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London's smallest police station and "the lamps of HMS Victory"?

January 12, 2018

London's smallest police station with "Victory lamp".

 

If you were to emerge from Charing Cross tube station via the exit that takes you into Trafalgar  Square, look directly to your right. You will observe a small cylindrical stone drum forming part of the fabric of the wall surrounding the Square and sporting small iron and glass double doors. Many tour guides will tell you is London's smallest police station. They might also tell you that the lantern that surmounts this tiny cop shop had in fact  illuminated the decks of HMS Victory.  Both great stories, but are they actually true?

 

Let's deal with the police station. Our story starts in 1887. Trafalgar Square had become the focus for demonstrations across a variety of issues. During the Summer months, significant numbers of unemployed men and women had set up camp in the Square and had been demonstrating on a daily basis.  On 8th November, The Commisioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Charles Warren, banned all protests in the Square. Concurrently, trouble was brewing over the imprisonment of Irish MP William O'Brien, incarcerated for his "agitation" over Irish land reform. These two events contributed to what became known as the Bloody Sunday Riot of 13 November, 1887. 

 

Estimating numbers of demonstrators at protest rallies has always been fraught with difficulty. The police will insist that the number of demonstrators is always significantly fewer than claimed by the protestors. In this case a figure of 20 to 30 thousand protestors converged on Trafalgar Square to be met by a force of around 1500 police bolstered by Life Guards, Grenadier Guards and Special Constables.  Running street battles took place over many hours during which two demonstrators were killed and over 200 demonstrators were injured. 400 arrests were made. 

 

Following this riot, the police insisted on a permanent post being made available to them so that they could monitor future demonstrations. And that is how this tiny office came into existence. There can only have been room for a couple of constables but at least they had a direct phone line to Scotland Yard to summon reinforcements.  

 

I joined the Metropolitan Police in 1988 and as part of our "appointments", truncheon, handcuffs etc,  we were all rather quaintly issued with a whistle and a key "for official call boxes". To my surprise and delight, I discovered that my key really did unlock the door to London's smallest nick! Now there is rather inelegant padlock securing the door.  What a shame.

 

To the "HMS Victory" lanterns. One stands atop the police station and others are to be found in the corners of the Square. But sadly they have absolutely no connection to HMS Victory. These beautiful 12 sided, Panopitican lamps (according to the great H.V. Morton) were in fact designed by Sir Charles Barry and according to Pevsner, made by the Bude Light Company approximately 50 years after the Battle of Trafalgar!

 

Copyright, Richard Ing. Photography by Richard Ing.

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