Ceremony marks birth of the Met’s first black officer – born in Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 09:05 16 August 2017 | UPDATED: 09:12 16 August 2017
Police officials and villagers attended a “moving” church ceremony yesterday to mark 200 years since the birth of the Met’s first black officer – who was born in Suffolk.
The remarkable life of Robert Branford, born in Stoke-by-Nayland in 1817, who rose through the ranks to become a superintendent in the force, was celebrated at Little Waldingfield Church, near Sudbury.
Branford retired to Little Waldingfield in 1866, following his successful career in the Met, but died three years later and is buried in the graveyard of the village church.
Branford’s story was unearthed around a year ago by black-history author Stephen Bourne from London, who says the Metropolitan Police’s Heritage Centre states his service number was 141153 and that he was 5ft 11in – very tall for the period.
Mr Bourne found Branford from a brief reference describing him in Clive Emsley’s book The Great British Bobby: A History of British Policing from 1829 to the Present, published in 2009.
The source for this information was former Met chief inspector Timothy Cavanagh, whose memoir Scotland Yard Past and Present was published in 1893.
Cavanagh’s account of Branford reads: “Not an educated man: but what to my idea was of much greater importance, he possessed a thorough knowledge of police matters in general. I should say he was about the only (mixed race) superintendent officer the Met ever had.”
The Suffolk-born officer was recruited to the Met’s ranks in September, 1838, promoted to sergeant eight years later and became an inspector in 1851.
He made it to superintendent of M-Division Southwark in 1856 before retiring to Suffolk 10 years later with his wife.
There are no records of any children for the couple, according to Mr Bourne.
Branford died on August 14, 1869 – 148 years ago on Monday - and his death is noted as “disease of the kidneys”. His wife, Sarah, worked as a domestic servant until her death in 1881 and is buried with her husband.
No photograph of Superintendent Branford has been located.
Reverend Judith Sweetman, of Little Waldingfield Church gave the blessing and Rev Jonathan Osborne, senior chaplain of the Met took the service.
Chief Superintendent Victor Olisa, head of inclusion and diversity at the Met, did the introduction.
Rev Sweetman said: “It was absolutely amazing to have them here. There was such a sense of history and community coming together.
“It was very moving to be honest and we struck up a bond of friendship with the visitors who attended.
“They have offered us a return visit, which we hope to take them up on.”