Southampton Docks Police

Birth of the Division

The formation of Policing of Southampton Docks, Town Quay and the Terminus Railway Station

Since joining the British Transport Police History Group I have been trying to ascertain when Policemen in Southampton Docks and Town Quay were first recruited. During many visits to the Southampton Archives, I chanced upon a Southampton City Council Booklet entitled ‘The Southampton Police Force 1836 -1856′ by Anne Cookes, in a box marked ‘Police’. It was in this book I found a few paragraphs with some of the answers. While I was unable to use this information as it was written by another person, it contained references to the Watch Committee Minutes for that period. These are held at the Archives, and with the kind permission of the Archives Staff, I was able to use the Minutes for research and write my article.

Readers will see that I tend to look at the Southampton Docks and Town Quay as being one area, which it is. Although the Town Quay had its own Harbour Board Police, it also fell within the jurisdiction of the British Transport Police, Southampton Docks Division, which consisted of a large number of Police Officers. Although the records show the Division started with just one Constable at the Docks and one at the Town Quay. The Harbour Board Police in their final years were also administered by the BTP in Southampton Docks.

The first Watch Committee meeting, the subject of which was the formation of Southampton Police, was held in the Southampton Audit House on 7th January 1836. Prior to that date, Night Watchmen were responsible for keeping the peace in the “Town” of Southampton, which is now a City. Some of these Watchmen were recruited into the new Police Force, which worked out of Bargate and St. Mary’s Station Houses, with Bargate being nearest the Docks area.

Also recorded at this meeting are the former Watchmen’s beats. For example, beat 4, was down Southampton High Street, once round the Customs House, which is at the Town Quay, and on through some of the streets in that area.

The records I found in the Minute Books show that from 1839 and until at least 1857, Constables employed in Southampton Docks, The Town Quay and Terminus Railway Station were officers recruited specifically for these areas by Southampton Police, on the direction of the Watch Committee. Readers will also see that some of the minutes make reference to a Mr Enright. Inspector John Thomas Enright was the first Officer in charge of Southampton Police, who took up the post in 1836, having transferred from the Metropolitan Police.

Recently, the subject of arming the Docks and Railway Police has come up within the History Group. On 2nd December 1839, by direction of the Watch Committee, the Southampton Police working from the Bargate were issued with sufficient cutlasses and other arms.  These were to be kept at the Station House, to be used only on direction of the Magistrates. As Watch Committee records show Southampton Police attendance in the Docks and Town Quay, it may well be that arms may have been used in these areas at one time, as the Police Officers of those times worked out from the Bargate Station House.

First Constable, Town Quay:
On 6th May 1839, as a result of a request to the Watch Committee from The Commissioners of the Pier and Harbour of Southampton, it was agreed to recruit an additional Police Officer into Southampton Police.  This Officer was to be devoted to the protection and convenience of passengers landing and embarking from the Royal Pier, Old Quays, Wharfs and Pier. This Officer was to be part-paid and clothed by the Commissioners from the funds of the Royal Pier for the time he performed his duties at those locations.

First Constable, Southampton Docks:
On 6th January 1840 Captain Ward, representing the Dock Company, applied to the Watch Committee for a Policeman at the Dock House, having agreed to pay for both the Officer’s clothes and wages. As a result William Cooper was sworn in to fill the situation, “Having had the Rules and Regulations of the Police Force read over to him.”  Fifteen months later, on 17th May 1841, a request was made to the Watch Committee for a second Policeman for Southampton Docks, which was agreed, and Thomas Johnson was sworn in as a Constable for the Borough of Southampton.

Constable for the Quays redundant:
On 7th October 1844, Mr Blanchard, Clerk to the Commissioners of Southampton Royal Pier and Harbour, approached the Watch Committee with a request for the disposal of the Constable for the Pier and Quays. As most of the vessels using that facility had left for the Docks, the services of the Constable were no longer required. The request was agreed, and unfortunately the Constable lost his job, as the Inspector was directed to reduce the Force total, by one Officer.

Policeman at the Royal Pier:
On 3rd August 1849 Mr William Brooks, Clerk to the Commissioners to the Royal Pier, inquired what charges would be incurred to employ a Policeman on the Pier, between 11 and 12 o’clock on the nights of the sailing of the Steam Vessels to the Channel Islands and Le Havre. The reason was to prevent annoyance to passengers from unlicensed Barrow Boys and Porters, who were operating on the Pier. Having resolved the cost, Inspector Enright was directed to arrange the attendance of a Policeman on the Royal Pier at the designated time.

Robberies at the Royal Pier:
On 8th October 1849 Inspector Enright produced a letter from Mr Green, the Manager of the London and South Western Railway Company Steam Vessels. Mr Green complained about frequent robberies at the Royal Pier at the time the Steam Vessels departed. The Committee resolved that Mr Enright be instructed to take any action he deemed necessary to prevent such robberies in future. Also at this meeting a letter was produced from Mr H M Brooks, Clerk to the Commissioners to the Port and Harbour, stating that passengers were subject to annoyance from boys congregating at the Pier Gates on arrival and departure of the Steam Packets. It was requested that Mr William Tubbs, the Harbour Master, be appointed as a Police Constable.  As a result, the Watch Committee agreed to appoint William Tubbs as a Police Constable for the Pier and Quays in the Town and County of Southampton.

