Jewish Lives: Britain 1750-1950

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!’