The History of the Scottish Railway Police

by David Conner


There have been ‘constables’ and ‘railways’ in Scotland for several centuries, but as to when ‘railway constables’ came about is a matter of conjecture. The earliest lines were ‘tramways’, usually serving to transport coal between mine and harbour, and manpower or horse traction (or ropes on steep inclines) was the order of the day.

John Thomas in ‘The Scottish Railway Book’ (David & Charles, 1977) records that the first public passenger-carrying railway in Scotland was the Garnkirk & Glasgow Railway, opened to traffic in 1831. (Note that the first place named in the title of a Railway Company was normally the most important – e.g. LONDON, Brighton & South Coast; or INVERNESS & Nairn – so one wonders what was the significance of Glasgow being relegated to second place! )

The Garnkirk & Glasgow line was first built to 4ft 6in gauge and was extended (and retitled) to become the Glasgow, Garnkirk & Coatbridge in 1841, before becoming part of the Caledonian Railway in 1846. (‘The Caledonian Railway’, O.S. Nock, Ian Allan Ltd, 1963).

When the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock & Ayr Railway proposed its line agreement was reached that it should share the Glasgow to Paisley stretch of track with the Glasgow, Paisley & Greenock company, as it was considered that one line between the two towns would be sufficient for anticipated traffic. The line became the Glasgow & Paisley Joint Railway during 1839.

Each of these in its own way being an important line, it is perhaps not too surprising to learn that each had its own Police. In both cases a button has been discovered, that of the G&GR bearing the very pretty design of an early 0-4-0 tender locomotive surrounded by the title “GARNKIRK & GLASGOW RAILWAY POLICE”.

The G & P J button bears only wording, namely GLASGOW & PAISLEY RAILWAY in a circular style with JOINT LINE POLICE across the centre. The word POLICE is larger than all other lettering.

From which legislation the authority to create a Police Force was obtained is unclear, but it may perhaps be drawn from the powers of an Act of 1845 (8 & 9 Vict., c.3) ‘for the Appointment of Constables or other officers for keeping the Peace near Public Works in Scotland’.

This would seem similar to an Act of 1838 (presumably only applying ‘south of the Border’) which according to J.R. WHITBREAD in ‘The Railway Policeman’ (Harrap, 1961) was the first legislation to provide for any form of policing of the railway whilst under construction, i.e. to protect the public from the navvies more or less.

Subsequent to that 1838 Act, Whitbread records that Acts authorising the construction of lines included the provision for appointment of special constables, and this situation would have applied equally in Scotland, once the line was open for traffic, to protect the railway from the public.

Another interesting piece of information which has turned up is a pro forma of the Glasgow, Paisley & Greenock Railway, completed by William DUTTON, and entitled: “Policeman’s Report : 1842”. Dated May 7, it bears the following dire warning:

Policemen are forbidden to cross the Line themselves, or to allow others to do so, in front of an approaching Engine; or to stand with three feet of the Rails. The signal of safety not to be given to a Train overtaking them, or which has gone over the ground since they walked over it.”

PC DUTTON was required to sign the following certificate:

“I hereby certify having inspected my beat every morning before the first Train, going by one Line of Rail and returning by the other, taking care that both Lines were in exact gauge, that all gates were shut, and every obstruction removed. Whenever any part was found in bad order, I called the attention of the Foreman or Inspector to it; and the proper signals were exhibited according to the state of the road, or while under repair. I have also carefully gone over all the Embankments, Bridges, Fences, Slopes, Cuttings, and Drains, on my beat, the result given above.”

The form also required the signature of (presumably) the signalman at either end of the beat, together with the hour – no doubt to prove that the officer had indeed covered his beat.

DUTTON had been at the east end of his beat at 0800, 1100, 1500 and 1900 hours, and at the west end at 0700 and 1200 hours. His afternoon visit(s) do not appear clearly in the copy of the document. His “east” visits are certified by one Stewart GOVAN and at the west by Peter REILLY.

DUTTON also remarks: ‘slope vail too low at Hatton Crossing to be a sufficient fence – must be immediately repaired’.

One might be inclined to dismiss the foregoing as hardly the duties of a ‘real’ police officer and more like an ordinary railwayman – but let us not forget that the Police (Scotland) Act of 1857 (and every subsequent replacement Act to date) defines the primary duty of a police officer to be to ‘guard watch and patrol’, exactly what DUTTON was paid to do.

Stephen MARRIOTT (Editor of the Journal of PICA-GB) (the Police Insignia Collectors Association of Great Britain) has done a great deal of research in records of returns of staff made by railway companies in the United Kingdom held at the Public Records Office at Kew, London.

His research has gleaned much useful and intriguing information in these ‘Board of Trade’ returns, although records were found to be regrettably incomplete. Mind you that is hardly surprising – the annals of British Railway history abound with instances of companies whose administration failed miserably to live up to their enthusiasm!

In the 1847 returns the Glasgow & Paisley Joint Line is recorded as having 13 in the column entitled ‘Policemen’.

The entries – for 1856, 1858, 1859 and 1860 – refer to ‘Policeman or Watchmen’ and the numbers respectively are given as 5, 10, 5 and 7. The next return is for 1884, when the heading was purely ‘Policemen’ and the number was by then down to 2.

