Britain’s Smallest Police Station
by Ben Johnson
Located rather surreptitiously at the south-east corner of Trafalgar Square is a rather peculiar and often overlooked world record holder; Britain’s Smallest Police Station. Apparently this tiny box can accommodate up to two prisoners at a time, although its main purpose was to hold a single police officer…think of it as a 1920’s CCTV camera!
Built in 1926 so that the Metropolitan Police could keep an eye on the more troublesome demonstrators, the story behind its construction is also a rather secretive. At the end of World War I, a temporary police box just outside of the Trafalgar Square tube station was due to be renovated and made more permanent. However, due to public objections this was scrapped and instead it was decided to build a less “objectionable” police box. The venue? Inside an ornamental light fitting…
Once the light fitting was hollowed out, it was then installed with a set of narrow windows in order to provide a vista across the main square. Also installed was a direct phone line back to Scotland Yard in case reinforcements were needed in times of trouble. In fact, whenever the police phone was picked up, the ornamental light fitting at the top of the box started to flash, alerting any nearby officers on duty that trouble was near.
Today the box is no longer used by the Police and is instead used as a broom cupboard for Westminster Council cleaners!
Did you know…
Legend has it that the ornamental light on the top of the box, installed in 1826, is originally from Nelson’s HMS Victory.
However it is in fact a ‘Bude light’, designed by Sir Goldsworthy Gurney. His design was installed across London and in the Houses of Parliament.
“The light which sits on top of the police box in Trafalgar Square is an example of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney’s ‘Bude Light’, which revolutionised lighting in the mid- nineteenth century. The Bude Light was developed at The Castle, in Bude Cornwall, where Gurney had made his home. Gurney discovered that by introducing oxygen into the interior of a flame, a very bright and intensive light could be created. The use of mirrors meant that this light could be reflected further. In 1839, Gurney was invited to improve the lighting in the House of Commons; he did so by installing three Bude Lights, which replaced 280 candles. So successful was the light, that it was used in the chamber for sixty years, before eventually being replaced by electricity. The Bude Light was also used to light Pall Mall as well as Trafalgar Square.”
With thanks to Janine King, Heritage Development Officer, The Castle in Bude, Gurney’s former home.
Update (April 2018)
IanVisits, a blog about all things London, has a superb article challenging the fact that this is indeed a ‘police station’. It makes for some interesting reading, but we’ll leave you to make up your own minds!