Robberies on the Railway:
A further letter was received at the same Watch Committee Meeting, held on 8th October 1849, from Mr Farrand, Clerk to the Department Commissioners. It was brought to the attention of the Committee that frequent robberies were occurring at the Terminus Railway Station on the arrival and departure of the night trains. It was requested that Police be in attendance at the Station at those times, for the protection of passengers. It was resolved, and Inspector Enright was directed to instruct the Police to be in attendance for arrival of the night trains. A letter was also sent to a Mr Matcham, directing him to discontinue the practice of allowing persons to ride on the outside of his Omnibus to and from the Railway Station at night time.

William Tubbs Sworn In:
On 4th December 1849 Mr William Tubbs, the Harbour Master at the Royal Pier and Town Quay, attended the Watch Committee meeting, where he was sworn into Office as a Constable for the Town and County of Southampton. Before Mr Richard Andrew. Mayor and also one of Her Majesty’s Justice of the Peace, for the Town and County of Southampton.

To date, William Tubbs is the first named Officer I have been able to find, recruited for Police Duties at the Town Quay. However I have been unable to establish whether he continued to carry out his duties as Harbour Master, or relinquished this Post to carry out his Police Duties. (See note [1])

Police Constables at the Pier:
On 18th August 1851 the Watch Committee received a letter from Mr William Farrand, Clerk to the Pier and Harbour Commissioners, stating that passengers were greatly inconvenienced and annoyed by persons of bad character congregating at the Pier Gates. It was requested that Inspector Enright be directed to place a Policeman at the Pier Gates at certain times of the day. Inspector Enright was to instruct the Policeman on duty in the locality of the Public Quays, to attend the Pier Gates on departure of the Steam Packets, also at other times when his services might be required. It was suggested by the Watch Committee that the Commissioners might consider employing a Policeman whose duty should be devoted exclusively to the Pier and Quays, especially as the Lessee of the Tolls of the Royal Pier was willing to pay one moiety of the expense.

Emigration Department Southampton Docks:
On 25th January 1853, Inspector Enright reported to the Watch Committee that the Emigration Commissioners were desirous that a Policeman should be stationed at their Depot in Southampton Docks during the daytime. They were willing to pay 5/- (5 Shillings) daily to the Watch Committee for his services, and it was resolved that Inspector Enright place an efficient man at the Emigration Depot.

Police Attendance Southampton Docks:
On 21st April 1856 the Watch Committee received a request from Mr Philip Hedger, Superintendent of the Docks, for extra Police attendance on the 23rd April 1856. This was for the embarking and disembarking of visitors attending the Naval Spithead Review, for which Inspector Enright was directed to distribute such Officers he thought necessary. On Friday 9th May 1856, the Committee received a second letter from Mr Hedger thanking the Police for their assistance with the Spithead Review. It was agreed by the Watch Committee that each Officer involved would receive an extra days pay for their good conduct and services to the occasion.

Policeman for the Pier and Quays:
At this meeting held on Monday 6th April 1857, a letter was received by the Committee from Mr Farrand, Clerk to the Pier and Harbour Commissioners. Mr Farrand complained of a number of disorderly persons congregating on the Quays and at the Pier Gates, to the great annoyance of the travelling public. The letter also made application to the Watch Committee for a Policeman, whose duty shall be wholly devoted to the Pier and Town Quay. It was resolved by the Watch Committee that they would be willing to appoint such a Policeman, provided the Harbour and Pier Commissioners would agree to pay one half the expense for the Officer. On 4th May 1857 the Watch Committee received a reply from Mr Farrand, stating that the Harbour Commissioners consented to pay half the expense for the Policeman, whose duties would be confined to the Pier, Quays and Platform. Inspector Enright advised the Committee that the Policeman for the Town Quay had already been appointed and commenced his duties on Monday 27th April 1857.


I hope by this article to explain the gradual development of Police presence at Southampton Docks, Town Quay and Railway Station, which slowly progressed over a long period. My interpretation of the Minutes is that Police Officers were rostered to the Dockland areas, the Town Quay especially, on an as required basis. There are still many questions to answer regarding the development of policing in these areas, and when these officers actually separated from Southampton Police to become a force in their own right. The Minute Books date from 1856 to early 1900’s, so hopefully I will be able to find some more answers in the books in future.

It is also an interesting thought that History has turned full circle and apart from the Railway Station, since 1985 the areas of Southampton Docks and Town Quay, once again fall within the control of Southampton Police, now Hampshire Constabulary.


by David Caplehorn


Extracts from the November and December 2011 editions of History Lines (No. 27 & 28)

David continued his researches into the Southampton Docks Police (2) the following year.

Also see: Officers in charge of the police at Southampton Docks

and: Southampton Docks Police, 1890 for the results of David’s researches into a classic photograph.


WebMaster’s note:

[1] Thanks to a Guestbook comment from Barbara Thomas, it is now apparent that William Tubbs did indeed continue as Harbour Master after having been sworn in as a Constable, and remained so until his death in 1852.