The Glasgow, Paisley & Greenock was absorbed into the Caledonian Railway in 1851, and its returns show 14 ‘Policemen’ in 1847/48. Thereafter the terminology used in the return was ‘Policemen or Watchmen’ and it boasted

  • 1848   10
  • 1849   15
  • 1850   12
  • 1851     7

The Garnkirk & Glasgow (as enlarged) had become part of the ‘Caley’ by the time the returns began but is recorded as having 4 ‘Policemen’ in 1847.

The Caledonian’s returns were: (‘Policemen’ in 1848, and thence ‘Policemen or Watchmen’)

  • 1848  153
  • 1849    30
  • 1850    69
  • 1851    24
  • 1852    27
  • 1853    29
  • 1854    44
  • 1855    26
  • 1856    39
  • 1857    18
  • 1858    21
  • 1859    25
  • 1860    21

Presumably the high early number of 153 comprised a large force of men to keep a close eye on the newly opened main line from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Carlisle. Once it was found that all had bedded down properly, and that bridges and embankments were up to the weights imposed upon them, a corresponding reduction in staff would have been justified.

Perhaps a further reason for 1848 having such a large Police staff is accounted for by the fact that the first stage of the line (from Beattock to Carlisle, the rest of the journey to Edinburgh or Glasgow being made by stagecoach) had only been open for traffic for one day (September 1847) when:

‘some maliciously disposed Person or Persons did lay a TREE across the rails of the CALEDONIAN RAILWAY on the ESK VIADUCT by which, had it not been perceived in time, the most frightful consequences to the Ten PM Train must have ensued.’

The words (and the capitalisation) are taken from the poster issued by the Caley, which offered £100 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible.

One wonders if anyone was ever detected for this heinous crime, and if so was the reward claimed? None of the histories published on the Caley make any mention of the perpetrators being traced.

The Annual Returns also included the numbers of Policemen employed on lines under construction, i.e. those sworn in as constables under the 1845 Act. These constables can be discounted from being considered as members of a police force proper, since they were appointed as and when necessary and without internal control.

The situation was revised and resolved by the Police (Scotland) Act, 1857 (20 & 21 Vict., c.72) which repealed the 1845 Act, and by virtue of sections VII and VIII provided for the appointment of additional constables in two sets of circumstances only:

Section VII:

permitted the Chief Constable of a County to grant the application – if such was deemed justified – for appointment of one or more Constables at the cost of the individual so applying, but the Constables so appointed were to be subject to the orders of the Chief Constable and were to have the same powers, privileges and duties as all other Constables under the Act.

Note: In fact Queen Victoria herself was one such individual to avail herself of this section, paying the Aberdeenshire Constabulary for the services of a constable at Balmoral Castle. The Duke of Sutherland similarly paid for three Constables of the Sutherland Constabulary to police the Kildonan Goldfields near Helmsdale in the same way. There were many other similar situations.

Section VIII:

empowered the Sheriff, or any two Justices of the Peace, of a County within which a railway, canal or other public works was being constructed, to receive application from the company carrying out the works for the appointment of such number of Constables as the Sheriff or Justices may deem necessary for the purpose of ‘keeping the peace, and for the security of persons and property against crimes and unlawful acts within the limits of such public works and within a mile therefrom’.

The Chief Constable of the County would then be directed to appoint the necessary number of Constables for duty at the works, at the expense (wages and allowances) of the Company constructing the works.

The constables engaged purely for the construction of railways were therefore members of the County Force and subject of inspection by HM Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland. HM Inspector made mention of such supernumerary staff in his Annual Report on each Force. Constables / Policemen employed by a railway company after the line had opened for traffic were not subject to such inspection, not being maintained at public expense.

Discounting the “construction-phase” police staff means the list of railway companies in Scotland recorded as employing Policemen (or Watchmen) for the period 1847 to 1860 is considerably reduced. It should be pointed out that no Board of Trade records have been found for the periods pre 1847 and between 1861 and 1883.

The records in respect of 1884 are far clearer, with much amalgamation having taken place by then. Post 1884, no separate listings of “policemen” were made. The 1911 return is of little or no help since it comprises in one cumulative figure of “Ticket Collectors, Policemen and Porters”.

Returning to the pre-1861 figures, these are worthy of closer scrutiny. Firstly one must accept that, where a return relates purely to “policemen” (as opposed to “Policemen and Watchmen”) then a Police Force administered by the Railway Company did exist, and therefore in such instances earlier / later references in respect of the same Railway Company to “Policemen and Watchmen” (P/W) must also be construed as a continuation of the same Police Force.

The following companies fall into this category prior to their absorption into one of the “big” Scottish pre-1923 railway companies”

Note: the ‘big’ company is indicated in parenthesis:

  • CR = Caledonian
  • GS = Glasgow & South Western
  • NB = North British

Instances earlier/later references in respect of the same Railway Company to ‘Policemen or Watchmen’ (‘P/W’) must also be construed as a continuation of the same Police Force.

