City of London Police Snow Hill Police Station

Rebecca Walker, City of London Police historian and tour guide

In 1840, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, landlords of ‘The Greyhound’ pub in Smithfield leased the premises to the City of London Corporation for 43 years. The newly-established City of London Police needed buildings to work from, and so it was that a public house became the force’s first police station in the Smithfield area. The station stood north of Hosier Lane, so close to Smithfield Market that the latter's activities were quite literally on its doorstep. The Greyhound Wagon Office was one of its closest neighbours, and a covered gateway provided the access route – for both pedestrians and livestock - to and from it.

Snow Hill Watch House – Police Station No.2, formerly the Greyhound Public House, West Smithfield

A ‘police force’ was still a relatively new concept at that time; after all, the first ‘modern’ force, the Metropolitan Police, had only been created in 1829. Therefore the concept of what facilities a police station required was still in its infancy. Of course some modifications were made to the pub so that it could house prisoners, but it was not exactly fit for purpose.  One officer stationed there, Inspector Joseph Martin, was prompted to write to the Force’s Commissioner:

‘I respectfully beg leave to state that the Lock Up rooms at this Station, being recently built, and not having been dried in any way, are so cold and damp, that many of the Prisoners  who are detained in them,sometimes from 15-18 hours at a time, are in such a state with the Cold that when they leave them, they appear as though they had lost the use of their limbs’.  

Despite the building’s shortcomings, the City Police remained there until relocating to a purpose-built police station in Snow Hill in 1875. Here, in addition to cells, there was dormitory accommodation for police officers who, unless married, were required to live in. Good use was made of all available space, including the roof, where Inspector George Wheeldon (pictured below in uniform) laid on demonstrations of his system of police self-defence. This system was still taught to police officers in the 1920s, and Snow Hill welcomed many visitors from other UK and overseas forces interested in adopting his methods. Another ‘visitor’ to Snow Hill was Sylvia Pankhurst of suffragette fame. She edited the Workers’ Dreadnought (the mouthpiece of the Communist Party), which was printed in Fleet Street. In 1920, she was arrested and held in custody at Snow Hill for printing seditious articles.

Snow Hill Sports - Inspector George Wheeldon with th eself-defence team on the roof of Snow Hill Police Station, where they practised

In October 1927, following, the next, and final, incarnation of Snow Hill Police Station opened. This station housed senior officers and their families and provided 85 single bedrooms for officers.  

It was this station that, having survived a direct hit during one of the many WWII air raids on the City of London, still stands today. However, it did not survive the latest policing reorganisation. Earlier this year, Snow Hill closed its front doors for the final time, and the force moved out from a site it had occupied for almost 150 years.