A Brief History of the London Transport Police

Alfred Peedle

Alfred Peedle

Some personal recollections by Alfred C PEEDLE, MCIT,  a London Transport Police Officer from 1934 to 1974.

I joined the police for the London Passenger Transport Board’s premises, staff and passengers on the 28th May 1934, having previously worked in the wholesale book trade and then in the Operating Department of the Metropolitan Railway Company as a Porter-cum-Signal Cabin Lad at Aldgate Station. This is where I learnt much about railway working from the Station Foreman, Jack SHAW.

The London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) had been established the previous year by Act of Parliament and Section 107 of the LPTB Act of 1934 authorised Magistrates to appoint Constables. Recruits took the usual form of oath to serve the Crown, and they enjoyed all the powers, protections and privileges of a Constable at Common Law, together with those extra powers given to railway officers by the various railway Acts of Parliament. They were so sworn and appointed on the application of the LPTB usually at the Westminster Police Court – as it was then known.

In 1934 staff in the Police Superintendent’s Office covered many administrative matters which could hardly be termed ‘police work’. However, it was true that a similar position existed in many City and Borough Forces. 

These extra duties included receiving and checking reports relating to unpaid fares, also writing letters to the passengers concerned, in the name of the Railway Operating Manager, requesting payment and cost of postage. Other work included:

  • Compiling a summary of the previous days accidents involving passengers and staff, for signature by the Operating Manager and submission to the Ministry of Transport;
  • Authorising the storage of staff cycles at railway stations without charge;
  • The release of cloakroom deposits to ex-prisoners without payment (these usually consisted of workmen’s tools)
  • Preparing reports for the Ministry about broken axles from information provided by the rolling stock engineer.

Eventually these extra matters were taken over by other departments of the Board.

Constables had first been appointed in connection with railway undertakings when these were being constructed in the early 1800’s. The gangs of ‘navvies’, who had previously been used to construct the canals, went on to build the railways. They were a rough crowd and, as the rail head progressed through the countryside, the people living in the towns and villages felt threatened, especially on pay days when the gangs descended upon the local ale houses. The situation reached a stage where Parliament required the builders to pay for Constables to police the navvies, not only on the railway but also to be in support of the local ‘Watch’ or ‘Constable’.

After the railways were constructed, the railway Constables were required to protect the railway, provide for the safety of passengers, luggage and goods and also act as signalmen until such time as a system of signalling, operated by signalmen, came into use. Even in 1934, on the Metropolitan and Great Central line out to Aylesbury and beyond a signalman was known as the ‘Constable’ or ‘Bobby’.

My father, who retired from the railway in 1947 as a Divisional Inspector, was at one time a signalman near Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire and was known as ‘The Constable.’

Mr J.R. WHITBREAD, in his book ‘The Railway Policeman’ describes in detail the early days of the Constable on the track and continued the story up to the time of the British Transport Commission. It is to be regretted that he had little to say about the police of London Transport, but then the Transport Police Force only became part of the Commission’s Police Force in December 1958, over ten years after the Commission was established.

Whilst on the subject of the printed word, J.P THOMAS, who became General Manager of the London Transport Railways in 1933, in his book ‘Handling London’s Underground Traffic’ published in 1928, devoted just 26 lines to “Police and Lost Property Section” of the Railway Operating Department. The entry starts “This section (of my department) is a necessary evil in railway work.” He went on to say that some 300 passengers or trespassers have to be prosecuted annually, their fines and costs amounting to £700 whilst 35,000 people leave property on the railway and only 35 percent claim their belongings. He also wrote that the actual work of the Police department on the railway is ‘comparatively insignificant’. His background was of the ‘Underground’ group of railways.

After 1934 this attitude of management from the Underground people slowly changed. The Metropolitan Railway had always valued their Police Department and Superintendent Percy L SMITH MC of that force took charge of the new LPTB Force with other former Metropolitan Railway Police Officers in supporting ranks in April 1934.