The following Companies fall into this category prior to their absorption into one of the ‘big’ Scottish pre-1923 Companies:

    • 6 men in 1848
    • (6-12 men in P/W category up to 1855)
    • 153 men in 1848 (already mentioned)
    • 3 men (1847);
    • 11 (1848) (5-16 men in P/W category up to 1860)
  • 4 – DUNDEE & NEWTYLE (CR):
    • 1 man in 1847
    • (2 in 1849 & 1850 in ‘P/W’ category)
  • 5 – DUNDEE & PERTH (CR):
    • 19 men in 1848 (Note: this Company was retitled in 1848 to include the word ‘ABERDEEN’)
    • 8 (1847); 17 (1848)
    • (10-26 in P/W category up to 1860)
    • 5 in 1847
    • 13 in 1847 (already mentioned)
    • 14 (1847)
    • 10 (1848)
    • 15 (1849)
    • 4 (1847);
    • 12 (1848) (6-13 in P/W category 1849/50)
    • 4 in 1847 : (may relate to 1846 – see above)
    • 10 (1847);
    • 17 (1848)
    • 27 (1847);
    • 21 (1848) (4-23 in P/W category up to 1860)
    • 3 in 1847 (11-18 in P/W category up to 1860)
  • 15 – WISHAW & COLTNESS (CR):
    • 8 in 1847
    • 2 (1847); 3 (1848)
    • (4 in P/W in 1849)

Taking each of these Companies in turn:

  1. amalgamated with the Scottish Midland Junction Railway (which had 1 P/W in 1850-1852 and 2 in 1853-1855) during 1856 to form the Aberdeen & Scottish Midland Junction Railway (24 P/W in 1856), which was renamed the Scottish North Eastern Railway in 1857 (16-28 P/W, 1857- 1860) before being absorbed in to the Caledonian in 1866.
  2. continued growing and growing, until the 1923 grouping.
  3. was taken over in 1863 by the Scottish North Eastern which merged with the Caledonian in 1866 (later a Joint Line)
  4. was taken over by Scottish Central in 1863 and in turn the Caledonian in 1866, although it was technically independent until 1923
  5. was taken over by Scottish Central in 1863 and in turn merged with the Caledonian in 1866
  6. was taken over by the North British in 1865
  7. absorbed by Edinburgh & Northern Railway in 1847 (merged with North British 1851)
  8. was a Joint Line (CR & GS) up to the 1923 grouping, when it became part of the London Midland & Scottish, as did CR & GS
  9. was absorbed by the Caledonian in 1850/51.
  10. was absorbed into newly created Glasgow & South Western 1850
  11. absorbed by Caledonian in 1846/47
  12. was absorbed into the Monkland Railway (3-15 P/W, 1849-1860) which was in turn absorbed by North British 1865
  13. continued growing and growing, until the 1923 grouping.
  14. merged with Caledonian in 1866
  15. was absorbed by Caledonian in 1848
  16. was absorbed by 6 in 1849

Considering these various amalgamations, we can take an educated guess and reasonably safely assume that each of the Companies which absorbed any of the Railway Companies listed at 1) – 16) above, or which came about through mergers with any other, also had a Police force – providing that there is a non-zero entry in the appropriate return made under the ‘Policemen or Watchmen’ category.

Those which fulfil these requirements are:

  • DUNDEE & PERTH & ABERDEEN (see note below)

Note: The Dundee & Perth Railway Company took over the Dundee & Newtyle and the Dundee & Arbroath companies in 1848, which occasioned the VERY optimistic addition of the words ‘& Aberdeen’ to the Company title. In point of fact Arbroath was as far north as the company ever reached and in 1850 it pulled out of involvement with the Dundee & Arbroath, leaving the latter to ‘go it alone’.

As recounted in 3) above, the Dundee & Arbroath eventually became part of the Scottish North Eastern and subsequently the Caledonian, but even later it became a joint line, of which more later.

Let us now consider the THIRD group of Railway companies – those which at some time during the period 1847 – 1860 made positive returns of staff employed under the ‘Policemen or Watchmen’ category, for lines then open to traffic.

In each case, there is NO definite proof that the Company had a Police force as such. It is therefore a matter of concluding, from the history of the company and any other information available, whether the ‘Policemen or Watchmen’ return constituted a Police force or not.

One cannot generalise – the very fact that a Company had only ONE man does not necessary preclude its being a Police force, as more than one Burgh in Scotland during that period had but a solitary constable but was accepted by H.M. Inspectorate as a bona fide Police force. (Whether HMI considered a one-man outfit as an EFFICIENT force or not is of course another matter and the same could apply to Railway Police, but one cannot believe that shareholder or office-bearers of a Railway Company would permit the appointment of someone as ‘their’ police officer without ensuring they got true value for money.)

The question though remains – were these railway employees a product of the 1845 Act, or of the company’s Act of Authorisation, or were they really ‘policemen’ at all?

Looking at each in turn, and making an educated guess where possible:

  • ARDROSSAN RAILWAY (1 man, 1849 – 1854)
    This Company, which was absorbed by the G&SWR in 1854, was the final stage in the line to Ardrossan Pier from Glasgow. With Ardrossan being the important ferry port for Arran, and that island becoming a popular resort through the coming of the railway, a constable for the ferry terminus could well have been justified.
    Distinct POSSIBLE
    Merged into the Great North of Scotland Railway in 1854, this was a line which had only achieved about half of its intended length before having to seek GNSR help to complete its entirely rural line.
  • CALEDONIAN & DUMBARTONSHIRE RLY (2-3 men, 1851-58; 3 in 1860)
    Being located in the Central belt, a police presence would seem to have been a prerequisite. It amalgamated with the Edinburgh & Glasgow Company prior to 1865. POSSIBLE
  • CRIEFF JUNCTION RAILWAY (2 men, 1856-57)
    This 12-mile long line to connect Crieff to the Perth-Stirling main line met that main line in the middle of the countryside, crossed rural country for the whole length of the line and terminated in the small town of Crieff. It opened in 1856 and was taken over completely by the Scottish Central Railway.

