This is a brief guide to help you with your research. Only the records of the Metropolitan Police, the Royal Irish Constabulary and a few relating to the Transport Police are held at The National Archives.
Surviving records of other police forces are held either by local archives or the relevant force. Not all police staff records have survived.
Try to find out:
- which police force the officer served in
- the dates of joining and leaving the police force
- the police officer’s warrant number
Police forces as we now understand them did not exist until the 19th century. Before that policing was carried out by locally employed watchmen, constables and magistrates.
The first modern police force in England was the Metropolitan Police Force, created in 1829. Provincial police forces in England and Wales did not begin until after the County Police Act of 1839.
Nearly all the Metropolitan Police staff records detail:
- warrant number
- dates of appointment and removal
Records of other police forces (except the Royal Irish Constabulary) are not public records. Those which survive are held either by:
- the appropriate local record office
- the force itself
Metropolitan Police entry books (1829-1836)
Browse the entry book in HO 65/26. This records is particularly useful if you do not know the officer’s warrant number. The entry books give dates of promotion or demotion.
Metropolitan Police pension records (1829-1890)
Before 1890, pensions were granted on a discretionary basis. Browse correspondence and papers in MEPO 5/1-90 (1829-1859) for:
- personnel who had a right to a pension after 25 years’ service
- those deemed medically unfit for service
Search Discovery, our catalogue, in MEPO 21/1-19 for records of Metropolitan Police pensioners who retired or resigned between 1852 and 1890 and who received a police pension.
Please note, this is a search across the entire catalogue description of each record, not just the name. A search for someone called Barnes, for example, may give some results for people born in Barnes.
Narrow your search by using quotation marks to find a person’s full name, such as ‘John Williams’.
Metropolitan Police pension records (1891-1993)
Browse our catalogue in MEPO 21/21-210 for records after 1890, which are arranged by date of retirement. This may be found by referring to the registers of leavers in MEPO 4/339-351 referred to above.
Kings Police medal records (1909-1951)
Browse HO 45, MEPO 2/1300, MEPO 22/2 and MEPO 7 for mentions of officers who received the Kings Police medal.
Metropolitan Police orders (1829-1989)
Browse our catalogue in MEPO 7 for police orders.
Items included are:
- staff news
Note that the records are closed for 50 years. If you already know the date of a particular event these might give you more information.
Selected police files of distinguished officers in the Metropolitan Police Force (1858-1933)
Locate joining papers of a number of distinguished officers in MEPO 3/2883-2921. The covering dates are for dates of service. These personal files are subject to closure for at least 75 years.
Transport police staff records
Comprehensive transport police records are not held at The National Archives.
You can search our catalogue for a few miscellaneous items by using the search terms such as ‘police’ or ‘railway police’. Limit your search by specifying department references RAIL and/ or AN.
Generally, records from before 1921 have the departmental reference RAIL and those from after 1921 have the reference AN.
Find details to do with:
It might help when searching for records for Railway and Transport police to know that:
- following the Railways Act 1921 the four largest railway groups had their own police force controlled by a Chief of Police
- during the Second World War the railways were run by the Railway Executive Committee, under which was the Police Committee made up of the four Chiefs of Police
- 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 was absorbed into the British Transport Police
Royal Irish Constabulary service records (1816-1922)
Browse in HO 184 for service records of the Royal Irish Constabulary from 1816 to 1922. Find the service number in J Herlihy, The Royal Irish Constabulary: a complete alphabetical list of Officers and men, 1816-1922 (Four Courts Press, 1999), then use our catalogue to find the appropriate piece number in HO 184.
The Irish Constabulary (Ireland) Act 1836 created a single, unified police force responsible for the whole of Ireland, except Dublin. In 1867 it was renamed the Royal Irish Constabulary. This was disbanded in 1922. From 1922 to 2001 the police force in Northern Ireland was the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
Women police officers
Locate names and records of service of women police officers from 1919 to 1986 at the Metropolitan Women Police Association.
Women police patrols
Consult records of service and photographs of the women police patrols employed from 1919 at the Metropolitan Historical Collection.
Colonial police forces
Records of the forces may well have been deposited in the archives of the country to which they relate.
British Transport Police
Contact the British Transport Police; the organisation holds several thousand staff record cards dating back to the 1860s.
The City of London Police registers (1832 onwards)
Consult registers of The City of London Police. These list every member of the force since warrant numbers were introduced in 1832, together with personal files on 95% of officers who have served since that date. They are held by the Corporation of London Record Office.
Local police forces
Contact the relevant police force for records other than those of the Metropolitan Police or the Royal Irish Constabulary. For contact details use Find an archive.
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. Search our catalogue using relevant keywords within FO.
Look through the history pages of the Metropolitan Police website for organisational history on the force as well as information on the Metropolitan Police’s own archives, which include records of individual officers.
Browse the National Police Officers Roll of Honour for details of 4,000 UK police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Consult the Police archives guide, one of the useful resources on the International Centre for the History of Crime, Policing and Justice pages of the Open University. This guide was published in 1991 and some information will be out of date.
The Police History Society can give general advice to researchers.
The British Transport Police hold several thousand ‘staff record cards’ going back as far as the 1860s, although they are by no means complete. See the British Transport Police website for further details and an email address for enquiries on this material.
Look at British Transport Police website which contains information on historical resource.
The Metropolitan Police has a collection of personnel records including records of service and a name database.
The Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre has an incomplete set of divisional records for A, B, E, F, G, H, K, L, M, N, R and Y.
Consult The Royal Irish Constabulary. A Complete Alphabetical List of Officers and men, 1816-1922, by J Herlihy (Four Courts Press, 1999).
Consult details of the recipients of the King’s Police Medal for Gallantry in the volume, Police Gallantry: The King’s Police Medal, the King’s Police and Fire Service Medal and the Queen’s Police Medal for Gallantry 1909-1978, by Peter J Farmery (1995).
An incomplete name index of officers, largely drawn from the Metropolitan Police records listed above, is available in the paper version of MEPO 3 series list at The National Archives for consultation.