Policing South Wales Docks - an Illustrated History

Policing South Wales Docks - cover

Policing South Wales Docks – cover

BTPHG Chairman, Viv Head, has returned to his roots to document the history of dock policing in South Wales.

This new BTP related book is published today (15/05/2018). It is available from the publisher – Amberley Books, as well as Amazon, and all good book shops and internet based retailers.

Viv writes this introduction for the History Group:

It is now more than thirty years since BTP ceased policing the docks. Officers have joined, served their time and retired without ever realising that the Force once policed an extensive network of docks and ferry ports across the country – 24 of them to be precise. The Humber Ports, Southampton and the South Wales Ports were major undertakings employing hundreds of officers. This newly published book provides an insight into policing the docks of South Wales although in many respects it could be any of the docks once policed by BTP and their forebears.

During the Nineteenth Century, South Wales exploded into industrial activity; previously peaceful valleys were turned on their head. Iron, coal, the arrival of the railways and great docks were built all along the coast; at Newport, Cardiff, Penarth, Barry, Port Talbot and Swansea. South Wales became the crucible of the Industrial Revolution.

Men from all across the land, and seaman from all over the world arrived eager to be part of it all. The docks became a land of opportunity; peaceful coastal communities were transformed; overcrowding, disease, prostitution, violence and dishonesty were everywhere. Into this mix of blood, sweat and coal dust came the dock police, charged with keeping a lid on rough communities, hell bent on self-intent. Crime and murderous violence were rife; it took a breed of hard men to step in and take control. And they stayed for more than a hundred years.

Over time the different forces amalgamated to become the British Transport Police. Then in the mid-1980s came privatisation and containerisation; it was perceived that the police had done their job and were no longer needed. So, in 1985, the last dock policeman locked the police station door, got into his car and drove away.

The book provides an illustrated insight into some of the darker and lighter moments of the dock coppers’ working lives. You won’t be surprised to know that they weren’t always angels themselves, but they do deserve to be remembered. As an ex dock copper in the 1970s the author well-remembers his time at Cardiff Docks, it was quite an experience!


From the publishers description:

Alongside the emergence of the railways in the nineteenth century came a huge expansion of docks and shipping. Worldwide demand for Welsh steam coal also saw a population explosion in the towns of Newport, Cardiff, Penarth, Barry and Swansea. Foreign seamen, ship owners, opportunists, thieves and vagabonds all came in search of a share in the new prosperity. It resulted in hard-living overcrowded communities where drunkenness, prostitution, thieving, violence and murder flourished. Embryo Borough police forces were stretched to the limit and beyond to deal with it.

Each of these coal ports formed their own police forces to deal with the mayhem. Like needed to be met with like; it was not a job for the fainthearted. The Bute Dock Police went out on patrol armed with cutlasses; and two of its officers drowned on duty on separate occasions, one in particularly suspicious circumstances. Strikes, two world wars, organised crime and drugs were all part of the story. In 1923, the railway amalgamations meant that for the next twenty-five years it was the GWR Police who kept a grip on the docks, followed, in 1948, by the British Transport Police – the first national police force in Britain.

Following privatisation, the police were withdrawn from the docks in 1985. And so it was that after 125 years of continuous police service, the last dock copper took off his helmet, locked the police station door and went on his way. This book tells the story of the dock police in South Wales.

A new addition to the BTPHG virtual Bookshelf has been made.

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