This was a strangely quaint company, with naive directors who hired staff no less than three times before the railway actually opened for traffic, and who ordered TEN GROSS (1,440) of buttons for staff uniforms – each with a black face ram’s head design thereon!

The following tit-bit appears in John THOMAS’ fascinating book ‘Forgotten Railways : Scotland’ (David & Charles, 1976):

‘William Taylor and John DOUGELL were apprehended by the company constable, and charged before the Sheriff with smoking in the Terminal (station).’

Unfortunately no date is given for this occurrence but it does at least show that a police force (of some sort) did exist in its early days. PROBABLE

  • DEESIDE RAILWAY (1 man in 1854)
    This line existed as an independent company from 1853 to 1876 when it was taken over by the GNSR. The single constable could have been taken on for security and crowd control occasioned by the use of the Railway by Queen Victoria on her holidays at Balmoral.
    After 1854 the company probably concluded it was both cheaper and more convenient to hire officers from the Aberdeenshire Constabulary when the need arose. POSSIBLE
  • DRUMPELLER RAILWAY (1 man in 1851) – never heard of this one!
    This line was definitely a misnomer in that it did not run to any of the three cities named in its title! Being however the principal railway in Fife, it did however reach Dundee by ferry from Tayport, Edinburgh by ferry from Burntisland, and Perth over Scottish Central lines from Hilton Junction.

The Company’ s name was changed from Edinburgh & Northern (opened 1847) in 1849. It was 1849/50 before its lines opened throughout, which accounts for its first return showing 24 men (1849) and then between 8 and 14 for the period 1850 – 1860.

It was by this company’s lines that the North British was able to compete for the East Coast traffic as far north as Aberdeen and to build Tay & Forth Bridges. The NB took over the company in 1862. PROBABLE

  • ELGIN RAILWAY (1 man in 1858, and 1858 – 1860) So far as can be ascertained, there never was an ‘Elgin Railway’. The only railway in the Elginshire (Morayshire) area in 1855 was that of the Morayshire Railway, which ran between Elgin and Lossiemouth. Perhaps there was a Station Constable at Elgin but if so – why only in 1855 ?The next arrival in Elgin was the Inverness & Aberdeen Junction Railway line from Inverness in 1858, which was pushed on later that same year as far as Keith to make an end-on junction with the GNSR line from Aberdeen, to form a through line from Inverness to Aberdeen. It is indeed highly likely that the Morayshire company felt obliged to have the services of a Constable at Elgin, so as to safeguard their interests, since relations with the main-line company were strained to say the least.The Morayshire Company is on record as having 4 men in 1854, which is recorded as ‘Morayshire Railway’ rather than ‘Elgin Railway’.One interesting point, which later came to light, was from the records of the Sutherland Constabulary – on the opposite shore of the Moray Firth.The Sutherland Force’s Personnel Record shows that an Alexander ANDERSON was taken on as a Constable in August 1863. While his Previous Trade is shown as ‘Farm Servant’, it is also noted that he previously had ‘about 2 years in Morayshire Ry Police.’ The “Ry” can only be Railway, so that Company did indeed seem to have a Police. It would appear, since Anderson’s Previous Trade is not shown as ‘Police’ that he must have reverted to Farm Work after finishing his railway policing.It is likely therefore that he was the Station Constable at Elgin until perhaps that post was done away with on economic grounds. It is possible by dint of his hard work that PC ANDERSON was in fact a victim of his own success.On the other hand he may simply have been paid off when the GNSR took over the running of the Morayshire Company’s trains (and affairs) on 1 July 1863. PC ANDERSON was taken on by Sutherland on 3 August 1863.One point worthy of emphasis is that at no time did the City of Elgin ever have a ‘Joint Station’, as was the case elsewhere where two companies ran to the same town over different but converging lines. The relationship between Highland Railway (successor to the Inverness & Aberdeen Joint) and the Great North of Scotland (who took over the Morayshire) was never cordial, to the extent that each Company had its own Station, the two being connected by a long curved platform.
  • FIFE & KINROSS RAILWAY (1 man in 1857) The small county town of Kinross gained its rail link to the main line (Edinburgh Perth & Dundee at Ladybank) in 1858, although the line opened from the main line junction as far as Strathmiglo in 1857. The Company became part of the Edinburgh Perth & Dundee Company in 1862. Perhaps the solitary officer was the ‘company constable’ until cash dried up. POSSIBLE
  • FORTH & CLYDE JUNCTION RAILWAY (1 man in 1856) This line opened on 26 May 1856 and, running from Stirling to Balloch in Dunbartonshire, it retained its separate identity until 1923. It was however effectively a branch of the North British and a quiet rural line. Its need for a police officer would have questionable, but the company may have decided to have a ‘station constable’ at the outset for effect, before finding other work to occupy him more gainfully. POSSIBLE
    (1 man 1852-1860)

This line would seem to have been essentially a freight line, which later became part of the Caledonian. It could to very well have needed a uniformed police officer to deter pilferage and theft from premises and trains. POSSIBLE

  • GLASGOW BARRHEAD & NEILSTON DIRECT RLY (6 men 1849;  3 men 1850/51)

This line opened in 1848 and was leased to the Caledonian the next year before being absorbed into the Caledonian proper in 1851. It subsequently became a Joint Line, named the Glasgow Barrhead & Kilmarnock, and was shared by the Caledonian and the Glasgow & South Western.

