Excerpt, Samuel Wolfsohn, Prussian-Poland to Sheffield, 1857
With [so much] responsibility, [so much] danger, why would anyone want to become a policeman? Had they not, most candidates, who were largely unskilled, would have faced a lifetime of drudgery in a colliery, field, or a factory. But why might Wolfsohn did choose police work over traditional Jewish trade and crafts? Perhaps he had firm friends among the force. Perhaps he preferred an outdoor rough and tumble life to one of less adventurous pawn broking, tailoring, or cobbling. Perhaps he valued law enforcement for its job security, pension plan, respectability, opportunity for advancement, and no less important, its warm uniforms.
A policeman’s lot, however, like that of most labourers, was not easy. Vacations were few, with no regard for Sabbaths, Sundays, or public holidays. Pay, though steady, was poor, and discipline strict. Low-ranking constables were frequently fined for breaking wind whilst on parade, associating with known prostitutes, or gossiping on duty. Wolfsohn himself was once fined a shilling for appearing with a dirty ‘bull’s eye’ lantern and a sixpence for turning up late on parade.
Despite these minor lapses, Wolfsohn made a name for himself, sometimes in unexpected ways. For example, according to family lore, he enjoyed having fellow police officers over for congenial evenings of sniffing snuff, and once caught a burglar making his escape over Sheffield’s rooftops by biting him on the hand, thereby earning a ceremonial baton. Moreover, in 1861, he seized a mugger upon overhearing him threaten a maiden with a line lifted from an old Sheffield ballad, ‘Money I want and money I’ll have!’