The other book dealing with the London Transport Police, a work of fiction but based on fact is by J. J. MASTIC (John CREASEY) entitled ‘Gideons Ride’ published by Hodder and Stoughton. Although containing what, in part, can only be described as ‘poetic licence’, it deals with a time when the London Transport Force was working closely with the Metropolitan Police Special Branch and M.I.5 in connection with subversives bent on changing the establishment by encouraging industrial unrest. Strikes had taken place in the mines and ports and the idea was to bring London to a standstill with a combined rail and bus strike. However there were rail and bus strikes but not at the same time.

THE RISE OF LONDON’S RAILWAYS

The first of London’s underground railways was the Metropolitan Line between Farringdon and Bishops Road, Paddington, opened in 1863. The steam engines were provided by the Great Western Railway (GWR), which had employed Constables since that railway was constructed in the early 1800’s. From 1863 until the Metropolitan Railway became part of the London Passenger Transport Board empire there was an interchange of staff between the two railways. Indeed the last but one Station Master at Baker Street Station to wear a top hat on duty, Mr TREASURER, was a former GWR man.

The Metropolitan Company, jointly with the GWR, extended its line to Hammersmith with a branch to Addison Road (Olympia), known as the Hammersmith and City Line. The GWR ran goods trains to Smithfield Meat Market and also onto the Southern Railways by way Farringdon and Blackfriars and later over the East London Line.

There is some evidence that the early Police for the Metropolitan Railway came from the GWR. A Chief Inspector of the Metropolitan force had an office at the first Metropolitan Railways Headquarters close to Paddington Station. The Constables employed by the Metropolitan Company enjoyed “Main Line” (that is GWR) rates of pay and conditions of service, and their department was ranged with the Claims Department under the Company Secretary and legal Advisor. This situation continued until 1934.

It is recorded that in 1880, Chief Inspector GOSDEN of the Metropolitan Railway Police and Inspector LITTLECHILD of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s Office travelled to New York and on to Philadelphia to arrest and bring back to England a Mr TAPSON, the secretary and treasurer of the Metropolitan Railway Provident Savings Bank who had decamped following defalcations amounting to £10,000. A similar case involving the same bank was dealt with by the London Transport Police on 1940. The then secretary and treasurer was found in the West Country by Detective William SWEETING.

The other Police establishments to eventually become part of the London Transport Force started with the building of the other London Underground railways. The significant dates are:

  • 1864 Hammersmith and City Line
  • 1865 Metropolitan Line extended to Moorgate
  • 1868 Opening of the District Railway from High Street Kensington to Gloucester Road and Westminster.
  • 1869 East London Line opened between Wapping and New Cross
  • 1877 District Railway trains begin to run over the London and South Western tracks to Richmond.
  • 1879 District Railway extended from Turnham Green to Ealing.
  • Metropolitan and St Johns Wood railway extended from Swiss Cottage to Willesden Green and the following year to Harrow
  • 1883 District Railway: Acton Town to Hounslow opened and the following year extended to Hounslow Barracks (now Hounslow West)
  • 1884 Inner Circle line completed between Aldgate and Mansion House – joint Metropolitan and District railway
  • 1885-9 The Metropolitan Railway extended from Harrow to Aylesbury. Later became the Metropolitan and Great Central Joint Railway
  • 1890 City and South London tube railway opened between King William Street and Stockwell; (now part if the Northern Line)
  • 1900 Opening of the first section of the Central London Railway from Shepherds Bush to Bank
  • 1902 Incorporation of the “Underground Electric Railways Company of London Ltd”., which took over the Metropolitan District Traction Company and built Lots Road generating station at Chelsea;
  • 1904 Great Northern and City Railway opened between Moorgate and Finsbury Park;
  • 1906 Bakerloo Line opened between Baker Street and Elephant and Castle;
  • 1907 Hampstead Line opened from Charing Cross to Highgate and Golders Green;
  • 1910 Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Hampstead Lines merged into the London Electric Railway Company;
  • 1933 London Passenger Transport Board established by Act of Parliament.