It doubtless had policemen on patrol along the line in the same way as the other lines mentioned at the beginning of the article. PROBABLE

  • GREAT NORTH OF SCOTLAND RAILWAY (4-6 men 1855 – 1860) In 1855 the GNSR Company, which was to make the north east of Scotland its own exclusive territory, consisted of one line from Kittybrewster (north west of Aberdeen) to Huntly, and another from Kittybrewster to Waterloo Dock in Aberdeen. Their extension towards Inverness reached Keith in 1856, but it was another two years before Inverness and Aberdeen were linked by rail, and that was due to completion of the Inverness & Aberdeen Junction’s line from Inverness to Keith. It was not however until the early 1860s that the GNSR-funded companies began to open the many branch lines in the north-east. The GNSR was not a company which threw money away, so it is unlikely that they would see fit to have their own police officers when they could rely on the local county (or Aberdeen City) Police when they required law enforcement. In any case the GNSR certainly did not have its own force in later years when Constabulary Almanacs included Railway Forces. It certainly seems likely that, on taking over the running of the Morayshire Railway (see above) in 1863 they paid off Station Constable at Elgin, which tends to imply that they saw no need for their own Police. UNLIKELY
  • INVERNESS & ABERDEEN JUNCTION RAILWAY (2-3 men 1858 – 1860) This company’s only line until 1861 was from Nairn to Keith, which opened from Nairn to Forres in 1857 and from Forres to Elgin to Keith in 1858. One wonders what duties policemen would have had on such a rural line if a force did exist, unless it was for line inspection. UNLIKELY
  • INVERNESS & NAIRN RAILWAY (3 men 1856-1857) This company owned what was to become the first 15 miles of the Highland Railway main line to the south, and the area between Inverness and Nairn is entirely rural. The only conceivable duty for policemen proper would have been line inspection. This company merged with (xiv) in 1861.
  • KINROSS-SHIRE RAILWAY (4 men in 1860) This company’s 6½ mile single-track line opened in June 1860, running from the Edinburgh Perth & Dundee line at Lumphinans to a terminus at Kinross which it shared with (ix). It became part of the Edinburgh Perth & Dundee in 1861. POSSIBLE
  • MORAYSHIRE RAILWAY (4 men 1854) – see (viii) )MOST PROBABLE
  • SCOTTISH MIDLAND JUNCTION RAILWAY (1 man 1850-1852;  2 men 1853/55)

The SMJ main line through Strathmore opened between Perth and Forfar in February 1848, and the Forfar-Aberdeen was completed by the Aberdeen Railway in 1850, before it amalgamated with the SMJ in 1866. It was to prove a busy line but there were hardly any towns on the route – which cut through the ‘back’ of Angus, bypassing Dundee. Why an increase would be needed in the ‘police’ staff in 1853 is unclear.

At the time of the merger of the Aberdeen Railway and the SMJ, the Aberdeen company would probably have still had a police strength of 12 (which it had in 1855), and the returns after the merger showed double that number for the combined company, now known as the Scottish North Eastern Railway.

It could well be that the SMJ had policemen to check the line and supervise stations. The Dundee & Newtyle line connected with the SMJ and would have brought out many Dundee criminals into the countryside.

Certainly the new company – the SNER – had a proper police establishment in the 1860s. PROBABLE

  • STIRLING & DUNFERMLINE RAILWAY (1 man in 1852; 2 in 1855) This line is conspicuous by its absence of mention in any of the railway books in the author’s collection. The line was subsequently taken over by the North British and it had no obvious call for permanent police. UNLIKELY
  • WEST OF FIFE MINERAL RAILWAY (1 man in 1858/59) Being used solely for carriage of coal, this line’s need for a policeman would seem unlikely. It was absorbed in 1862 by the North British, which did have its own Force. UNLIKELY

That then concludes the 1848-1860 declarations. During his researches, Reginald HALE (PICA-GB member) found listings for both the SNER and Caledonian in the Police & Constabulary Almanac of 1865. At that time the Caledonian is shown as having a strength of seven men. Further mentions of the ‘Caley’ appear in the 1870 and 1871 editions.

By the 1880s, various factors – not least finance and efficiency – had been brought to bear on the Scottish railways. As a result Scotland was divided into five large railway companies, which comprised (in order of size):


Thankfully the 1884 Returns have survived and they specifically list ‘policemen’, defined as those keeping order at the large stations, being a total of 89 policemen, as detailed below.

  • Joint Lines (Constables):
    • DUNDEE & ARBROATH (CR and NBR): 1
    • GLASGOW & PAISLEY (CR and G&SWR): 2
  • Independent Companies:
    • CALEDONIAN 25 (3 Detectives, 22 Constables)
    • NORTH BRITISH 56 (1 Superintendent, 8 Inspectors, 47 Constables)
    • GLASGOW & SOUTH WESTERN 3 Constables
    • HIGHLAND 1 Constable.

The Great North of Scotland Company was not listed.

So far as the Highland is concerned, the author’s researches lead one to believe that this company – a very cost-conscious body – never had a police force of its own. To have done so would involve not only the paying of salaries but also the purchase of uniform and equipment. Further there was the extra expense to provide cover when the officer was sick or otherwise unavailable.

The principal station, and the only one of any size on the Highland system was (and still is) Inverness. Perth was a Caledonian station and off the Highland system, although the Highland did have a stake in the station and also maintained its own locomotive depot there.

