William McKenzie – Chief Constable of Cardiff

WIlliam McKenzie

You can begin to feel a little weary when reading about the life of William McKenzie.  Not only was he Chief Constable for Cardiff at a time when the population was booming but he also had many other interests and activities outside the force.

Reforming Policing in Cardiff

McKenzie was born in the village of Oyne, Aberdeenshire in Scotland in 1853. He joined the police force in Lancashire before moving south to Bristol in 1876 where he gained a series of rapid promotions ending up as their Deputy Chief Constable.  In 1889 he moved to Cardiff to assume the position of Chief Constable, a position he held for 23 years.

The Cardiff police force more than doubled during the time he was Chief Constable.  He introduced reforms into how the police worked and campaigned for improved pay and working conditions.  In Victorian times the fire brigade was part of the police force and they too saw large changes in numbers and conditions.  A summary of the work McKenzie did supporting his officers has been written by the South Wales Police Museum

At one stage McKenzie expressed a wish to return to Bristol as Chief Constable but was persuaded to stay in Cardiff.

30 December 1899 - South Wales Daily News - Cardiff, Glamorgan, Wales

South Wales Daily News, 30th Dec 1899

Meeting Dignitaries

Part of his role as Chief Constable was to meet important dignitaries visiting Cardiff.  Reports describe him greeting such visitors such as King Edward whilst mounted on his distinctive grey charger horse.

Cardiff Times 6th June 1903

William McKenzie forming part of the welcome for General Baden-Powell when he arrives at Roath station. (Cardiff Times, 6th June 1903 – part of article)

St John Ambulance

St John's Ambulance Evening Express 26th March 1906

Charity Work

A search of the newspapers during the time that McKenzie was Chief Constable for Cardiff throws up many interesting articles.  Both William McKenzie and his wife Mary were very active in charity work helping the disadvantaged.  One article even refers to the Head-Constable’s pantry, the collection of food donated by businesses of Cardiff.

Evening Express Feb 2nd 1906

From: Evening Express, Feb 2nd 1906

Cardiff Distress Committee Evening Express Feb 6th 1906

Mrs McKenzie was evidently actively involved in charity work. Evening Express Feb 6th 1906.

Roath Presbyterian Church

William McKenzie was a very active member of Roath Presbyterian Church, known today as St Andrew’s Church on Wellfield Road. He was one of the founding elders when the church opened in 1900 and church clerk.  It is interesting the read the minutes from church meetings held at this time, written and signed by William McKenzie and now housed in Glamorgan Archives.  He would have probably returned home after a day working as Cardiff Chief Constable and after dinner attended church meetings and busied himself writing up the minutes.

William McKenzie plaque in St Andrew's URC Church Roath Cardiff

The tablet dedicated to William McKenzie in St Andrew’s church, Roath. There is also a tablet dedicated to his wife Mary

Caledonian Society

The Roath Presbyterian Church attracted many residents of Scottish decent and was the meeting place also of the Cardiff Caledonian Society, of which McKenzie served time as President.


William McKenzie is pictured just a week before his death, handing over the Presidency of the Caledonian Society

McKenzie Family History

William McKenzie married Mary Thomson Clark in Bristol in 1878.  Mary was also Scottish having been born in Auchencairn,  Kirkcudbrightshire.  They had seven children, six of which were born in Bristol one of whom, Elizabeth, dies in infancy.  In 1891 the McKenzie family are living in Westgate Street Police Station in Cardiff.  In the 1901 census the family is living at Bengairn, Ninian Road in Roath, having lost their daughter Margaret aged eight.

In 1908 their son Edwin marries Patricia Watkins. In 1911 they are living at 81 Ninian Road in Roath.  By now the family had suffered another tragedy, losing their eldest daughter, Mary, a school teacher aged 29. Later in 1911 their daughter Anne marries Edward Symonds and in 1913 their daughter Jane marries Lawrence Everett.

81 Ninian Road

81 Ninian Road, Roath, The McKenzie home in 1911

In 1915 William McKenzie was no doubt embarrassed by the fact that his son Edwin, a bank clerk, is found guilty of forgery and sentenced to nine months hard labour.  In the same year Edwin’s wife Patricia dies, possibly in childbirth, as the month coincides with the birth of their third child John.

In 1912 William McKenzie resigns as Chief Constable due to ill health.

Mary McKenzie, William’s wife dies in 1919 aged 67 and William McKenzie himself dies in 1925 at 30, Penylan Terrace aged 72.  They are buried together at Cathays Cemetery.

The following obituary appeared in the Western Mail:





The death occurred. at a late hour on Sunday at the residence of his son-in-law, Mr. L. V. Everett, consulting engineer, 30 Penylan Terrace, Cardiff, of Mr. William McKenzie, 0.B.E., who for 23 years was chief-constable of the Cardiff Police Force.