As each of the new railways were built, they were granted parliamentary powers, these included a section giving Magistrates authority to swear in Constables to police the railway lines and premises. These officers could act as such on the property of the railway and in respect of any offence which affected the railway, such as stone throwing or showing a light in such a way as to cause a train to be obstructed.

They could also follow and arrest any person who had committed an arrestable offence on, or in connection with the railway anywhere in the United Kingdom, except Scotland, without an arrest warrant. Later, in the 1960’s, any Constable, including those of the LT, was empowered to arrest a person reasonably suspected of having committed an offence against the railway by laws, whose name and address was unknown and could not be ascertained. This was in response to the serious increase in crimes of violence affecting passengers and staff on London’s railways. This act was also extended to cover the Public Service Vehicle regulations applied to PSVs on the roads or on London Transport premises.

LONDON TRANSPORT’S POLICE

In April 1934 under the powers granted in the LPTB Act of that year, Percy SMITH, Superintendent of the Metropolitan Railway Police Force took command of all the various police and security units of the undertakings absorbed by the new board, except the Security Department of the London County Council Tramways whose pay and conditions of service were way ahead of Police pay and conditions at that time. This latter unit continued for some years under Mr HANCOCK. Superintendent SMITH had as his number two, Frank MERCER, who had been in charge of the Underground’s Police Forces.

On the District Line, Police Constables had been members of station staff under the charge of the Station Master. With the new arrangement, the uniformed officers were located at Cranbourn Chambers above Leicester. Square Station. Inspector Walter GREEN assisted by Sergeant John WOODAGE and Acting Sergeant Harry LUCAS being in charge. There were twenty constables and one woman constable, Miss AUSTIN, who had her own office at Trafalgar Square Station (now Charing Cross). Her special duties involved the many female prostitutes who worked at Piccadilly Circus and other central area stations.

A CONSTABLE’S DAY

A typical early turn duty for a Constable was:

  • ‘Book on’ at Cranbourn Chambers at 6.30 am
  • Walk to Strand Station and there turn out the tramps who went into the subways for warmth when the station opened.
  • To Charing Cross Station (now Embankment) to remove tramps sleeping on the station roof under the Southern Railway tracks.
  • Onwards by train to Morden station to assist with the control of the heavy workmen’s traffic (cheap, return workmen’s tickets were issued up to 7.30am at which time the Constable, and members of the station staff, would take up positions at the end of the queues at the ticket windows. All latecomers had to pay the full fare).
  • Leave Morden about 8 a.m. and back to Leicester Square to report to the duty Sergeant at Cranbourn Chambers.
  • A 30 minute refreshment break
  • Then to Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road Stations, or on a Thursday and Friday to 55 Broadway to escort a Paymaster, finishing duty not before 3 pm.

This was total of 8 hours 30 minutes, including, the meal time. Back in those days Constables worked 13 days out of 14 and the Sunday working was paid extra at a day and a quarter.

THE DETECTIVES

A Detective Squad was formed at Mr SMITH’S HQ at 55 Broadway, Westminster above St. James’s Park Station under Detective Chief Inspector James SMITH (no relation to the Superintendent) who was assisted by Inspectors Leon PALMER, and Edward HUNT, Sergeants John RYMAN and Les ALDRICH, and other officers including a Woman Detective, Mrs STURT. Additional officers were soon recruited.

The main detective office was eventually moved to Cranbourn Chambers on the second floor above the railway control offices. A few officers remained at 55 Broadway.

THE FORCE IN THE EARLY DAYS

It was not long before the road services, bus, coach and tramways and the various engineering departments of the Board were seeking assistance from the new Force. Requests, which were welcomed by Superintendent SMITH who was then able to increase the police strength and take on further civilian help.

