Victorian London Research
London Police Divisions

Go to Researching Police Ancestors

The first police force in Britain was established at Bow Street, London, in the early eighteenth century. The "Bow Street Runners" were under the control of a magistrate. In 1753, upon the recommendation of the magistrate and novelist Henry Fielding, more forces were created in London along these lines.

The Marine Police were set up in 1798 to control the alarming rise in thefts from the quays and warehouses along the north bank of the Thames, between London Bridge and the Tower.

The Metropolitan Police Force was founded in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel, Home Sectretary, to check a state of rampant criminality almost unbelievable to the modern mind. Whole areas of the town were inhabited solely by criminals. Alsatia, the district between Fleet Street and the Thames, was notorious; no honest man dared venture into that network of crooked lanes and fetid slums. The region round Covent Gardens was studded with "night-houses," low taverns where every form of villainy could be indulged in.

Saffron Hill, the home of Dickens's Fagin, abutted on Smithfield, which had a most unsavoury reputation. Between St Katherine's Dock and Limehouse the riverside was lined with the haunts of the water-rats who robbed the shipping in the Thames to the tune of some £300,000 a year.

In all these districts, and many others, every street had its thieves' den, its receiving shop, and its brothel. In 1796 there were in London 3,000 old iron and rag shops, of which Besant says that "they were universally, and without exception, and notoriously receivers of stolen goods." At the same time the City contained over 5,000 public houses and beer-shops, many of which were little more than rendezvous for the highwayman, housebreakers, cardsharpers and counterfeit coiners.

Counterfeit coining was carried out on a prodigious scale. In 1790 there were in London forty of fifty mints engaged in this illicit industry. One alone is said to have produced £200,000 worth of bad half-crowns in seven years. The "smasher" or passer of counterfeit money, lurked near every inn-yard, while every hackney coachman had a base half-crown in his hand to return to the fare who was unwary enough to offer him a good one.

Burglary and housebreaking were daily occurrences, and the citizen's only defence was a stout cudgel or a brace of pistols. There was no police force, or at least none of any consequence. What there was was both inefficient and corrupt. The watch which nightly patrolled the streets with staves and lanterns was for the most part composed of aged, decrepit or infirm dodderers, whom terrorism or bribery kept well out the way when any villainy was toward.

Of arrested criminals many never reached a prison cell. The constable in charge of the lock-up could be bribed; so could witnesses and jurymen. Magistrates were equally corrupt. Until 1792 all fines levied by Justices of the Peace went into their own pockets, and it can be readily understood why criminals with means sufficient to tempt gaoler or magistrate laughed at the gallows.

To such an extent was corruption carried out that it is said constables went out into the streets and gave beggars pennies in order to arrest them and claim the £10 reward.

The Metropolitan Police Act 1829 defined the original Metropolitan Police District as an area of about seven miles radius from Charing Cross. Within the next year seventeen police divisions were set up and centred on the following areas:

A - Westminster; B - Chelsea; C - Mayfair and Soho; D - Marylebone; E - Holborn; F - Kensington; G - Kings Cross; H - Stepney; K - West Ham; - Lambeth; M - Southwark; N - Islington; P - Peckham; R - Greenwich; S - Hampstead; T - Hammersmith and V - Wandsworth.

In 1865 three more divisions were created, W - Clapham; X - Willesden and Y - Holloway, and J Division (Bethnal Green) was added in 1886. Maps of the districts and their changing boundaries can be found at the Public Record Office (Kew) under the reference MEPO 15.

The Bow Street Horse Patrol was incorporated into the force in 1836 and operated in the outlying Metropolitan divisions. The second Metropolitan Police Act 1839 converted the River Thames force into the Thames Division, absorbed the Bow Street Foot Patrol and extended the Metropolitan Police District to a fifteen mile radius.

The establishment of the Metropolitan Police also had responsibility for the policing of the Royal Dockyards and military stations, Portsmouth, Chatham, Devonport, Pembroke and Woolwich, from 1860 until 1934 and Rosyth in Scotland from 1914 until 1926.

Attempts to incorporate the City of London police into the force were unsuccessful and it has always retained its independence.

