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Francis ‘Tanky' Smith


‘Top Hat Terrace’ (pictured above) is on London Road in Leicester (opposite Saxby Street) and is a physical reminder of one of Leicester’s earliest and most celebrated policemen, Francis ‘Tanky’ Smith.


As George Weston explained, Leicester’s police force was established in the 1836 with around 45 constables, 5 sergeants and an Inspector (the equivalent of a Chief Constable). Smith was an early recruit and quickly rose through the ranks. He was appointed as a detective in 1840 and was famous for the number of criminals he arrested and particularly for the use of different disguises to infiltrate criminal organisations. On the front of ‘Top Hat Terrace’ there are 16 medallions of heads wearing hats, mostly top hats, which are said to represent the many disguises adopted by Smith.


Smith’s methods of adopting disguises, allied to a study of human nature, was said by one Conan Doyle expert to have been used by the author in his creation of the character of Sherlock Holmes.


Smith’s most famous case involved James Beaumont Winstanley of Braunstone Hall, a former High Sheriff, who disappeared without warning in 1862. Winstanley’s family asked the police for help and Smith managed to track Winstanley’s movements to Calais and then through France and in to Germany but here the trail went cold. Before Smith had reached Germany a body had been pulled from the River Moselle and buried locally. Following a hunch, Smith persuaded the authorities to exhume the body. Although the body had no identification papers, it was later identified from some monogrammed cufflinks. It was Winstanley.


Winstanley’s family showed their appreciation for Smith’s dogged efforts with a financial reward. This enabled Smith to retire from the police force and set himself up as a private detective. It also allowed him to invest in property (hence ‘Top Hat Terrace’). He continued to thrive and was successful in his property business. He lived in Albert Villa in Francis Street, Stoneygate, another property development.

Why the nickname ‘Tanky’? It was said that when Smith made arrests he often ‘tanked’ or clubbed the suspect with his truncheon. A not very pc PC.


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Issue 396


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