Although the railways General Manager, J. P. THOMAS, had little time for the railway police, he was reluctant to have them removed from his Department. There was also the problem of certain Station Masters on the District Line, especially at Victoria and Charing Cross Stations who resented the fact that their control of the Police Constables had been lost. However, patient attention to duties and professionalism of the new Force soon became appreciated and Superintendent SMITH received letters of thanks for assistance given by his officers with the control of passenger traffic, not only in the peaks but also for football matches at Waltham Green, Arsenal, Tottenham and Wembley; cricket at Lords and the Oval; and later with King George V’s Jubilee, then his lying in state at Westminster followed by the Coronation of King George VI. All these and many other events caused great crowds to assemble in London, which resulted in overcrowding on the underground railways in the central area.

There was a further problem of the British Union of Fascists under Sir Oswald MOSELY. They used to gather at Tower Hill, then march in an orderly manner to Ridley Road, Dalston. Our force worked closely with the City and Metropolitan Forces and leap-frogged from railway station to railway station as the marches progressed. London Transport provided buses to transport the Metropolitan Police to anticipated trouble spots, and the far leftists hurled abuse and missiles at the marching men and the buses.

One Sunday, as the duty acting Detective Sergeant, I had to deal with a problem of seven men charged at a variety of police stations with breaking bus windows with bricks when in fact only six windows had been broken.

From 1934 the London Transport Force was supported by uniformed Travelling Ticket Inspectors sworn in as Constables. All railway operating staff down to the grade of Station Foreman had also been sworn in as Constables. These people were looked upon as being ‘Special Constables’ and received basic police training from Inspectors PALMER and HUNT. It should be remembered that many of London Transport Railway staff had started their working lives with service in the armed forces.

THE “IRISH PROBLEM”

From 1936, up to and during the war years, explosive bombs, contained in suitcases, were placed in station cloak-rooms and inflammable devices in envelopes were tucked into seating on buses and trains. I don’t recall any serious fires, although the contents of some Post Office letter boxes were damaged. Bombs did explode at Tottenham Court Road Station, where a member of staff was killed, and at Leicester Square Station where a handrail at the head of the stairs leading down to the circulation area was struck – the damage can still be seen. I missed this particular bomb by only five minutes. It was at this time I had my first contact with the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police which had offices in Chambers next to Westminster Station. One such contact, who retired as a Chief Inspector, Charles WARD, remained a firm friend, and after he retired, became a vetting training officer at the M.O.D.

THE SECOND WORLD WAR

In early 1939 it was clear that war with Germany was likely and plans were made. Some members of the London Transport Force being on the reserve were called to the colours and Superintendent SMITH turned to the Police Pensioners Association for help, a number of these retired officers stayed in the Force after the war.

During September 1939 we were involved with the evacuation by tube trains of expectant mothers and, children from London. It was not all plain sailing. I was on duty in uniform at Enfield West (Piccadilly Line) station on September 2nd where the trains were arriving one after the other in the following order:

  • Passenger,
  • Expectant mothers,
  • Passenger,
  • Children with schoolteachers
  • then back to passenger.

During the morning a uniformed postman, having seen his son off to war, and being somewhat the worse for drink touched the side of a moving train with his left shoulder. He was rolled around like a milk churn, dropped onto the track between the cars and then squashed between the side of the next car and the platform edge. The train guard, who had been keeping a lookout, stopped the train and on my signal the motorman reversed a few feet, releasing the body. A porter got the station stretcher and the dead man was quickly carried up the stairs and placed by the telephones in the care of a Red Cross nurse – all this just before the next train load of expectant mothers arrived!

The next day I accompanied an Army Officer when soldiers were posted on the railway between Farringdon and Blackfriars, a vital link between North and South, also either end of the East London line tunnel under the Thames and also at the LPTB’s electrical control room at Long Acre. At this time, London Transport had Generating Stations at Lots Road, Chelsea and at Greenwich and Neasden.

A few days later a soldier was struck and killed by a passing train on the East London line.

