• Behind the Blue Lamp


Wapping Police Station was the Headquarters of the Thames Division, and was opened on the site of the present station in 1798. As well as a Police Department at the station there was also a Judicial Department, all under the control of a resident Magistrate Captain John Harriott.

The Thames River Police were soon heralded as extremely good at their job, earning praise from merchants and ship owners alike. By 1800 they received statutory authority, and were frequently called upon to assist other law enforcement officers in their duties.

In 1839, some ten years after the commencement of the Metropolitan Police, the Thames River Police were absorbed into the London Police and the Judicial Department became the Thames Police Court.

By 1844 the court had moved near to Arbour Square, Stepney where two magistrates sat daily, except for weekends, ‪from 10.00am until 5.00pm.

Thames Police Court boundaries were fixed by order of the Council dated 10th December 1842, and included all in the eastern entrance of the London Docks, north side of the dock area to Fox’s Lane, High Street Shadwell, Ratcliff Highway, Cannon Street, Cannon Street Road, Whitechapel Road, Mile End Road, Grove Road, Eastern Counties Railway, along it to the River Lea, to the River Thames and back to the eastern entrance of the London Docks.

Land was leased from the Governors of Bridewell in 1867 on which to build a new station at Wapping, the lease set for sixty years from Christmas 1867. The station included a Superintendent's Office located on the first floor, with a charge room, a reserve room, two cells and two water closets on the ground floor. In the basement were the shipwrights’ office and two coal cellars. On the second floor was accommodation for one married inspector, who occupied two rooms with a third room downstairs on the ground floor for a weekly rent of 5/6d. There was also room for seventeen constables on both the first and second floors of the accompanying Section House. They paid one shilling per week rent.

The station was occupied by the Police of Thames Division in January 1871, although in 1904 the Superintendent of Thames Division reported to the Commissioner on the unsuitability of the station, accommodation and workshops at Wapping, and suggested that a new, more modern station should be erected.

This was agreed, and by March 1907 plans for a new station were accepted and tenders invited for building the new station. The bid by Messrs. Lawrence and Sons was accepted, and by August demolition of the old police station had started. The station, section house, married quarters and administration section were ready for occupation by 28th February 1910.

On 27th April 1920 a Bill called the Metropolitan Police Order Confirmation Act 1920 was passed in Parliament allowing the compulsory purchase of 102 High Street, Wapping to allow the station to be enlarged and improved. This property was located adjacent to the existing station and belonged to the Bridewell and Bethlehem Royal Hospital. The freehold was purchased for the sum of £5,605 on 5th January 1921.

Wapping Police Station has always been the headquarters for Thames Division. It is now a Grade II listed building because of its architectural importance, and it cannot be demolished. The pontoon on the river is used to land the twenty or more bodies a year which are pulled from the 54-mile stretch of the Thames between Staines and Dartford. Waterloo Pier had also been used to land dead bodies, but public concern at this site was deemed to be too disturbing so the practice ended. Whilst the station does have cells, they are considered unsuitable for the detention of prisoners so they are transferred to land-based stations.

Information taken from the new book BEHIND THE BLUE LAMP. Click here to learn more.

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© 2020 ADAM WOOD.
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