Each division was in charge of a superintendent, under whom were four inspectors and sixteen sergeants. The regulations demanded that recruits should be under thirty-five, well built, at least five feet seven in height, literate and of good character. The minimum age is usually considered to be twenty years but the certificates of service (MEPO 4/361-477) include recruits as young as eighteen; service before the age of twenty was not considered for pension purposes.

When the force was founded, its members were nicknamed "Peelers" and "Bobbies" and though the former epithet passed out of use quite soon, the latter remained popular until the 20th century. For many years the public poked fun at the top-hats worn by Sir Robert Peel's force, and when these were given up, the bell-shaped helmets which superseded them came in for their share of raillery. Gilbert and Sullivan only reflected popular opinion when they made the police force a figure of fun in The Pirates of Penzance.

The "New Police" of 1829 met with much opposition and considerable hostility, not only from the mob but even from magistrates. This they overcame by producing results which could not be questioned, a rapid decline in crime and increasing safety of life and property. Within seven years the area over which they had control - originally a radius of twelve miles from Charing Cross, was extended, and the River Police were brought into the new organisation.

From the outset the police headquarters were in Scotland Yard. In 1891 new headquarters for the Metropolitan Police (from whom the City Police had previously been separated) were erected at New Scotland Yard off Parliament Street. Here was the home of the Criminal Investigation Department, familiarly known as the CID, the finest and most famous detective force in the world.

The CID began in 1844, when Sir James Graham, successor to Sir Robert Peel, gave a dozen police sergeants the right to work in plain clothes. The innovation was bitterly resented by certain sections of the public, but thanks largely to Charles Dickens, the opposition was broken down, and today "the Yard" has an organisation and personnel unrivalled for efficiency. One reason for this is that entry to the detective force is possible only by way of the uniformed ranks.

Sources: The Wonderful Story of London, edited by Harold Wheeler, published by Odhams Press Ltd, and PRO leaflets.

Go to  Other Victorian London Police Forces

Police Divisions in 1888

Source: Dickens's Dictionary of London 1888 (ISBN 1-873590-04-0).

City of London Police Force

The City Police Force comprises 1 Commissioner, 1 Chief Superintendent, 1 Superintendent, 14 Inspectors, 92 Sergeants, and 781 Constables. The following is a list of divisions, with addresses of stations:-

Cripplegate ~ More Lane
Snow Hill ~ Snow Hill
Bridwell Place ~ Bridwell Place
Cloak Lane ~ Queen Street
Tower Street ~ Seething Lane
Bishopgate ~ Bishopgate Street

Metropolitan Police Force

The following is the Divisional distribution of the Metropolitan Police Force, with names of Superintendents and strength of Divisions. Total strength of all ranks, including superintendents 14,106:-

C.O. or Commissioners' Office.

Charles H. Cutbush, Supt. Executive Branch;
Edward Ware, Supt. Public Carriage Branch;
John Shore, Supt. Criminal Investigations Dept.;
Inspectors 43, Sergeants 63, Constables 120. Total 229.

A or Whitehall Division.

King Street, Westminster.
Joseph Henry Dunlap, Supt., also Charles Fraser;
Inspectors, 38; Sergeants 60; Constables 835. Total 935.

B or Chelsea Division.

Walton Street, Brompton.
Chas. W. Sheppard, Supt.;
Inspectors 22; Sergeants 52; Constables 560. Total 635.

C or St James's Division.

Little Vine Street, Piccadilly.
William G. Hume, Supt.;
Inspectors 17; Sergeants 37; Constables 386. Total 441.

D or Marylebone Division.

Marylebone Lane.
George Draper, Supt.;
Inspectors 23; Sergeants 40; Constables 467. Total 531.

E or Holborn Division.

Bow Street.
Rich. W. Steggles, Supt.;
Inspectors 17; Sergeants 50; Constables 447. Total 515.

F or Paddington Division.

Paddington Green.
Philip Giles, Supt.;
Inspectors 21; Sergeants 41; Constables 377. Total 440.

G or Finsbury Division.

King's Cross Road.
Charles Hunt, Supt.;
Inspectors 23; Sergeants 46; Constables 480. Total 550.

H or Whitechapel Division.

Leman Street.
Thos. Arnold, Supt.;
Inspectors 30; Sergeants 44; Constables 473. Total 548.

J or Bethnal Green Division.

Bethnal Green Road.
James Keating, Supt.;
Inspectors 38; Sergeants 56; Constables 522. Total 617.

