Monday, March 9, 2020

Trafalgar Square, London

On the look-out

How many people miss this as they walk across London’s most famous square? It has been called ‘London’s smallest police station,’ although even this is perhaps too grand a name for such a small building. It’s really a cousin of the blue police boxes that used to be a familiar sight and that acquired a new fame through the TV series Dr Who.

Trafalgar Square became a scene of large gatherings and popular protests in the 19th century. There was a at least a perceived need to have a police presence here in response to such assemblies and the police had a temporary wooden box erected in the square in the early-20th century, but no one was happy with either the appearance or durability of this. By 1926, with the General Strike alarming the authorities, it was suggested that a more permanent police observation post should be set up in here so that protests and demonstrations could be monitored. To begin with, the idea met with such public opprobrium that it wasn’t acted on, but then someone* had the idea of hiding such a structure in plain sight – in a grandiose stone lamp sited at one corner of the square. It was large enough for one officer and a telephone so that he could summon help from the nearest fully staffed police station. After it was converted from gas to electricity, the rather beautiful lamp at the top would flash to summon the officer if he had left his post to patrol the square.

I’m not sure when the box was decommissioned, but it’s now apparently used as a store for street cleaners’ equipment, although there didn’t seem to be much inside on the occasion recently when I passed. From a tiny ‘police station’ to a monumental tool cupboard: that’s progress.

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* The idea seems to have emerged in an exchange of letters between Sir Lionel Earle, permanent secretary to the Office of Works, and a Mr G. Edwards of the Metropolitan Police. Some sources attribute the idea to ’Sir Lionel Edwards’ but as Ian Visits points out in a generally excellent article, Sir Lionel Edwards seems not to have existed.


bazza said...

Been there lots of times of course but never noticed that. It was probably in one my childhood I-Spy books!
You may be interested in my latest post; it's actually about architecture....
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s deliberately devastating Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks, Bazza. I love the variety of that Highgate street you posted about! More please!

Chj said...

Phillip it reminds me of the lockup at Bradford on Avon.

bazza said...

There will be a part two!