British Newspaper Archives

by Kevin Gordon

I am sure that many officers kept a little scrap-book about their time in the Force including the odd press cutting. I know I did, and pride of place is a copy of The Sun for 13th March 1986. The illuminating headline was “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster” but my name actually appeared on page 3 of that edition. (I had arrested someone from the TV programme “Eastenders”).

The Sun Newspaper
There have been thousands of mentions of British Transport and Railway Police officers in the press and the BTP History Group has embarked on a project to list them. Copies of The Times from 1785 to 1985 are available on-line. A quick search reveals 760 references to “Railway Police” (the first in 1838) and 994 to the “transport police”. Of course not all relate to the UK railway police – there are quite a few relating to railway police forces in Europe and Asia – especially India.

These newspapers give a fascinating insight into the work of our railway police ancestors. In 1842 the Midland Counties Railway Police were assisting the local police in dealing with Corn Law Riots in Leicester. They were also dealing with the type of thing still going on today– thefts, robberies, and suicides, as well as ticket frauds and trespass. Not so much has changed.

The National Newspaper Archive is based at Colindale, north London, backing on to the playing fields of the Metropolitan Police Training Centre at Hendon. This unassuming brick building contains virtually every available newspaper and magazine printed since 1800. I have visited the Newspaper Library on a number of occasions. Some papers have been put on microfilm but the majority are in large bound items which fill the desk as you try to locate an item of interest.

As you can imagine, the task of digitising the collection is massive but this started about 18 months ago and since then about 8,000 pages of text are scanned each day. To date about 3.5 million pages of text are available, not only national newspapers but many county and local papers too.

I have been dipping into these records since Christmas, at Seaford Museum in Sussex where I am a volunteer. I have found some fantastic local references to my home town from the 19th Century. But of course I couldn’t help searching History Group interests too. A quick search revealed 5,600 references to “railway police”.


The First Railway Policeman In The World
An initial foray found some fascinating information, particularly unearthing the name of the world’s first ever railway policeman – Joseph Sedgwick, who was the first police officer recruited to the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

Extract from the Manchester Evening News – 10th August 1903.

Records are not only informative but can be amusing, such as the report of a railway policeman in Bristol who claimed he had been assaulted by the devil whilst he was on night-duty! (Perhaps it was the night inspector waking him up after he had fallen asleep?- Ed)

The BTP History group have now tasked Ed Thompson and I to research these newspaper archives. We are carefully considering how this will be done – for instance we will also need to search other terms such as “Railway Constable” “Railway Sergeant” etc. A careful search through the newspaper archives will reveal much information not previously available. The BTP Roll of Honour Timeline, Nominal Roll and other lists will be added to and enhanced.

I would like to thank Paul Robb for sponsoring this challenging project, Viv Head for his insightful encouragement and Ed Thompson for taking on the task.


This article originally appeared in the BTPHG Year Book 2012.


WebMaster’s Note:

As of 19/10/2012 the British Newspaper Archive has scanned 5,839,668 pages.

As of 25/11/2015 the British Newspaper Archive has scanned 12,329,093 pages.