Unesco tells east London’s 200-year story of Thames river police at Wapping

Police river patrol in east London in 2003. Picture: Steve Bishop

Police river patrol in east London in 2003. Picture: Steve Bishop - Credit: Steve Bishop

A display telling the story of the world’s oldest police force operating on the Thames is being staged in a quayside warehouse at Canary Wharf that’s almost as old.

Police river patrol in east London in 2003. Picture: Steve Bishop

Police river patrol in east London in 2003. Picture: Steve Bishop - Credit: Steve Bishop

The 219-year history of the Thames river police, pioneers of preventative policing and forerunner of the Met Police, is being put on at the Museum of London Docklands in Millwall’s West India Quay No 1 warehouse.

The exhibition uses Unesco archives that explores the early years of the River Police and its influence on Wapping and London.

The year-long project uncovers the little-known heritage of the birth of modern policing, which is usually associated with Sir Robert Peel’s founding of the Met in 1829, but really began with the Thames police founded 31 earlier in 1798.

The river police were originally set up by the West India Committee to protect the highly-prized Caribbean goods arriving in the Port of London, using the revolutionary method of employing men to prevent crime rather than react to it, the exhibition reveals. The constabulary was later amalgamated with the Met Police in 1839.

Police river patrol in east London in 2003. Picture: Steve Bishop

Police river patrol in east London in 2003. Picture: Steve Bishop - Credit: Steve Bishop


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The Met’s Marine Support Unit, as it is known today, is recognised by Unesco as the longest, continuously serving police force in the world which still operates out of the same site on the Wapping waterfront as it did in 1798.

The Museum of London Docklands exhibition at West India Quay, Canary Wharf, runs until January 14.

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