The Story of Ipswich’s Dock Police

Ipswich’s modern police force formed in the 1830s around the same time that construction of the Wet Dock began. As in many boroughs across the country it was small, especially for a town of Ipswich’s size, growing population and regional importance. In 1844 it consisted of only 20 Police Officers of various ranks.

During the construction of the Wet Dock, the Ipswich Dock Commissioners needed protection of the works, from both vandalism and theft. Which was not easy due to the open access to the site, so the Dock Commission specifically funded and supported the Ipswich Borough Police, to ensure its docks were protected.

In January 1840, the Dock Commissioners had given £10 (£604 in 2017) to the police in acknowledgment of the protection given to the works. Following this the Dock Commissioners suggested that an extra policeman be added to the established force due to the increased duties of watching the quays and wharves for crime. But it would be the Dock Commission that would pay for it.

By 1861 the Port of Ipswich was flourishing, and cargo was moving in and out of the port at astonishing rates. Additional police protection was therefore required. So, a section of the Customs House was converted, becoming Dock Station No.1. Which was used as the main station for Police Constables charged with protecting and patrolling the quays and wharves of the Wet Dock. Dock Station No.1 provided space for official duties as well as living accommodation for the first Police Officer based there, P.C. Thompson. Apart from his standard police equipment, he was also equipped with drag and lifelines, a cart and a copy of Dr Marshall Hall’s manual “Instructions for Dealing with the Apparently Drowned”.

In 1887, the Dock Commissioners sought permission to appoint the then resident P.C. Hughes to become ‘Superintendent of Traffic’ for the docks.  For this extra responsibility the Dock Commissioners paid him as a sergeant and provided him with support in the form of an Assistant Superintendent, P.C. Orford Woods. Despite responsibility for the docks and funded by the Dock Commission both remained Ipswich Borough Police Constables but could wear silver anchor insignia on their sleeve.

A busy Common Quay and Albion Wharf that Police Constables would have patrolled, c.1897 – Harry Walters Collection – IMT Image Archive

This force was strengthened by special constables during the World Wars. As port areas were restricted by the Defence of the Realm Acts and other Port Acts. After the First World War and with the amalgamation of Suffolk’s district police forces into the countywide Suffolk Constabulary, policing in Ipswich changed. In 1921 the Custom House police station closed. Its offices and accommodation repurposed, only the cells remained. This marked the end of a permanent resident Police Constable based on the Docks.

In 1939 the Custom House police station was reopened as No.2 Station. Substantial recruiting of special constables in the Second World War subsequently occurred. The aim of these special constables based at No.2 Station being to support the Suffolk Constabulary with wartime tasks. Which included enforcing blackout regulations and assisting with the aftermath of air raids, which aimed to destroy Ipswich’s docks, shipping and factories.

The station was finally closed in 1948 and its Police Officers moved to other stations across the town. This marked the end of specific police duties around the Port of Ipswich.

If you have any more information about Ipswich’s Dock Police, we would be interested to find out more. This is one, among many topics from Ipswich’s maritime past that is worth further research. If you are interested in helping us research more of Ipswich’s maritime past, please do get involved and join our volunteer research team.

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