The London Transport Police first manned ‘War Posts’ at Baker Street, Charing Cross and Elephant and Castle stations where they were joined by the Travelling Ticket Inspectors acting as special constables.

Police HQ at 55 Broadway was manned 24 hours, but after about 2 months the uniformed police returned to Cranbourn Chambers and Baker Street, and an emergency control past was set up at the west end of the eastbound Piccadilly Line platform at Leicester Square Station for use during air raids. A police reserve and rest room was placed next to the emergency railway control office of the subway connecting the Northern and Piccadilly Line platforms at Leicester Square Station.

I remember that following the evacuation from Dunkirk, all LT Police attended the Baker Street Station firing range for small arms training. We were permitted just two shots each, ammunition being in short supply. (To go ahead somewhat, when I took command in 1958, I found we still had a number of Webley revolvers and 2,000 rounds of ammunition. With the good offices of a senior member of the London Scottish TA Regiment, a party of police went to Pirbright and the ammunition was expended, the revolvers being sent to Force HQ.)

It had been the intention of the Government that the tube railway stations would not be used as air raid shelters, but when the raids started on London, the Londoners decided otherwise, so the London Transport Police became involved with the problems relating to the shelters. Nothing had been done to help or control them. They placed their bedding on the platforms and subways. Eventually J. P. THOMAS, who had retired, was called back to look after the shelters and also London Transport’s interests. Regulations were drawn up, bunks erected, refreshment service arranged, First Aid posts manned and toilets installed. By the end of September 1940, 175,000 people sheltered at the deep level tube stations, and by early 1941 bunk beds had been installed at 79 stations.

London Transport Police Officers attended stations that had been bombed to help passengers, shelterers and staff and protect property. These included Bank, Sloane Square, Balham, Covent Garden and many others. Most Police Officers worked a twelve-hour day, with one day off each two weeks. The bomb incident at Balham Station on the 14th October 1940 fractured a sewer, a piped river, a water main, and also broke into the tunnel. The lower station, being in a dip, soon filled with sludge and water. The shelterers were trapped because the flood gates at the lower circulating area were closed and locked against them. Many escaped by running through the tunnel to the next station, but the bodies of 64 shelterers and 4 members of staff were eventually recovered. It took three months to clear the debris and find all the dead. Two constables, James CASEY and Ted DAVIES performed duty there receiving the bodies and protecting the site.

Some of the other main incidents were at Bank Station, which caused the road to collapse onto the sub-surface ticket hall and footways – 56 people were killed and 69 injured – Trafalgar Square Station (now Charing Cross) where 7 shelterers were killed and Bounds Green Station were 19 were killed.

Apart from the railways, the Force was also involved in detective duties in connection with London Aircraft Productions Limited (an LT offshoot), which built Halifax bombers at Chiswick, Aldenham and Leavesden Airport, until the RAF Regiment took over.

POST WAR

When peace came the Force resumed the normal role. Again special events caused crowds to come into London but the central area stations were not up to dealing with the extra traffic – even that which used the railway at daily peak times caused problems of congestion. Many of the stations needed urgent modernisation, escalators were worn out, ticket halls and circulating areas too small. The Police and operating staff devised systems of crowd control at most of the stations which resulted in their being one way in and another out, with emergency exits manned. Special arrangements were made at certain stations, such as Oxford Circus, Bond Street, Charing Cross (now Embankment), Bank, Kings Cross and London Bridge, Wembley Park, Arsenal, Mansion House and Kennington.

The London Transport Police unit was divided into two divisions, North and South. North Divisional Office was at first at Baker Street, then St. Pancras Chambers and South at 55 Broadway and later at Lambeth North. The Central Line was the boundary between South and North. Out stations were established at Rickmansworth and later at Upton Park.

by Alfred C. Peedle

Continued in Part 2

Note:
The above account was given to me by Mr PEEDLE’s son who retired after many years as a Chief Inspector in the Metropolitan Police.
Kevin GORDON