Since Inverness maintained an efficient Burgh Police force which policed right up to the doors of, and indeed right around, Inverness Station, what could be better than take advantage of the provisions of the ‘Public Works’ section of the Police (Scotland) Act – thus having the Burgh Police supply a constable for duty at the railway station.

This is more than pure conjecture. Constable Archibald GRANT of Inverness Burgh Police performed the duty of ‘Railway Station Constable’ between 1896 and 1900 and, judging by the notes and clippings in his scrapbook, he was neither the first nor the last to perform that function.

That the duties of the Station Constable were many and various is not in dispute. Maira A. MACDONALD, in her book ‘By the Banks of the Ness’ (Paul Harris, Edinburgh, 1982) recalls:

Next to the stationmaster, perhaps the most worried and harassed official on Inverness platform was the station policeman. His duties, when considered, amounted to one eternal round of drudgery from early morning till late at night, and yet he performed them all with light-hearted cheerfulness. To enumerate his many tasks would be well night impossible, but the following were a few of them.”

“In addition to ordinary police supervision of the platform, the sidings, the goods shed, etc., he attended at the post office in the High Street every mail, brought down all head office and other letters, sorted and delivered them.

Not only so, but he made two or three calls at these offices every day in order to collect all letters for the outgoing mails. He had to ring a bell five minutes before the departure of each train, north and south, and close the front two doors of the station just as the starting whistle was blown. Furthermore, he was responsible for the posting up of the company’s advertising bills, including holiday bills, at the station, and had to prove himself more or less a walking encyclopaedia of ready information to satisfy the questioning strangers and local people whose interest in the railway helped to make it such a success.”

When she was recalling her own childhood in Inverness, immediately before the Great War, or was passing on the reminiscences of others, as elsewhere in her book, is not clear, but it is likely that the duties changed little over the years.

Certainly at the turn of the century it is recorded in the Minutes of Inverness Town Council that ‘Wages of Police repaid by Highland Railway Company for one year to 15 March 1900’ amounted to £69:12s:lld

As for the remainder of the Highland system, and of that of the Great North of Scotland and ‘off the beaten track’ parts of other Scottish railways, it would appear that, since the various railway companies were rate-payers, they were fully entitled to call upon the services of the local police forces as required. Certainly that situation prevails throughout the Highlands today – and at Inverness Station too – should no British Transport Police officer be available.

Further information concerning the north east area of Scotland has since come to light in the form of mentions of railway policing in the Silver Jubilee brochure produced by the Scottish North East Counties Constabulary (SNECC) in 1974.

In the same way as a Superintendent of a Burgh Force or a Chief Constable of a County might also have ‘second jobs’ as Weights and Measures Inspector or Procurator Fiscal, so it would appear he could also be a part-time chief officer of a railway.

It should also be borne in mind that prior to the passing of the Police (Scotland) Act of 1857, there no requirement on Burghs and Counties in Scotland to establish a police force although generally these had already been set up through earlier ‘voluntary’ legislation.

As the first HMI of Constabulary for Scotland, Colonel John KINLOCH of Logie, Kirriemuir, was to find in his travels in 1858 and beyond, (perhaps quite often using railways and doubtless encountering various railway police en route) there were differing standards of policing levels and efficiency around Scotland. He of course had no powers to inspect railway police, but only county or burgh police who would be eligible for Home Office grant if he reported the force as efficient.

Chronicling the history of Aberdeenshire Constabulary, the SNECC brochure records that Superintendent William ANDERSON (ex Metropolitan Police) retired as the Chief Officer of the Aberdeenshire Rural Constabulary on 14 March 1858, by which time he also held appointments as: ‘Chief Constable and Superintendent of the Great North of Scotland Railway, and Chief Constable and Superintendent of the Turriff Junction Railway.’

The following extract from the Banff shire portion of the SNECC brochure also helps to clarify matters greatly:

‘In 1854 the Great North of Scotland Railway was being extended from Huntly into Banffshire towards Keith and railway police were appointed in January 1856 to operate on that line. At the request of the Company, Superintendent Neil ROBERTSON (Chief officer of the then Banffshire Rural Police and, following the 1857 Act, Chief Constable of Banffshire Constabulary) was appointed Chief Constable of the railway police in Banffshire and as far as Huntly in Aberdeenshire. He had to travel from Keith (then Headquarters of the Banffshire Constabulary) to Huntly once a week or more often if required, and the rural constables had to give assistance to the railway police on pay nights once every two weeks. All expenses incurred by the rural police were to be paid by the railway company.

While some of the above information obviously relates to the construction phase of the lines, where the constables were employed to keep the peace among the navvies and protect the local populace from them, it seems as though there was the intention of continuity by giving the local County Chief Constable a retainer to be the Railway Police Chief, thus ensuring that he and his men paid more than a little attention to the line.

After 1884 there are unfortunately no useful statistics in those Board of Trade records which have survived. Those for 1911 list in one category ‘Ticket Collectors, Policemen and Porters’, thus reflecting the changing role of many erstwhile railway bobbies whose duties obviously had changed from guard, watch and patrol into more of signalling and plate-laying. Indeed the term ‘bobby’ was still used until quite recently in the railway community as a nickname for a signalman.

