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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Friday, 8 April 2016

The world's smallest police station

It’s asking for trouble, isn’t it, using superlatives?  Some smart-alec is bound to pop up and contradict your claim.  But it’s an eye-catching headline and we really shouldn’t allow truth to get in the way of a good story.

Smallest police station, Trafalgar Square, London

So, next time you happen to be walking across Trafalgar Square with a companion that you’d like to impress, stroll nonchalantly across to the south-east corner (that’s the bit closest to the Strand) and spy a small, round, stone, structure with an ornate lamp on top and a pair of black half-glazed doors.  Then ask your playmate, with a meaningful twinkle, “Now, what do you suppose that is?”  Once you’ve shaken your head in merriment at all the absurd suggestions made by your fellow traveller – toilet, Downing Street’s secret back door, tobacco kiosk, Nelson’s pantry, headquarters of Universal Export, etc – you can say, “Why, bless you, that’s none other than the smallest police station in Britain” (slight pause) “ – if not in the whole, wide, world.”   And before your associate has the chance to contest your assertion, you can further astound them – and the by now gathering crowd - with some additional knowledge, tempered with a touch of appealing humility, “Of course, there is a police kiosk in Carrabelle, Florida, in the USA, which is probably smaller; but nowhere near as nice.  And I’m just repeating something I saw on A Bit About Britain, so I could be wrong.  Anyway, isn’t it jolly spiffing?”

Your comrade will be so overwhelmed that they may even treat you to a glass of something in ‘the Clarence’ across the road on Whitehall.

Trafalgar Square has long been a focal point for public gatherings and, it must be said, a smidgen of rowdiness – with the occasional riot thrown in for good measure. This small police station was in fact a kind of observation post, created in the late 1920s by hollowing out the plinth that housed a gas lamp, dating from 1826.  Slits were cut in the side to provide 360 degree vision and a direct telephone line connected it to Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan Police.  Apparently, it is large enough to hold one policeman or two prisoners (London’s criminals are quite small).  Once electricity was installed, the light flashed blue when the receiver was lifted (or when the telephone rang – it depends which account you believe) in order to alert other Constables to the possibility that something was amiss.  Whistles blew, truncheons were waived and men came running to assist, practising saying, “You’re nicked, mate,” as they went.

Smallest police station, Trafalgar Square, London

Legend has it that the lamp originated from Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory; alas, this is unlikely.  Alas, also, the tiny police station in Trafalgar Square is no longer in use.  I am not sure when it was decommissioned.  It is mentioned in a London guide published in 1979 (a photo shows it with dirty, cream, doors), and it seems to have been working then.  No doubt it gave way to cheaper CCTV.  Or maybe policemen are bigger now. More likely they couldn’t connect a PC to it…  The Met is helping us with enquiries on this and you will be the first to know what they say – though, obviously, they are quite busy catching bad people, so don’t hold your breath.


These days, the world’s smallest police station is apparently used as a broom cupboard by Westminster City Council. Seems like it’s made a clean break with its past.

Nelson, Trafalgar Square

33 comments:

  1. I must have walked past that dozens of times and never even noticed it! Next time I'm up there I'm going to look out for it (and obviously pretend that I knew what it was all along ...)

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  2. I loved this story!! And the problem with London is that it's so cluttered with fascinating historical bits that way too much goes unnoticed by the naked and dazzled eye, like mine. What a fun post! Who wants Florida, anyway. Pffft.

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  3. An amusing account of that little gem in the corner of Trafalgar Square.

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  4. Just my kind of mystery to figure out too! I rather like the design and fancy having something just like it on our own backyard (and one could have just as an engaging what is it used for as well!) Cream doors wouldn't look as nice but just as she sits. Perfect! Do share more information that you find about it! Very interesting to me.

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  5. It's absolutely charming! I love everything about it.

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  6. A delightful piece of history indeed. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. I've never noticed it when I've been there either! Will have to look if I ever get over there again!

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  8. The lamp does seem disproportionately large. I would feel quite self conscious, as the policeman on duty, should it start to flash.

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  9. It's been 10 years since I was in London and walked through Trafalgar Square. Next time I do, I will be sure to look for this point of interest! Thank you and have a grand weekend!

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  10. 'Whistles blew, truncheons were waived' ... a sort of Dixon of Dock Green scenario came to mind!

    Loved the post and always good to know a little bit more about Britain ...

    Have a lovely weekend

    All the best Jan

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  11. A broom closet and a clean break - very nice! I'm sticking to the story of the smallest police station in the world.

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  12. Police station or not, it looks really cool. Something you might see in the movie "Kingsmen."

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  13. I love this, Mike!! It's so cute but elegant, too. The black doors and the beautiful gas lamp on top are what make it elegant. I enjoyed the back story, and it made me laugh out loud. :-D I'm pretty sure that I didn't make it to Trafalgar Square when I was in London because we were only there for a day, and sooo much to see. I'm still hoping to return someday.

    Thanks for sharing this -- hope you have a great weekend!

    Hugs,

    Denise at Forest Manor

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  14. Love the little police booth and your story!

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  15. I'm suprised that after decommissioning it wasn't sold as a very bijou one room residence.

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  16. Oh, I got quite excited when you said about the 2 criminals. And now I feel deflated about the brooms.
    Thank you for reminding me about this. I knew about it years ago and had quite forgotten. I am sure that all you say is 100 percent correct, as ever! :)

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  17. That is an extremely nice photo of it, by the way.

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  18. Jolly spiffing is right! And I learned some facts about the little police station I did not know. And I laughed, before 6 a.m. I love your blog.

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  19. Such a smart tiny little police station too. I rushed off and added it to my list for London in September before I read to the end :) It might be a broom cupboard, but I have to find it anyway...

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  20. With the amount of safety gear they wear these days they might be able to get an officer in - but there'd be a real risk that they couldn't get out again! :)

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  21. Fascinating story of a police station Inever even knew about. Must keep an eye out when I visit Trafalgar square

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  22. Fascinating structure and tale. It is something I have not noticed when I have been in the area.

    What I have noticed is that the Nelson statue often has a seagull on top!!

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  23. I do like the look of it and yeah I will never get to visit there as Tim says he doesn't want to go to London I however would love to go visit the place

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  24. That is such a cute building, I will look out for it next time I'm in that area, although knowing my memory I will probably forget!! Lovely story and photo, I like the gold and blue tones. My minor OCD would have removed the cones!!........

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  25. Thanks to you, next time I pass that door, I can tell my daughters what is is! I think they will laugh at me :-)

    Madelief

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  26. I bet not many people know that. It sure is cute. To nice to be a broom cupboard.

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  27. Now that is an interesting tidbit of information. I must look up my photos of the square and see if it's in the background.

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  28. This post was such fun. Spiffing, indeed! A bit of wit to start the day is a good thing. I look forward to your posts as they are an entertaining and engrossing geography and history lesson rolled into one which allows me to be a smarty-pants and rattle off all sorts of tidbits to my playmates. They don't know that you did all the work. You are the best kind of tutor.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.