How to look for records of... London Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police and railway police

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  • All

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1. Why use this guide?

This guide explains how to find records of the London Metropolitan Police, including Special Branch, and the Transport Police. The advice focuses primarily on records of staff. You can also consult our introductory guide to Police records.

The National Archives has a substantial collection of Metropolitan Police staff records, but not all have survived.

Most of these records are not available to view online so to view them you will either need to visit us to view them for free or pay for copies to be sent to you.

2. Background

2.1 The London Metropolitan Police district

The area policed by the London Metropolitan Police has changed over the years:

  • The Metropolitan Police Act 1829 defined the Metropolitan Police District as an area about 7 miles radius from Charing Cross, London
  • The second Act in 1839 extended this to about a 15 mile radius from Charing Cross and included all of Middlesex
  • In 1869 this area was divided into four districts, each of which had a number of divisions (see below)
  • From 1860 to 1934 the Metropolitan Police also had responsibility for the police of the Royal Dockyards and military stations Portsmouth, Chatham, Devonport, Pembroke and Woolwich
  • From 1914 to 1926 they also had responsibility for Rosyth in Scotland

2.2 London Metropolitan Police divisions

If you know the division an officer worked in, you can extend your research to include looking at divisional records. Where records mention an officer’s division they often use the following letter codes:

  • No. 1 District: G – Finsbury; H – Whitechapel; K – Stepney; N – Islington; and Thames Division
  • No. 2 District: D – Marylebone; E – Holborn; S – Hampstead; X – Paddington; Y – Highgate
  • No. 3 District: A – Whitehall; B – Westminster; C – St James’s; T – Kensington; V – Wandsworth
  • No. 4 District: L – Lambeth; M – Southwark; P – Camberwell; R – Greenwich; W – Clapham
  • F Division – Covent Garden
  • J Division – Bethnal Green – added in 1886
  • Z Division – Croydon – was formed in 1921. Croydon had previously been included in W Division
  • Q Division – Wembley – was formed in 1965. Wembley was previously X Division
  • Division letter codes I, O and U were never used

Maps of the districts and their changing boundaries can be found in record series MEPO 15.

2.3 The evolution of the transport police

A specific police force for transport began with the railways. The first railway police force in Britain was formed in 1830. Railway companies developed their own police forces and became more organised from the beginning of the 20th century. Following the Railways Act 1921 the four largest railway groups had their own police force controlled by a Chief of Police. Other key developments over the course of the century included:

  • Second World War – during the war the railways were run by the Railway Executive Committee, under which was the Police Committee made up of the four Chiefs of Police
  • Post-war period – after the war the railways were nationalised and a national railway police force was established
  • In 1949 the British Transport Commission Police was created – incorporating the old four railway police forces as well as several minor canal and dock forces
  • In 1958 the London Transport Police were absorbed into the British Transport Police

3. Online records

3.1  Metropolitan Police Pension Registers, 1852-1932

Search by first and last name for Metropolitan Police Pension Registers at Ancestry.co.uk (£).

3.2 Registers of joiners, 1830-1857 & 1878-1933

Search by name of individual or by warrant number in MEPO 4 for enhanced transcriptions of the registers of leavers (MEPO 4/333-338), 1830-1857 and 1878-1933. The catalogue descriptions for each register entry contain more information than the registers themselves and in most cases include, along with the full name:

  • warrant number
  • date of joining
  • date of leaving

You can download images of the registers, which contain nothing more than alphabetical lists of joiners with their warrant numbers, from MEPO 4/333-338. These records are provided on digital microfilm and are free to download.

3.3 Registers of leavers, 1889-1947

Search by name of individual in MEPO 4 for registers of leavers (MEPO 4/339-351), 1889-1947. As well as the warrant number the records provide rank and the dates of joining and leaving. These records are provided on digital microfilm and are free to download.

3.4 Attestation ledgers, 1869-1958

Search by name of individual in MEPO 4 for attestation ledgers (MEPO 4/352-360), 1869-1958. These very simple registers of joiners provide warrant number, signature of the new recruit and the division to which they were assigned. These records are provided on digital microfilm and are free to download.

