Top Hat Terrace, London Road (LE2 0QT)

Hanging on London Road with 'Tanky' Smith, Leicester's first private detective

Leicester's first private detective (formerly a policeman), Francis 'Tanky' Smith had a legendary ability to infiltrate the street gangs and criminal fraternities of Leicester in the mid-1800s. There are two explanations for the nickname "Tanky". Some believe it is a corruption of the name "Frankie". A more playful theory is that the name comes from his practice of tapping or "tanking" disorderly people in the head with his cane!

According to police historian, Clifford Stanley, Victorian Leicester was a lawless, crime-ridden place, and "burglars, robberies and street brawls were frequent". In 1836, the Leicester Corporation decided to create the city's first police force to address the situation.

Francis Smith (Tanky) and partner Tommy Haynes (Black Tommy) joined the new force in 1840 as the city's first detectives. The pair worked together, infiltrating criminal gangs and gleaning incriminating evidence that soon made them the city's most successful officers.

In his private capacity Smith was hired by the Winstanley family of Braunstone Hall to find James Beaumont Winstanley (High Sherriff of Leicestershire) who had disappeared in Europe. Unfortunately Winstanley was found to be dead (drowned in Germany), but Smith was generously rewarded for his efforts and had this house built. Designed by his son James Francis Smith, who became a well-known local architect, it was originally known as Victoria Terrace when built in 1864. It acquired the name Top Hat Terrace because of the sixteen heads, carved in stone that adorn the front of the building: Tanky Smith in his various disguises (among them a bishop, a Quaker, and two jockeys). A master of disguise, he is believed to have been one of the men on whom Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes character was based. 


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School of Museum Studies
University of Leicester
Museum Studies Building
19 University Road
Leicester LE1 7RF