23 Sep 2010

Open University academics add police lives to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Academics from the International Centre for the History of Crime, Policing, and Justice at The Open University have been specialist advisers and contributors to the latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography published today, Thursday 23 September.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) contains the stories of 57,449 prominent people and is an important work of reference for researchers, students, and the general public. It is available free, online via public libraries across the UK.

The Open University’s Dr Chris Williams, Lecturer in History, Dr Georgina Sinclair, Research Associate, and their team in the International Centre for the History of Crime, Policing and Justice, provided academic and research expertise to add to the dictionary 40 individuals who shaped the history of policing in Britain and overseas territories under British rule.

Dr Williams said: “The idea of the British police was one of Great Britain’s most distinctive contributions to the world of criminal justice. The ODNB has always reflected noteworthy people who have shaped the British past. For most of the twentieth century, police officers have been taken for granted: always there, always in the background. Towards the end of it, though, an increased prominence of policing led to more interest in the present and the history of the topic. It’s only right that this important group of people have their stories told and their achievements published.”

Among the biographies to have been researched and added are:

• George Bakewell (1805-1883), one of the earliest of the new police constables, whose career is pieced together for the first time.
• Gordon Halland (1888-1981) first commandant (1933) of the new police college at Hendon, designed to train high-flyers for top positions in the police service.
• Sir Eric St Johnston (1911-1986) one of the selected ‘Hendon men’, and whose archives are at The Open University. Dr Williams describes St Johnston’s role as chief constable of Lancashire in creating the Z car patrols, made famous in the tv series, introducing high visibility panda cars, and promoting the unit beat system of motorised patrols and radio communication
• Sir Charles Gwynn (1870-1963), whose writings on the army’s role in imperial policing became especially influential in the period of decolonisation
• Frederick Wensley (1865-1949), one of the founders of the flying squad.

Updates to the Oxford DNB are published each January, May, and September. The next update, which appears in January 2011, will add more than 200 biographies of men and women who died in 2007.

The International Centre for the History of Crime, Policing and Justice ( aims to promote and facilitate research into criminal justice history around the world and to generate the exchange of ideas between academics, criminal justice practitioners and serving policemen.

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