3.5 Certificates of service, 1889-1909

Search by an individual’s name in MEPO 4 for certificates of service (MEPO 4/361-477), 1889-1909. These records provide a physical description, date of birth, trade, marital status, residence, number of children, name and place of last employer, previous public service, surgeon’s certificate, postings to divisions, dates of promotion or demotion and cause of removal. These records are provided on digital microfilm and are free to download.

4. How to search for the original records of the Metropolitan Police Force

4.1 Basic search advice

Most Metropolitan Police Force records are not available online. Searches for these records begin in our catalogue, which contains descriptions of each record with its document reference. You can search the catalogue using keywords and dates, and you can restrict your search results by government department or record series (using the code for the department or series).

Records of the Metropolitan Police have the department code MEPO (there are 46 separate record series within MEPO). Other records relating to the police were created by the Home Office and have the department code HO.

Use the advanced search option in our catalogue to search for records using, for example, the name of an officer or a police station, or broader terms such as ‘discipline’ or ‘promotion’. Use the reference fields to limit your search results to MEPO and HO records.

It is also worth browsing the department and series in our catalogue to see what looks useful.

4.2 Some key records

Some key records and record series:

  • Police personnel records, including registers, ledgers, certificates of service and deaths in service, in MEPO 4 (some of this series is available online – see section 3)
  • Nominal roll of special constables from 1875 in MEPO 2/143
  • Police orders containing notification of personnel matters including those relating to the Special Constabulary in MEPO 7
  • King’s Police Medal records: a register of officers under consideration for the medal in MEPO 22/2 and files relating to the award of the medal in HO 45 (search HO 45 with the term “King’s Police Medal”)
  • Pension records in MEPO 21

4.3 Abbreviations in Metropolitan Police records

You may find the following abbreviations in records such as registers of leavers:

  • RP – resignation permitted
  • RR – required to resign
  • CO – Commissioner’s Office

4.4 Special Branch records

Records from Special Branch are held in series MEPO 38. Use the series search to search for records in this series by topic.

5. How to search for the original records of railway and transport police

5.1 Basic search advice

The National Archives has administrative records relating to the Railway and Transport Police, but not records relating to its investigation of crime. The British Transport Police hold records on its officers and staff. You can request information from the British Transport Police historical group.

Generally, records from before 1921 have the departmental reference RAIL and those from after 1921 have the reference AN.

Use the advanced search option in our catalogue and use keywords such as ‘railway police’ or ‘transport police’. Limit your search by specifying department references RAIL and/or AN.

Prior to nationalisation, the four railway companies with their own police forces were:

  • Great Western Railway Company (GWR)
  • London Midland and Scottish Railway Company (LMS)
  • London and North Eastern Railway Company (LNER)
  • Southern Railway Company (SR)

You can search our catalogue using these company names to find relevant records.

5.2 Some key records

Click on the references in the following descriptions of key record series to search the series with keywords:

  • Corresponence and other records relating to Railways staff conferences, covering topics which include pay and conditions, in RAIL 1172
  • Personnel department records of the British Transport Commission and British Railways Board, 1928-1994, in AN 174 – including records of pay, conditions and training
  • Administration records of the Railway Executive Committee which governed the railways during the Second World War in AN 2 and AN 3

6. Records in other archives

7. Other police forces

7.1 Local police forces

County and borough police force records might be held by local record offices or in the archives of a specific police force.

Find contact details for archives elsewhere using Find an archive.

Search our catalogue for records held elsewhere and refine your results using the filters.

7.2 City of London police

Contact the London Metropolitan Archives for records of the City of London Police.

7.3 Overseas railway police

The Control Office for Germany and Austria and the Control Commission for Germany (British Element) were responsible for transport in the occupied territories after the war. They were part of the Foreign Office and their records have the department code FO.

You can search our catalogue within the department code FO with keyword phrases such as:

  • “control commission AND railway”
  • “control office AND railway”

Other records on railway policing overseas were created by the Colonial Office, Dominions Office and Foreign Office. Their records have the departmental codes CO, DO and FO respectively.

You can search our catalogue within CO, DO or FO using keywords such as “railway police”.

8. Further reading

Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list.

The books are all available in The National Archives’ reference library. You may also be able to find them in a local library. You can buy from a wide range of history titles in our bookshop.

Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 52