PortCities London

Policing the Port of London

Dock company police and the PLA

More police forces

Guard house at the West India Docks.
View full size imageGuard house at the West India Docks. © NMM

The West India Dock Company employed an armed force of 100 men equipped with muskets, pistols and swords to protect its docks.

Taking their lead from the West India merchants, each of the dock companies that came after also employed their own special police force. Their job was not only to prevent criminals from getting in, but also to make sure that goods were not smuggled out of the docks. 

Catching the pilferers

George Sims described a typical incident at London Docks in 1900:

Quotation marks left
The man leaves the gate with a conspicuous air of unconcern, which is instantly noted by a policeman who accosts the stranger. “You feel rather lumpy, my man”, “That's my lunch”, the other explains feebly. “Lunch!” Exclaims the constable. “Just step in here a minute”.

So the captive is led unwittingly into the office where a couple of bottles of brandy are disinterred from the recesses of his clothing, and his person secured
Quotation marks right
pending the arrival of the civil authorities.

Searching a suspect.
View full size imageSearching a suspect at the dock gate. © NMM

The PLA takes over

Port of London Authority flag.
View full size imagePort of London Authority flag. © NMM

The advent of the PLA in 1909 meant the amalgamation of police forces of the three remaining dock companies:

  • the London and India Docks Company
  • the Surrey Commercial Dock Company
  • the Millwall Dock Company

The PLA Police Force was organized on lines similar to the Metropolitan Police. Within their own jurisdiction they had the same powers - there were both uniformed and plain-clothed branches and the uniform was the same, differentiated only by their badge.

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