Retirement Of A.L. Foster

Posted: August 16, 2009 in Other Ripper Research
Mr. A.L. Foster, chief superintendent of the City Police, has resigned after twenty-seven years’ service, and a representative of the "Pall Mall Gazette" called at the police headquarters in Old Jewry and had a chat with him. "Many are familiar with the spare but striking figure of Mr. Foster," writes the interviewer, "but only those who have made his acquaintance know what a kindly and courteous officer he is. He has earned the rare distinction of being thoroughly respected by all classes – by City Fathers and Socialist agitators alike – and will carry with him into his retirement the best wishes of everybody. He has had in some respects a unique experience, and a few particulars of his career can scarcely fail to be of interest.
Mr. Foster is not a Cockney. He is a native of Birmingham. At an early age he went to reside at Warwick, where he was educated, and where, at the age of thirteen, he entered the office of a local solicitor. There he remained five years, and when eighteen he came to London to the office of the well-known and eminent legal firm, Messrs Gregory, Faulkner, Gregory, and Skirrow. Some time afterwards he was elected Deputy-Governor of the House of Detention – a post which he filled till the 29th of September, 1864, when he received the more lucrative appointment of superintendent of the City police.
"During the twenty-seven years you have been in the city," remarked our representative, "you must have seen many changes both inside the force and outside it?" "Yes," said Mr. Foster, "I have. There are the city police, for instance. They have, during my time, been reorganised and considerably augmented, a hundred men having been added under the present Commissioner, Colonel Smith."
"But the area of the city has not been increased, why add a hundred men?" – "The area has not been increased, but the traffic has increased enormously within the last quarter of a century, and wants much more looking after than it used to. Then a number of what were comparatively quiet streets are now thoroughfares, and the traffic along them has to be regulated. The beats have had to be shortened, and all this, of course, requires more men."
"What about the morale of the force?" – "Well, the City Police, if I may be allowed to say so, have always borne an excellent character. I don’t claim that they are superior to all others, but I believe that they will compare favorably with any other force in the kingdom. Defaulters have been remarkably few, and the moral tone generally has been exceedingly good."
"You are yourself, I believe, a teetotaller; are there many abstainers among your men?" – "There are a good many. It is nearly fifty years since I myself took the pledge, but, occupying an official position, I have never thought it desirable to preach total abstinence to the constables. I have always been ready to advise them, but I have never lectured them. I have too often seen the mistakes that have been made by over zealous advocates in this respect."
"Teetotalism is not usually a characteristic of mayoral banquets and civic functions, and I suppose you have often been present at these?" – "Oh, yes, but when the loving cup has come to me I have simply bowed, and it has passed on. My opinions in this respect are well known in the city, and they have always been respected. I owe a great deal, I believe, so far as health and other comforts of life are concerned, to the fact that I have been a teetotaller."
"Now, how about drunkenness and crime in the City during the last quarter of a century?" – "We have comparatively little drunkenness in the City simply because we have no resident population of the lower classes. And then, when a drunken person is taken to the station he is treated very leniently. He is taken care of till he is sober and then liberated. An intoxicated man or woman arrested outside the City would be liable to be taken before a magistrate."
"And crime?" – "With the exception of Jack the Ripper’s Mitre square tragedy, and the Cannon street and Arthur street murders, we have had nothing out of the ordinary in that way. But that Mitre square murder fairly puzzled me. I have been interviewed by eminent spiritualists and others on the subject, and have had great hopes at different times of lighting upon some clue, but have completely failed. In fact, that crime is as great a mystery today as ever it was."
"You have had, of course, to go on duty on all big occasions in the city?" – "Yes, wet or dry, late or early. I laugh at some folks and their eight hours a day, and tell them that my hours of duty have always extended to the twenty-four."
"And what about the crowds with which you have to deal?" – "There is always a great crowd on Lord Mayor’s Day, and every year it increases in size. On the day when the Queen went to St. Paul’s to return thanks for the recovery of the Prince of Wales, there was an enormous assemblage in the streets. I think, however, that the biggest crowd I have ever seen was when the Queen opened Blackfriar’s Bridge and the Holborn viaduct, but we have really had no trouble with them."
"Nor with the thousands of dockers, or Socialists, or Salvationists, who at different times have marched through the City? Indeed, you are credited with having managed these better than anyone else." – "I would not say that, but I have got along first-rate with them all. My principle has been this. I always remembered that I was a peace officer, and my desire has been that peace should be preserved. Burns and Tillett, and the other leaders in those popular gatherings, I know, and when I have made any suggestion to them which I thought would assist in the preservation of order I have always found them very willing to carry it out. I could not possibly have got on better with these men and processions that I have done."
"Of course you were always glad to get rid of the  processions?" – "Oh, yes. I remember on one occasion Cardinal Manning, whom I knew very well, and for whom I entertained a very high respect, expressing his thanks to me for the assistance that we had rendered the League of the Cross during their processions. I made my cordial acknowledgments to the Cardinal, but added, "Yes, your Eminence, I was pleased to see the League of the Cross in the city, but I was more pleased to see them out of it." The Cardinal said he quite understood, and he laughed heartily."
"You had large numbers of the unemployed, too, congregating in the city at one period?" – "Thousands of them used to assemble about the Mansion House, but there never was any disorder."
"Let me see, there were public executions in your time. How about the crowds at Newgate?" – "Oh, they were very large, especially when Barrett, for causing the explosion at the Clerkenwell House of Detention, was hanged. He was the last criminal who was publicly executed. I was always on duty on these occasions, and it was gruesome work. The gallows, a big, lumbering machine on wheels, used to be run out of the prison at midnight on Sunday, and the crowd, which consisted of the vilest characters in London, began to assemble at that hour, and grew almost till the hour of execution, which was at 8 o’clock the following morning. The police had to form three sides of a square to keep the crowd back, and they had sometimes a pretty difficult task. I think the Act of Parliament which made executions private was a most excellent measure. Whatever opinion people may hold on the general question of capital punishment, there can be but one as to the wisdom of having it carried out within the precincts of the prison."
Source: Bush Advocate, Volume IX, Issue 668, 27 August 1892, Page 6

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