Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 07, 2019
Webpage updated: January 04, 2020




Joseph Davidson Sowerby was born in Liverpool in 1863, the second son of Mr Thomas Sowerby and his wife, Deborah.

His father was a currier and at the time of the 1871 census the family had moved to Hampshire's Buildings in Huddersfield, Yorkshire.

Joseph was educated at Huddersfield and later in Leeds, where his father took over the New Inn, in Union Street.  He became a pupil teacher with the Leeds School Board. 

In June 1881 Joseph joined the Leeds City Police as a Constable.  His promotion was rapid, to say the least.  In February 1884, when he was only 21, he was appointed First Class Inspector and Chief Clerk.

Later in 1884 Mr Joseph Davidson Sowerby married Miss Frances Stringer Wilson, a dress makers' assistant from Hunslet, Leeds.

At the age of 23 he was made a Chief Inspector.

On July 13th 1892 Mr Joseph Davidson Sowerby was appointed as Chief Constable of Plymouth Borough Police Force, following glowing testimonials from the Mayor of Leeds, the chairman of the Watch Committee, the Chief Constable of Leeds and the Justice's Clerk.  He was described at the time as 'of commanding stature, being 5ft 11ins in height'.

Mrs Sowerby later recalled how on only her second day in Plymouth the police had insisted on 'moving her on'.

At the time Mr Sowerby took over his post a Constable's wages were just 19 shillings a week, rising to 1 8s 6d.  But for his first 40 weeks in the Force the Constable would have one shilling deducted every week 'for fear that he might run away with his uniform'.  Mr Sowerby put a stop to that and handed back some 500 to the men.

He also discovered, while inquiring into an accident where one of the Constables injured himself in a fall at Tothill during the night, that there only a dozen lamps available to the entire force.  They had all been given to the men in the outlying areas and those in the centre of the Town had to make do with lighting a match.  He also found that handcuffs were not issued and that this made apprehending a violent man very difficult.  The prospect that the arresting officer had to ask the man to stay where he was while he ran back to the Police Station to get handcuffs, did not amuse him.

Owing to serious illness, Mr Sowerby retired on Saturday March 31st 1917.

Mr Joseph Davidson Sowerby died at his residence, "Hillsborough", Mannamead, Plymouth, on the afternoon of Saturday July 5th 1919.

The funeral took place on Tuesday July 8th 1919.  After a short, private service at the house, the cortege set off thorough Mutley Plain and Ford Park Road to the Plymouth Old Cemetery.  At the head were over a hundred police, a contingent of fire brigade officers, a large body of special constables, and members of the George Street Ambulance Brigade.  The Reverend E W Coltman, pastor of Sherwell Congregational Chapel, officiated both at the house and at the graveside.

Mr Sowerby was survived by his widow and their three sons and one daughter: Pioneer Frank Sowerby, of the Royal Engineer Signals; First Class Mechanic Laurance Sowerby, Royal Air Force; Private Jack Sowerby, of the 2/5th Glosters; and Miss Marjorie Sowerby.