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Thursday, 9 June 2011

Metropolitan Police Archives

Robert Peel's 'New Police' stepped onto the streets of London on 29th. September 1829 and immediately the clerks were busy recording their names and warrant numbers in spidery writing within huge, weighty tomes. Their transfers, promotions and pay advances were all recorded as were pension details.

Detective Inspector Lansdowne retired from the CID in 1889 and later wrote his 'Life's Reminiscences of Scotland Yard' which were contained in 'one-and twenty dockets' - a docket being the term given to Metropolitan Police files from the earliest of times. Throughout the years the storage of these dockets caused concern and DI Lansdowne remarked:

At Scotland Yard, documents and papers have an alarming tendency to accumulate, and they all have to be sorted under the heads of murders, burglaries, larcenies, etc., for convenience of ready reference. How this really gigantic work was satisfactorily done when these dockets had to be stored away on landings and in odd cupboards passes my comprehension, and I should say that one of the improvements which New Scotland Yard will bring about is a better system of safe-keeping these curious records.

In the 1880s at the planning stage for the new headquarters each of the branches submitted details of the accommodation they required. Plenty of cupboard space was required by the Registry and it was estimated that a room 14ft. x 16ft. would provide for the annual increase of paper over the next 20 years. Needless to say when the building was occupied in November 1890 individual branches were allocated much less space than required. In 1902, after only 12 years, the building was bulging at the seams.

In 1908 the Commissioner took an interest in Registry conditions and reported to the Receiver that the older registers were covered in thick layers of dust which no doubt dated back to the occupation of the building some 18 years previously. He thought the dust might contain 'injurious microbes' which would affect the health of the registry clerks and recommended that special steps be taken to deal with the problem. The British Vacuum Cleaner Company were called upon and dealt with the problem most effectively. However, two years later the dust was laying just as thickly as before. This time the Receiver suggested that it would be cheaper to utilise painters employed under the contact for general repairs rather than bring in a specialised cleaning company!

And so it continued through the 20th. century and into the 21st. Throughout the Metropolitan Police District 19th. century buildings were overflowing with 'dockets' and personnel registers. Rarely were they to be found neatly filed on clean and bright racking - the norm. was to find them chucked into cellars, loft spaces, shower rooms, mortuary rooms, coal holes and even disused dog kennels. Unbelievable, but little had changed since DI Lansdowne had written his autobiography over one hundred years earlier.

After a career spent searching through the Dusty Files of various police forces I am happy to take on your Metropolitan Police Ancestor! So if you would like some help with your Metropolitan Police Research I can be reached on the following e-mail address (you will need to type it into your e-mail as this is not a direct link)

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