Born in Oyne, Aberdeenshire, in 1862, Mr McKenzie was educated in the parish school.  His father was a farmer, and for several years after leaving school the future chief of the Cardiff force assisted his father on the farm.  Like so many of his countrymen had done before, and have been doing ever since, he made up his mind, as an ambitious young man of nineteen, to cross the border and seek his fortune in England. Being a smart and well-built youth, he joined the Lancashire Constabulary, and after serving for two years in the county force, he entered the Manchester City Police, and in 1876 left Manchester and joined the force at Bristol, where, in 1879, he was promoted to the rank of inspector.



Four years later he was made superintendent, and in 1887 he was raised to the position of deputy chief-constable. Thus it will be seen that his advancement was extremely rapid in the comparatively brief period of eleven years. In the absence of the chief-constable he was in charge of the Bristol force during the great floods of 1888, and on that occasion received the thanks of the Watch committee. On leaving  Bristol for Cardiff he was presented with a marble clock and case of silver, to which every member of the Bristol force subscribed.

He had only been at the head of the force in Cardiff two years when he was presented with a. silver salver for improving the position of the men in, point of pay and otherwise. The late Marquess of Bute, at the end of his mayoralty, also made him a presentation.


At one time there was no more familiar figure in the streets of Cardiff on occasions of Royal visits, and other public ceremonies, than that of Mr McKenzie mounted on his grey charger. The first Royal visit, subsequent to his appointment, was that of the late Duke of Clarence, in 1890. when the bridge named after his, Royal Highness was opened. The next was in 1898, when the late King Edward and Queen Alexandra, who were then Prince and Princess of Wales, opened the Cardiff Exhibition. These were followed by the visit of the then Prince of Wales to lay the foundation stone of the University College and that of the late King Edward and his Consort to Open the Queen Alexandra Dock.

Princess Christian came to Cardiff to open a bazaar during the Lord Mayoralty  of ex-Alderman Robert Hughes, and on all these occasions the police arrangements were carried out, with such perfect precision and order as to command general admiration.

Then among the eminent  statesmen who visited Cardiff during Mr. McKenzie’s time was the late Lord Salisbury, Lord Roseberry, Lord Lansdowne, Lord Balfour. Mr Joseph Chamberlain, and Mr Lloyd George.


During Mr McKenzie’s regime the Cardiff police force more than doubled in number. When he came to the city there were 140 men of all. grades, and before he relinquished his post the number had increased to 291, One of his first duties was to reorganise and re-arrange the force in three divisions. The detective department was also re-organised, and has been worked ever since on up-to-date methods.

During the time he was chief-constable, the conditions under which the police served were greatly improved, especially in regard to pay and time of leave.

In 1889, the year of Mr. McKenzie’s appointment, the ordinary constable received 22s, rising to 28s, per week. Before he left in 1912 the minimum was raised to 26s. and the maximum to 35s.

During his regime the fire brigade was  completely modernised, and today it is recognised as one of the smartest and most efficient brigades in the provinces.  Before Mr. McKenzie took this work in hand the brigade consisted of two men only. Superintendent Green and. Engineer Jenkins, who were assisted by the police when necessary. When. he resigned the brigade was composed of 21 men all told, in full equipment and with trained horses  owned by the corporation.


In the old days the horses were hired, and it was found that sometimes they would pull the engine and at other times they would not and it was no uncommon sight to see firemen pushing the fire engine. 

Outside the sphere of his own duties as chief constable, Mr. McKenzie devoted his abilities and energies to the furtherance of numerous useful movements. Whilst holding his position he was the first secretary in Cardiff of the St. John Ambulance Association and he became an honorary associate of that association. In 1911 he had the honour of being presented by the King with the distinguished service medal.


He had always taken the keenest interest in the good work of the Caledonian Society, of which he acted for many years as president. Only a. fortnight ago, he presided at the thirty-fourth annual dinner of the society, held at the Royal Hotel, and in a photograph which appeared in the Western Mail on the following day, he was shown investing  Dr. William Campbell Anderson, of Newport Road (his medical attendant) as the new president.

Mr McKenzie was one of those who inaugurated the charitable work of the society by which poor Scotsmen resident in the city have been generously assisted from time to time. 

McKenzie Grave at Cathays Cemetery

The McKenzie grave in Cathays Cemetery (plot number M329/M 313). The grave contain William McKenzie and is wife Mary, two of their children; Margaret and Mary (with mention of Elizabeth interred in Bristol) and their daughter in law, Patricia.

More mentions of William and Mary McKenzie

And if you have the energy to learn more about the life of William McKenzie and his wife Mary here are a few more press cuttings:

Evening Express 17th September 1894

McKenzie and Roath Park: Evening Express 17th Sep 1894

Underfed children committee Evening Express 13th March 1906

Mrs McKenzie as Secretary to the Underfed Children Committee (Evening Express 13th March 1906)

William Mckenzie in photo

McKenzie at the opening of the new Cardiff Police Court

Evening Express 18th June 1900

Evening Express, 18th June 1900