K or Bow Division.

Bow Road.
George Steed, Supt.;
Inspectors 48; Sergeants 71; Constables 619. Total 739.

L or Lambeth Division.

Lower Kennington Lane.
James Brannan, Supt.;
Inspectors 22; Sergeants 35; Constables 346. Total 404.

M or Southwark Division.

Blackman Street.
Denis Neylan, Supt.;
Inspectors 28; Sergeants 43; Constables 429. Total 501.

N or Islington Division.

Stoke Newington High Street.
William J. Sherlock, Supt.;
Inspectors 37; Sergeants 66; Constables 536. Total 640.

P or Camberwell Division.

High Street, Peckham.
Thomas Butt, Supt.;
Inspectors 44; Sergeants 68; Constables 599. Total 712.

R or Greenwich Division.

Blackheath Road, Greenwich.
Christopher McHugo, Supt.;
Inspectors 38; Sergeants 71; Constables 476. Total 586.

S or Hampstead Division.

Albany Street, Regent's Park.
William Harris, Supt.;
Inspectors 42; Sergeants 80; Constables 613. Total 736.

T or Hammersmith Division.

Broadway, Hammersmith.
Wm. Fisher, Supt.;
Inspectors 52; Sergeants 75; Constables 623. Total 751.

V or Wandsworth Division.

West Hill, Wandsworth.
Davis Saines, Supt.;
Inspectors 36; Sergeants 59; Constables 561. Total 657.

W or Clapham Division.

Brixton Road.
Stephen Lucas, Supt.;
Inspectors 39; Sergeants 72; Constables 571. Total 683.

X or Kilburn Division.

Carlton Terrace, Harrow Road.
Frederick Beard, Supt.;
Inspectors 40; Sergeants 53; Constables 469. Total 563.

Y or Highgate Division.

Kentish Town Road.
William J. Huntley, Supt.;
Inspectors 46; Sergeants 73; Constables 480. Total 727.

Thames Division.

Wapping, near the river.
George Skeats, Supt,;
Inspectors 49; Sergeants 4; Constables 147. Total 201.

Woolwich Dockyard Division.

Woolwich Arsenal.
Thomas E. Hindes, Supt.;
Inspectors 8; Sergeants 25; Constables 140. Total 174.

Portsmouth Dockyard Division.

Wm. Ventham, Supt.;
Inspectors 8; Sergeants 29; Constables 128. Total 155.

Chatham Dockyard Division.

Geo. Godfrey, Supt.;
Inspectors 6; Sergeants 24; Constables 157. Total 188.

Pembroke Dockyard Divison.

No Superintendent.
Inspectors 2; Sergeants 4; Constables 28. Total 34.

Police Office (City)

26 Old Jewry, E.C.
Commissioner ~ Col. Sir James Fraser, K.C.B.;
Chief Supt. ~ Major Henry Smith;
Receiver ~ J. W. Carlyon-Hughes, Esq.;
Chief Clerk ~ John Whatley, Esq.

Police Office (Metropolitan)

4 Whitechapel Place, S.W.
Commissioner ~ Colonel Sir Charles Warren, G.C.M.G.
Assist. Commissioners ~ Lieut-Col R.L.O. Pearson, A.C. Bruce, Esq. and J. Monro, Esq.
Legal Advisor ~ J.E. Davis, Esq.
Chief Constables ~ A.C. Howard, Esq., Lt-Col Roberts, Lt-Col B. Monsell, Major W.E. Gilbert, and A.F. Williamson, Esq. (Criminal Investigation Department).
Chief Clerk ~ W.F.M. Staples, Esq.
Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District and Courts of the Metropolis ~ Alfred Richard Pennefather, Esq.
Chief Clerk ~ E. Mills, Esq.
Surgeon-in-Chief ~ A.O. Mackellar, Esq.
Acting Surveyor ~ J. Butler, Esq.
Engineer under Smoke Nuisance Abatement Acts ~ W.R.E. Coles, Esq.
Storekeeper ~ Mr. J. Mole.
Criminal Investigation Department ~ John Shore.
Executive Branch & Common Lodging Houses Branch ~ Chief Inspector Cutbush.
Public Carriage Branch ~ Chief Inspector Ware.
Lost Property Office ~ Chief Inspector Beavis.

