How Do You Fix A Town Like Plymouth?

Chief Constable Joseph Sowerby, 1892–1917. Photographs with permission Graham Naylor, Plymouth City Library

As part of the 2018 Festival of Social Science CHITCHAT? showcased the dramatized film documentary ‘How do you fix a town like Plymouth?’. The film features Joseph Davidson Sowerby, former Chief Constable of the Plymouth borough police who led the force between 1892 and 1917 with a mission to clean up the town which was renowned for its drunkenness, immorality and bad behaviour. 

This 50-minute docudrama, presented by Professor Kim Stevenson, comprised a series of biographical reconstructions and dramatisations with expert analysis from legal historian Dr Judith Rowbotham. Dr Iain Channing then lead an audience discussion with a selected panel to compare-and-contrast modern and historical policing issues to be recorded and transcribed as an additional Timelock production.

Born in Liverpool to the son of a landlord, Sowerby was brought up in Leeds where he rapidly rose through the ranks of the Leeds City Police receiving commendations for heroic rescues and arrests. Selected to head the Plymouth police force in 1892, Sowerby (29) was one of the youngest ever chief constables appointed nationally. During his tenure at Plymouth, he earned the respect of the local populace by effectively tackling drunkenness, crime and bad behaviour head on. Sowerby’s long career with Plymouth was synonymous with several significant and high-profile events including the arrest of Mrs Pankhurst, temperance marches and campaigns.

This broadcast quality biographical production will depict the life and times of uncelebrated Plymouth hero, Chief Constable Joseph Sowerby. Research conducted for previous ESRC festivals (2015, 2016) revealed the importance of Sowerby’s contribution to modern policing strategies.

The film was created by ISPER’s #CHITCHAT? research initiative team based in the School of Law, Criminology and Government. Produced by senior technician, Rob Giles, the film is based on research undertaken by Professor Kim Stevenson published in an edited volume Leading the Police: A History of Chief Constables 1835–2017 which she co-authored with Dr Iain Channing. The dramatic interludes were scripted by Visiting Research Professor Judith Rowbotham and acted by staff and students from the School. The role of Chief Constable Sowerby is played by local police historian Mark Rothwell. 

For more information about the project please contact Professor Kim Stevenson.