Sailors disgrace emblem became the River Wear Watch police insignia

The River Wear Watch foul anchor cap badge.
The River Wear Watch foul anchor cap badge.
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Continuing with the theme of uniform and insignia worn by members of the River Wear Watch, we look at the origin of the foul anchor which was used as an emblem for not only the Watch but many other harbour, river and port police forces.

This is steeped in naval tradition and can be traced back to an early century.

A foul anchor occurs when its own rope becomes entangled with itself, something to be avoided at all costs and therefore commonly known as “the sailor’s disgrace”.

It is first recorded in use in the seal of the Lord High Admiral of Scotland in 1402 and, by 1600, in that of the Lord Admiral of England, Lord Howard of Effingham, who held this position during Sir Francis Drake’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Many variations have been seen but the style adopted by the Watch is the most common.

Force numbers were displayed on the front edges of the jacket collars of sergeants and constables, behind which foul anchor collar dogs were affixed, these later replacing the RP lettering.

Tunics were known as reefer jackets, these being short, open-necked, double-breasted jackets originally worn by Royal Navy midshipmen. The version worn by the Watch had three pairs of white metal buttons.

A similar style of jacket, with the later addition of epaulettes, continued to be standard issue until dissolution. Although inspectors were unnumbered, foul anchor collar dogs were worn on the collar points by the 1870s until 1961.

Design of their reefer jackets differed somewhat from constables and sergeants in that they had four pairs of black buttons.

Rank insignia consisted of three thin bands around the cuffs, comprising a central white band, bordered by blue bands.

By the 1870s inspectors had been issued with peaked cap with a braided black band and sporting an embroidered gold wire bullion badge.

Sub-inspectors also wore a peaked cap with an embroidered bullion badge of a slightly different design to that of the inspector.

Their jackets and insignia were identical to inspectors with the exception that a single thin blue band on the cuffs denoted their rank.