Police Orphanage (Metropolitan & City)

President ~ Col. Sir Charles Warren, G.C.M.G.
Vice-Presidents ~ Lieut-Col. Pearson, A.C. Bruce, Esq., J. Monro, Esq., and Col. Sir James Fraser, K.C.B. (City Police).
Chairman of Board of Managers & Treasurer ~ Lieut-Col. Monsell.
Secretary ~ Arthur J. Kestin.

Researching Your London Police Ancestors

The City of London Police Records Office, 26 Old Jewry, London EC2R 8OJ possesses registers listing every member of the force since warrant numbers were introduced on 9 April 1832 together with personal files on 95% of officers who have served since that date. Write to the Museum Curator, City of London Police, 37 Wood Street, London EC2P 2NQ

Tracing an ancestor in the Metropolitan Police is extremely difficult. Incomplete divisional records for A, B, E, F, G, H, K, L, M, N, R and Y divisions are held by the Metropolitan Police Historical Museum, c/o Room 1334 New Scotland Yard. Thames Division ledgers are held at Wapping Police Station Museum, 98 Wapping High Street, London EC1. The Metropolitan Police Historical Museum and the Wapping Police Station Museum will try to answer written enquiries.

Records of Metropolitan Police pensioners who retired or resigned between 1852 and 1932 and who were granted or (after 1890) qualified for a police pension are to be found in class MEPO 21. These contain detailed personal records, including physical description, date and place of birth, marital status, dates of service. Before 1923, names of parents and next of kin are also given. To use this class it is necessary to know the approximate date of retirement. Post 1932 pension records are held by the Metropolitan Police Office, F4 Branch Police Pensions, 2 Bessborough Street, London SW1V 2JF.

Enquiries about more recent records should be directed to: Metropolitan Police Service, Archives Branch, Wellington House, 57-73 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6BE

Women police patrols were appointed to the force in February 1919 but they were not sworn in as constables with powers of arrest until April 1923. Unfortunately their records of service do not seem to have survived.

Metropolitan Police staff records have not all survived. There are no records at all for the period 1857 to 1869. Nearly all staff records give name, rank, warrant number, division and dates of appointment and removal, but the following class records held at the Public Records Office in Kew contain additional information.

Mr Chris Forester of Pinewell Heights, Tilford Road, Hindhead, Surrey GU26 6SQ, is preparing an index of Metropolitan police officer names and numbers from the PRO records. An article about the index appears in Family Tree Magazine (July 1994).

HO 65/26 ~ Alphabetical Register

This register covers only the years 1829-1836 but gives dates of promotion or demotion as well as basic details.

MEPO 4/31-32 ~ Numerical Registers of Warrant Numbers

These registers cover warrant numbers 1-3147, September 1829 - March 1830 and give the officer's height and cause of removal from the force.

MEPO 4/333-338 ~ Alphabetical Registers of Joiners

These registers cover the periods September 1830 - April 1857 and July 1878 - 1933. The earliest volumes also give names and addresses of referees.

MEPO 4/339-351 ~ Registers of Leavers

These registers cover the period March 1889 - January 1947 and give class of officer, number of certificate granted if not dismissed (1. Excellent, 2. Very Good, 3. Good, 4. Open, i.e. no comment), date certificate sent to division, number of documents an officer entitled to, according to regulations, and date documents sent to division. These last two details are phased out around 1913-1914 and the comments on an officer's conduct are no longer expressed numerically.

MEPO 4/352-360 ~ Attestation Ledgers

These registers cover warrant numbers 51491-146379 for the period February 1869 - May 1958. They give signatures of the recruit and witness.

MEPO 4/361-477 ~ Certificate of Service Records

These registers cover the period January 1889 - November 1909 and include men with warrant numbers between 74201 and 97500. They give a physical description, date of birth, trade, marital status, residence, number of children, name and place of last employer, previous public service, surgeon's certificate, postings to divisions, dates of promotion or demotion and cause of removal.

MEPO 4/2 Returns of Deaths Whilst Serving

This register covers the period 1829-1889 and gives the cause of death.


Before the Police Pensions Act 1890 pensions were granted on a discretionary basis. The Act provided a legal right to a pension after twenty-five years service, and a modified pension or gratuity if discharged medically unfit. Pensions and gratuities, 1829-1859, are mentioned in the early series of correspondence and papers (MEPO 5/1-90).

