Wapping Police station (the old carpenters shop is behind the green door)
Last Saturday I had the good fortune to attend the Wapping ‘Shindig’ a day of community entertainments.
One of the highlights was a visit to the Thames Police Museum which is located in the Wapping Police Station itself. Due to the fact it is located in a working police station visits are usually by appointment only or on one of the rare Open Days.
Whistler etching of the Police Station 1859
The museum charts the creation of the Marine Police in 1798 and the various developments up to the present day.
The original Marine Police Establishment was formed by a magistrate Patrick Colquhoun and Master Mariner John Harriott in an attempt to combat the widespread theft from ships entering and leaving London’s Docks and Wharves.
The initial expense of setting up the force was quickly repaid many times over when in its first year of operation the force recovered over a £100,000 worth of cargo and saved many lives.
However this success came at a price , a riot outside of Wapping Police Station led to one of Marine Police officers being shot dead. It is widely believed that this officer whose name was Gabriel Franks was the first police officer to be killed in the line of duty.
It is also argued that the Marine Police Establishment was the first established modern police force in the world.
It was the success of the Marine Police Establishment that led to calls to set up a Metropolitan Police force which eventually was formed in 1829, however the Marine Police remained separate to this new force until it was incorporated into the Metropolitan Police force in 1839.
The Marine Police then became known as the Thames Division with responsibility for policing long stretches of the Thames.
There has been a police station on the Wapping site from 1798, however the present police station dates from 1907 and it is within the old carpenters workshop that the Thames Police collection has been built up by Police Officers over the years.
Inside the Museum is a large numbers of exhibits with collections of police ‘Hardware’ such as handcuffs, pistols, swords and cutlasses.
You can read excerpts from the Thames Division Punishment book (1839-1865) and other police reports.
There is also a number of Model Ships, paintings, drawings , uniforms and other Thames Police ephemera.
However the highlight of the collection is the The Company ensign recovered from the ill fated Princess Alice in 1878.
It was the sinking of the pleasure steamer near Woolwich with the loss of over 600 lives that would have a major effect on the way the Thames was policed.
At the Princess Alice enquiry it was recommended that the Thames Division should have steam launches to enable them to respond quicker to emergencies rather than the rowing boats that had been previously used.
It is impossible to estimate the countless lives that have been saved by the Marine Police service since it’s inception or the large number of crimes solved, but the Marine Police Station and the Museum at Wapping is a timely reminder of the courage and bravery of Police Officers who have policed the Thames for over 200 years.
View from the Museum