It is worth mentioning here that early railway signals were not done by mechanical semaphore means, but instead by hand signals given by railway policemen. These signals were of course soon superseded by mechanical signalling, but came into their own again half a century later – this time by ‘home office’ policemen to regulate the new-fangled motor car.

‘Stop traffic approaching from the front’ for example, as learned on the Tulliallan Castle (Scottish Police College) parade square is no more and no less than the signal given by the early railway policemen to bring an early steam train to a halt.

The 1902 Almanac lists the strength of forces as follows:

    1 Inspector, 5 Constables
    1 Superintendent, 75 Constables
    1 Superintendent, 27 Constables

In the 1970s Superintendent BUTCHER of the British Transport Police, a keen railway police historian, authored an article in the BTP Journal entitled ‘Scottish Railway Police before 1923’. He was however dogged by lack of information and did not have access to the research information contained herein.

Butcher’s research revealed the existence of only the Caledonian and North British forces. He reported that: ‘one (force), the Caledonian, was formed as late as 1927. Previously each branch of the railway handled its own police or detective matters, and the staff concerned were sworn in under section 60 of the Caledonian Railway (General Powers) Act 1899. It would have been usual for various grades of railwaymen to be promoted to these posts and in fact the first and only Chief of Police of the Caledonian Railway, Mr LANG, had been a ticket collector before becoming an assistant detective.’

He records that, upon its being amalgamated with other pre-grouping forces into the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) Police Department in 1923, the Caledonian Railway Police comprised ‘four supervisors and seventy-two sergeants and constables’.

Of the North British Railway Police, which became part of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) Police in 1923, little information appeared to have been found by Mr Butcher, other than that there were 145 men in the Force at the time of the grouping.

At the 1923 grouping, the Highland and Glasgow & South Western companies joined with the Caledonian to form the Scottish portion of the LMS, and the LMS Police served all three systems. It is believed that they had a branch office at Inverness.

The Great North of Scotland and North British both were absorbed into the LNER, with the LNER Police Department providing police services for that network. Of interest is the fact that, although Inverness was an LMS station, it was also the northernmost point of the LNER network, being the terminus of the Aberdeen line.

In 1948 the British railway network was nationalised under the British Transport Commission (BTC). This organisation also provided police services for other transport undertakings including certain docks and harbours. The BTC Police provided police services for all such undertakings, including British Railways. The force name subsequently became British Transport Police (BTP), and its Scottish Division equated to Scottish Region of British Railways.

Until 1923 there existed theoretically independent Light Railways, but in fact usually part (in all but name) of a larger company. These light railways were built to lower standards than normal lines and as such could not handle (nor did they generate) high volumes of traffic.

Two which spring to mind were the Dornoch and Wick & Lybster Light Railways in the Highlands. To all intents and purposes they were simply branches of the Highland, worked by Highland rolling stock and Highland staff. Both came under the LMS’s wing after 1923. Serving rural areas with sparse population they had no police of their own.

One other line existed in Scotland, and it was totally separate from the rest of the Scottish rail network, in remote Argyllshire. The Campbelltown and Machrihanish Railway was a short line running across the Mull of Kintyre. Sadly now only a memory, it also did not require (nor could it afford) its own Police, and would have called upon the services of the County Police if law enforcement was needed.

That then concludes this examination of the information which is known to have survived on the Scottish Railway Police.

In conclusion, let us now ascertain the insignia worn by Scottish Railway Police officers. After the 1923 grouping, all Railway Police in Scotland would have worn the insignia (helmets and all) of either the LNER or LMS Railway Police, and post 1948 the BTC or later BTP insignia was worn. The insignia of these Forces is already well known.

Apart from the buttons of the Glasgow & Paisley Joint, and the Garnkirk & Glasgow, the only information known to exist of pre-1923 Scottish Railway Police insignia relates to the ‘big two’ – the North British and the Caledonian.


Accompanying Butcher’s articles in the BTP Journal in the 1970s is a photograph of a North British Railway Police officer. The image would appear to relate to the period around the turn of the century although the precise date and identity of the officer is unknown.

The officer is wearing a uniform which is virtually identical to ‘home office’ police of the time – a high-neck tunic with 6 buttons and two breast pockets. The button design is not discernible but an educated guess suggests it comprises the entwined script initials NBR.

The epaulettes are devoid of any insignia, probably because the force would not have been entitled to wear a Crown there. The lack of numerals there is because the officer’s identity number appears on the high-collar. The ‘collar dog’ is of the key-hole design, once much favoured by police in Scotland’s central belt.

Normally this was of white metal construction, with metal letters (the force initials) soldered into the pointed part, and the officer’s numerals soldered in the circular portion. The NBR police appear to have taken ideas from many different forces in designing their collar insignia. The ‘collar dog’ is embroidered, and the force initials, NBR, are also embroidered, and seem to be of a different thread.

Interestingly the initials are not block capitals but fancy script, although they appear clearly one after the other and not entwined one on the other as done by Fife, Inverness-shire and many other Forces of the time. Perhaps the need for clarity and ease of identification was the reason. Aberdeen City Police had a similar device, although in metal, again probably due to the fact that three rather than two letters were being used. The numeral, 9, does however look as though it might be of metal rather than bullion thread.

The officer is wearing a shako cap, a felt-covered cardboard-strengthened pill-box hat with a peak, of a style popular at the time due to its use by the British Army in Africa. The cap band is woven black with presumably a fancy pattern, of a similar style to that recently used by the Scottish SPCA.