Other Records

Police Orders (MEPO 7) contain notification of personnel matters arranged annually. They are closed for fifty years. Details of officers pensioned, promoted, dismissed and transferred have been indexed for some of these volumes and added to the class (MEPO 7/156-164). An alphabetical index of officers who joined between 1880 and 1889, compiled from the Police Orders of those years (MEPO 7/42-51). Each entry consists of surname with at least one forename, warrant number, date of joining and (where available) date of leaving.

Joining papers and particulars of service of certain distinguished officers have been preserved amongst the Special Series of correspondence and papers from the Commissioner's Office (MEPO 3/2883-2921). These personnel files are subject to closure for at least seventy-five years.

Files on awards of the Kings Police Medal from its introduction in 1909 can be found under the honours and awards subject code in the list to registered papers of the Home Office (HO 45) and a list of awards, 1909-1912, is given in MEPO 2/1300.

Note: The PRO holds records only of the Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary. The records of other police forces are held either by the appropriate local record office or by the force itself.

Other London Police Forces

In addition to the City of London and Metropolitan police forces, there were two other police forces operating in London during the Victorian era.

Railway Police Force

The Railway Act, 1838, was the first public act to establish a police force specifically for the railways, but it provided only for the appointment of special constables for temporary periods. From these beginnings, the railway police grew to be the third largest force in the country, exceeded in numbers only by the Metropolitan Police and the Lancashire Constabulary. The force was organised on lines similar to other police forces; within their own jurisdiction they had the same powers; there were both uniformed and plain clothes branches and the uniform was the same, differentiated only by the badge. The railway police were eligible for the Queen's Police medal for gallantry and the police long service and good conduct medal.

Constables were sworn in by a Justice of the Peace on the nomination of the Railway Police Commissioner and could be discharged by two JPs or the Commissioner. The first women in the force were sworn as special constables in 1914 by the Great Western Railway.

Port of London Police Force

Originally, each dock company employed their own watchman and later a police force. The oldest docks in London were the East India Company Docks at Blackwell which were established in the early seventeenth century. The beginning of the eighteenth century saw the construction of the Howland Great Wet Dock on the south side of the river at Rotherhithe. Sanctioned in 1696, it was for close on a hundred years the largest dock on the Thames and remained in use until the end of the nineteenth century. Some sixty years after its completion it became the centre of the whaling industry, and for that reason the name was changed to the Greenland Dock. When about 1810 it began to be used by timber and corn merchants it was rechristened the Commercial Docks, and some years later was taken over by the Surrey Commercial Dock Company, which controlled all the docks on the south side of the river.

The nineteenth century saw a huge expansion in new docks with the completion of the West India Docks in 1802, and of the London Docks in 1805. The present "new" East India Dock was opened in 1806; the first part of the Surrey Dock system in 1807; the St Katherine Dock, so named because it covers the site of the Collegiate Church of St Katherine by the Tower, in 1828; the Royal Victoria, where the first frozen meat warehouse in the United Kingdom was built, in 1855; the Millwall Dock in 1868 and the Royal Albert Dock in 1880. The Tilbury Docks, opposite Gravesend, begun in 1882 and opened in 1896, were a commercial failure for some years, which is not surprising seeing that they are 26 miles from London.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the increase both in the amount of trade handled by the Port of London, and in the size and draught of the ships using it, made it a matter of supreme importance that large-scale improvements should be carried out. The cost was too great to be undertaken by any of the private companies which controlled the docks, and it soon became obvious that it would be necessary to set up a central authority of some sort. Such an authority would not only lead to the pooling of resources, but would also do away with the harmful competition in which they were continuously indulging.

After petitions to Parliament and Royal Committee recommendations, the Port of London Authority was established under the Port Of London Act 1908.

The PLA Police Force was organised on lines similar to the Metropolitan police force; within their own jurisdiction they had the same powers; there were both uniformed and plain clothes branches and the uniform was the same, differentiated only by the badge. The PLA police were eligible for the Queen's Police medal for gallantry and the police long service and good conduct medal.

PLA Police Force registers listing every member of the force since (tba) are held by: The Archivist, Port of Tilbury Police, Police Headquarters, Tilbury Freeport, Tilbury, Essex RM18 7DU

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