Police-Led Boys' Clubs in England and Wales, 1918-1951

Wilburn, Elizabeth (2020). Police-Led Boys' Clubs in England and Wales, 1918-1951. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00010dc9


Police-led boys’ clubs were established across England and Wales, in industrial towns and cities, during the interwar and immediate post-war period. They were founded and organised by Chief Constables, and high-ranking police officers. Their activities were reported upon in local, regional and national newspapers. Club organisers aimed to harness the ‘high spirits’ of boys in a positive way, removing them from the streets and the temptations of juvenile delinquency. They were run on a daily basis by working-class Police Constables, who were motivated for a variety of reasons to volunteer in them during their free time. Police-led boys’ clubs were endorsed by royals and members of the aristocracy, facilitated and financed by local dignitaries, and attended on by doctors and dentists. The daily activities of the clubs were dominated by sports such as boxing and gymnastics. Camaraderie between the boys and the police officers who instructed these sports was encouraged. These pursuits used aspects of masculinity and physicality to engender self-restraint, a strong work ethic and produce model citizens. Camping, both in weekend and summer camps, was an integral part of the club programme. Camp organisers aimed to create good citizens through emphasis on character-building exercises, friendship and engagement with nature.

The example of the police-led club is used to inform youth justice today. Comparisons are made between how boxing clubs aim to temper violent tendencies exhibited by certain types of masculinities; and how the example of the clubs speaks directly to youth crime prevention approaches outlined in the UK Government’s Serious Violence Strategy. However, the potential for the recreation of the police-led club in a modern setting is somewhat limited.

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