road attempted to shoot his wife, to whom he had been married only about six months. Only superficially wounded, she was able to escape out of the house. When police arrived they found the man standing at a window with the revolver. He held them at bay in a doorway for a time, and then went to the top of the stairs and defied them.

Later, when he came downstairs, Inspector Hagley jumped out of a hiding place, seized him by the wrist just as he was preparing to shoot, forced the revolver above his head, and held him in that position until the other police officers succeeded in disarming him. Although by no means exhausted, the man was found to be seriously wounded, and died later in the Bute Hospital.

The census of 1891, the first after Inspector Hagley came to Luton, showed the population to be 30,009, so it had more than doubled during his period of service. He recalled that at that time there were 750 uninhabited houses in the town.

Except for a cottage or two near what became the bottom of Lyndhurst Road that had since been swept away, and Ivy Cottages, then still surviving near the Diamond Foundry, the Dallow Road area had not begun to exist. The Downs Estate was then known as Heley's Meadow, and the Statute Fair was being held regularly on the West Ward Recreation Ground [Brantwood Park].

Corn grew on the left hand side of Ashton Road, and a circus used to take its stand on what became Tavistock Crescent; Tower Hill, behind the Town Hall, was the resort of itinerant entertainers; the outer end of Dunstable Road did not get developed until the time of the Boer War; and Leagrave Road contained about two dwellings. Development on the Biscot side had not been thought of, and even Old Bedford Road emerged quickly into countryside.

Much development was due to the arrival of large engineering works, but Inspector Hagley remembered the straw trade as almost the only industry of the town; Hayward Tyler and the Cobden Street foundry being practically the only engineering establishments of his early days.

There were, of course, no trams, but he was a passenger in the one which crashed in Midland Road in December 1916 and in which he dislocated his arm.

Inspector Hagley had served under three Chief Constables. When he joined the Force its strength never exceeded 26, and he did duty seven days a week, except for one holiday of ten days each year.

He had been in charge of bodies of Luton police went to help maintain order during disturbances in St Albans, during a boot strike at Northampton, and during two days when the Riot Act was invoked at Dunstable.

One of Inspector Hagley's most tragic memories was of a fire in Castle Street, Luton, in 1904. Then a constable, he helped to take a women victim to hospital and later recovered the bodies of three woman from the debris.

Another fire he especially remembered was one in 1899 when all the property at the corner of Bute Street and Guildford Street, then occupied by Langley's gun shop, was burned down.