A detailed look back at the history of railway policing and how
British Transport Police was formed. This information was first
provided by the British Transport Police History
The first railway police
The modern police service owes much to Sir Patrick Colquhoun, as
he recommended the creation of a centralised police service for the
country in 1796. After much discussion and a series of
Parliamentary Committees, Sir Robert Peel introduced his famous Act
of Parliament in 1829, which led to the creation of the
When the first 'Peelers' stepped out onto the streets of London,
railways were already in existence; the first Railway Act is dated
In 1830 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was formally opened
by the Duke of Wellington. It was the first public railway in the
world to transport goods and passengers by locomotive.
However, the occasion was marred by the first railway fatality.
The Rt. Hon. William Huskisson alighted from the train on to the
track, against the railway company's instructions, and was struck
by a passing engine. This accident and the difficulties in crowd
control on the day underlined the need for policing the
Within a few months of both the introduction of the Metropolitan
Police and the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the
first railway police force was formed. In November 1830, minutes of
the Liverpool and Manchester Railway refer to "The Police
Establishment" and, less than a year later, a pay rise was given to
the railway police due to the responsibility of their office.
These early railway policemen were probably sworn in as special
constables under a statute passed in 1673 during the reign of
Charles II. They were appointed to:
preserve law and order on the construction site of the railway
patrol and protect the line control the movement of railway
Station houses were placed at one mile intervals along the line
to provide shelter for the railway police. The term 'police
station' used by most police forces today probably derives
from these buildings.
In 1831 the Special Constables Act was passed and railway policemen
had jurisdiction not only on the railway but in the area in which
they were appointed.
Most constables carried elaborately painted truncheons bearing the
crest of the Railway Company. Inspectors carried a brass or ivory
'tipstaff' surmounted by a crown.
Watches, flags and lamps were issued to each man (the Ulster
Railway Police were even issued with a shovel and a wheelbarrow to
help remove obstructions from the line). The watch was used to
ensure there was a suitable delay between trains entering each
section of track and thus avoid collision. The flags were red and
white, (the former to mean 'stop' the latter to mean 'all
The duties of these forerunners of the Police Service were to
maintain law and order on the railways and to regulate the movement
of trains. These somewhat static duties changed over the next fifty
years as the railway network extended throughout the country.
A huge workforce was required to build the ever-expanding
railway system. Thousands of men built stations, lay track, dug
cuttings, built embankments and excavated tunnels. Many of these
'navvies' came from Ireland, Wales and even the continent.
Large shanty towns were set up in rural areas to accommodate these
men. These armies of rough workers brought fear to genteel rural
Victorian England. In 1836 the inhabitants of Slough and
Buckinghamshire asked for some of the newly-formed Metropolitan
Police to be sent to protect them from the men building the
Local justices appointed special constables to keep these invading
armies under control but the cost fell on the local ratepayers. In
consequence, on 10 August 1838 an Act was passed which required
railway companies to pay for constables to keep the peace near
These officers had to work hard for their money and often could not
cope with the scale of disorder. In 1839 the Chester and Birkenhead
Railway was under construction when fighting broke out between the
English and Irish 'navigators'. It was four days before order was
restored by a detachment of infantry.
In 1840 labourers murdered a ganger on the Edinburgh to Glasgow
Railway. The company of the 58th Foot Infantry were required to
arrest the ringleaders. The perpetrators were subsequently hung on
a makeshift scaffold beside the tracks.
In 1846 two navvies were arrested for stealing watches and placed
in a lock-up near Edinburgh. Other navvies marched to the Police
House, released the prisoners and murdered the local
At this time towns such as Crewe, Slough and Swindon, which were
built to accommodate railway workers, were policed by the company's
force. In 1846 the first police station in Crewe was built by the
railway, who also appointed its officers.