How Do You Fix A Town Like Plymouth?

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

  • Jill Craigie Cinema, Roland Levinsky Building

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This 50-minute docudrama presented by Professor Kim Stevenson comprises a series of biographical reconstructions and dramatisations with expert analysis from legal historian Dr Judith Rowbotham. Craig Newbery-Jones will 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.

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. 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 long career with Plymouth was synonymous with several significant and high-profile events including the arrest of Mrs Pankhurst, temperance marches and campaigns.

The film is produced by Rob Giles with contributions from Judith Rowbotham, Craig Newbury-Jones and Iain Channing. It is presented by Professor Kim Stevenson.

This event is free to attend and open to all. Please register your place via the above link.

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Today's events

Biography: Rob Giles

Rob joined the University of Plymouth in 2005 having previously worked as a 3D crime scene reconstruction specialist on over 30 cases 2003-05. Rob has worked in partnership with Professor Kim Stevenson as director to produce an information film reflecting on Plymouth's sustainability, past and present for the ESRC Festival of Science 2015 and subsequently appeared on the ESRC website as an example of good practice and featured on the town centre big screen by Plymouth City Council.

Rob is a University of Plymouth BSc (Hons) Media Lab Arts graduate.

Biography: Professor Kim Stevenson

Kim joined the University of Plymouth in 2004 and formerly taught at Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University, for 15 years where she lectured Constitutional and Administrative Law and Sexuality and the Law; she has also taught courses as part of business studies, surveying, social sciences and criminology degrees. She was also a visiting professor at the William Mitchell College of Law, St Paul, Minnesota, USA and the Open University Hong Kong. 

Kim has published Sowerby articles for the Police History Society, presented conference papers and Sowerby was the inspiration for her lead-edited book Leading the Police: A History of Chief Constables 1835-2017.

About the ESRC Festival of Social Science

(extract from the ESRC* website)

The ESRC Festival of Social Science offers a fascinating insight into some of the country's leading social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future.

You may be surprised at just how relevant the festival's events are to society today. Social science research makes a difference. Discover how it shapes public policy and contributes to making the economy more competitive, as well as giving people a better understanding of 21st century society. From big ideas to the most detailed observations, social science affects us all everyday - at work, in school, when raising children, within our communities, and even at the national level.


Everyone - from schoolchildren to politicians - can take part in and hear about social science research in the festival's many engaging events.

This celebration of the social sciences takes place across the UK - via public debates, conferences, workshops, interactive seminars, film screenings, virtual exhibitions and much more.

Visit the ESRC Festival of Social Science website for more information about the festival.

* ESRC - Economic and Social Research Council.


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