Home » Human Life » Guardians of the River – Thames Police Museum in Wapping

Guardians of the River – Thames Police Museum in Wapping


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



  1. I have found this Guardians of the River – Thames Police Museum in Wapping release most interesting as my Great Grandfather died at Wapping Police Station on the 12th November 1851. Seving as a Thames Police River Inspector. Many Old Bailey Records and Newspapers articals can be found for William Judge, Wapping Police Station.

    Judge, William
    Birth Name Judge, William [1]
    Gender male
    Age at Death about 61 years, 10 months, 11 days
    Event Date Place Description Notes Sources
    Birth about 1790 Rotherhithe, Surrey, England

    Thames Watermen and Lightermen 13 October 1803 Rotherhithe, Southwark, Surrey, England Masters Name: William Judge. Date Free: 01 Nov 1810
    Event Note

    First Name: WILLIAM Last Name: JUDGE Bound Year: 1803 Bound Month: Oct Bound Day: 13 Place: ROTHERHITHE Birth Year: Master’s First Names: William Master’s Last Name: Judge Date Free: 01 Nov 1810

    Occupation 6 December 1818 Rotherhithe, Southwark, Surrey, England Waterman

    Occupation 1823 Thames London, Middlesex, England Thames Police Surveyor

    Occupation 1838 Thames London, Middlesex, England Thames Police Surveyor

    Occupation 1841 Thames London, Middlesex, England Thames Police Inspector

    Occupation 1851 Thames London, Middlesex, England Thames Police Inspector

    Death 12 November 1851 Thames Police Station, Wapping, Stepney, London, England
    Event Note Certified.

    Judge William MEPO 4/2. Return of deaths in the Metropolitan Police Force

    PD Insp William Judge Date: 5 November 1851 Div: River Police Cause of Death: Heart Disease.

    Burial 13 November 1851 Tower Hamlets, London, Middlesex, England Parish: Saint George In The East (Wapping)

    I hope this entry helps to add more interest to the Wapping Police Station.

    Anthony L Holmes

    • Hi Anthony,

      Thank you for all the information about your great grandfather William Judge, what is fascinating about his career was he was there at the beginning of the Marine Police which was considered the first modern police force and he worked his way up to be an Inspector. I think it is important for people to understand how dangerous the job was ! The murder of Gabriel Franks was testimony to that .
      I am sure you have plenty of information about your great grandfather, would you like to do a piece about him for the blog ? I am sure many people would be fascinated by his career.
      Once again many thanks

  2. Viv says:

    Hello my great great grandfather was also a Thames river policeman. All we know is his surname was Horlock. I’m assuming his name was William as my Nan always said he had the nickname handsome black bill of old wapping because of his shock of black wavy hair I’d love to find out more if there are any records of the police thank you viv

    • Hi Viv,

      sorry for the delay in reply.

      You are fortunate in that Blackwall Police station has its own museum and the curators know everything police related concerning the river police.
      Contact them through their website and send your questions

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