How to look for records of... Police
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This short guide provides advice on where to go to locate police records. Only the records of the Metropolitan Police, the Royal Irish Constabulary and transport police are held at The National Archives.
There is some advice below on the transport police records held here and links to some of the places you can try to find the records of other police forces. See our separate guides for advice on records of the London Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary.
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. From as early as 1826 men were employed as Policemen on the railways but their role was to ‘police’ or direct the trains, like a Signalman, ensuring they were on the right lines. You will therefore find their records amongst the railway staff records for each separate company. Following the Railways Act 1921 , and prior to nationalisation, the four largest railway companies had their own police force controlled by a Chief of Police. They were:
- Great Western Railway Company (GWR)
- London Midland and Scottish Railway Company (LMS)
- London and North Eastern Railway Company (LNER)
- Southern Railway Company (SR)
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.
The records and how to search for them
The National Archives has administrative records relating to the Railway and Transport Police, but not records relating to its investigation of crime. To access the records held here you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
Among the records that we hold are the following (click on the references to search the respective 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
Use the advanced search option in our catalogue to limit your search to records with 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. Search with key words which might include:
- ‘railway police’
- ‘transport police’
- the name of one of the railway companies listed above and the word ‘police’
The British Transport Police hold records on its officers and staff. You can request information from the British Transport Police historical group. The organisation holds several thousand staff record cards dating back to the 1860s.
Other police forces
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 in incorporated boroughs until after the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, and elsewhere until after the County Police Act of 1839. Before that policing was carried out by locally employed watchmen, constables and magistrates.
For all other police records, other than the London Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary you will need to go to other archives and organisations.
Local police forces
Surviving records of local police forces are not public records and are held either by local archives or the respective police force itself. Not all police staff records have survived. Contact the local police force itself for their records or try the respective county or city archive. Search for contact details using our Find an archive tool.
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 at the London Metropolitan Archives.
Colonial police forces
Records of the forces may well have been deposited in the archives of the country to which they relate.
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”.
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.
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).
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