This style of hat came into use around the turn of the century, at a time when Scottish forces were seeking a (cheap) replacement for the fancy helmets worn in the reign of Victoria. Her death meant that the ornate helmet badges, usually incorporating the Victorian Crown, had to be replaced and the expense and hassle of getting new badges with the Tudor (King’s) Crown was reason for a selection of different hats and caps being taken into service around Scotland.

The joy of the shako was that it called for only a small badge, and many forces simply put the collar insignia on it as a badge, and it looked the part superbly (and cheaply!!)

The NBR seemed to have copied the trend, and the script initials (again apparently embroidered) appear on the officer’s cap. This cap device appears identical to that in the collar badge. A contemporary photograph in the author’s possession, of a group of rail staff (along with an Inverness-shire Constabulary officer) at a North British Station, shows rail staff wearing exactly the same NBR hat badge as the policeman in the BTP Journal.

The station staff photograph – suggested as being Mallaig – comprises four NBR staff, two other gentlemen in civilian clothing, and the Inverness-shire Constable. Of the four obvious railwaymen, the two men seated in the front wear shako-type caps but much smaller than the police style – which the County Policeman happens to be wearing, which is very convenient for purposes of comparison.

Both these men have the script NBR as hat badges, but none of the rail staff have high-neck tunics. Of the ‘managers’ (standing) one wears a flattened form of shako with what appears to be the letters NBR (but in block capitals) in a laurel wreath and no other obvious insignia. The other has a form of shako – but more akin to the Japanese army jungle cap – with lettering (possibly ‘Foreman’) thereon.

Of interest is that he wears a collar and tie, and a jacket with script NBR on the lapels. Obviously the script NBR was standard issue, but high-neck collars appear to have been solely for police. It would appear therefore that standard police uniform and standard rail insignia were merged when it came to the NBR police.


The Caledonian took their title to heart, and considered itself as Scotland’s railway. When it came to selecting an appropriate coat of arms to adorn its beautiful blue locomotives, it decided to simply ‘adopt’ the coat of arms of Scotland, or more particularly the Majestic Arms of Scotland.

When one considers how even today the Lord LYON, King of Arms gets somewhat upset at Scottish football supporters displaying the Lion Rampant, one can well imagine just how ballistic he went when the full design, ‘NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT’ and all, and with a scroll across it all bearing the legend ‘Caledonian Railway Company’ appeared on a lowly steam engine! Needless to say such use was entirely unofficial – and illegal too, but that appeared not to bother the Company at all.

In his book ‘The Railway Policeman’, WHITBREAD shows an illustration of six ‘Former Railway and Canal Police Cap Badges’, one of which is indicated as being that of the Caledonian. The photograph being credited to the Science Museum, South Kensington, then the oracle of all things historical pertain to railways (before The National Railway Museum at York came to about), one must accept this as fact.

The badge is embroidered (bullion?) and consists of a lion rampant in a laurel wreath – an ‘abbreviation’ of the full coat of arms. The badge bears more than passing resemblance in shape and style to the style of senior officers’ cap badges in Scottish Police forces generally.

Whether such was worn by all police or only by senior officers is unknown. The badge does look as though it might have been designed for use by all staff members in positions of authority, but unfortunately those who have chronicled the histories of the Scottish Railway Companies appear to have been more interested in the machines rather than the people of the Company.


Sadly no information is known.

That therefore constitutes the extent of information so far located in respect of the Scottish Railway Police. It is accepted that such is indeed scant, and there is more conjecture than fact. Sadly records appear not to have survived – a situation which applied to the police service in Scotland generally, but with a few notable exceptions.

Finally, a brief word about the author. Not a railway policeman, but a policeman nevertheless and a keen student of Scottish railways and of police history. It seems logical therefore that both interests should come together in this piece.

The fact that he has railways (steam?) in his blood is due to his grandfather having worked for the LNER and BR as line maintenance ganger for that stretch of the East Coast main line which included the Tay Bridge (no, not the one that fell down, the one that is still there).

Perhaps the fact that it IS still there – due in at least small measure to the loving way in which Charles ‘Chay’ BUIST (grandad) looked after his ‘patch’ – is the reason for this article in the first place ?

Chay BUIST was not a policeman (although one of his sons later was, in the City of Dundee and subsequently Tayside, rising to Chief Inspector – the irony being most of his service was in the Traffic Department) but he guarded, watched and patrolled his beloved line exactly as his predecessors, who would have been called ‘policemen’, did.

Somehow, the Scottish Police motto ‘SEMPER VIGILO’ (Always Alert or Ever Watchful) seems particularly appropriate as an epitaph to all those, whether with police powers or not, who went out in all weathers to ensure that the iron road was safe for the public.

Their spirits live on the same in the shape of today’s British Transport Police, the only ‘private’ Police Force in Scotland which has the same powers, pay and conditions as the ‘Home Office’ forces do. That in itself tells you something about the BTP, the public private police.

Copyright © DAVID CONNER (1983, updated 1996, 1997)


This superb, well researched document was written by PC Dave CONNER, the Force Historian for the Northern Constabulary who is based at their Headquarters in Inverness.
Kevin GORDON (2002)


Webmaster’s Note:

This article was previously published on the BTP website.
David Conner, latterly a Police Sergeant, retired from the Northern Constabulary before it was amalgamated into Police Scotland.
He is still a keen force historian and has an online ‘Northern Constabulary Museum‘.