The new City Police buildings, Bishopsgate, 1939

Howard Benge

Police buildings are unique, having specific requirements such as prisoner cells, large car parks, stables and a command centre with high tech equipment. The City of London Police’s challenge has been to house all the necessary elements of their service into a few buildings within the City. Early police stations were often old watch houses and even pubs, such as the police station in West Smithfield, which was formerly the Greyhound Public House. As policing became more sophisticated, the buildings needed to become purpose-built to accommodate modern policing needs.

The new City of London Police building at Bishopsgate, as pictured in The Builder in April 1939

Bishopsgate Police Station was one such station. Opened in 1939, it was designed by Messrs Vine and Vine, RIBA Architects, following a competition. It reflected the needs of the time and was considered so state of the art that a review was published in The Builder on 7 April 1939. This article gives us a glimpse of what the original building was like, as much development of it has taken place since. The building was built on a pre-existing and oddly-sized plot in the City. The width of the building and its frontage was only 55 feet (17 metres), while it stretched back 330 feet (just over 100 metres). The building was steel-framed, with thick concrete walls. The stairs and floors were made from reinforced concrete, and floors over the vital administrative units were crash-proof. This was in preparation for the upcoming war, in which it was believed that London would suffer from blanket bombing.

The facade was less utilitarian and faced with Portland Stone, with the plinth and piers between the ground floor windows made from Bluehill grey granite. The head above the main entrance is also made from the same granite – a single piece that weighs five and a half tonnes. The remainder of the exterior was finished with cream Gault brick, with white flush joints.

In addition to the police station proper on the ground floor (including the general office, charge-room and cells, dorms, mess room sand canteen), there were single and married quarters. The single quarters each came with a fitted wardrobe cupboard and the married quarters had two, three or four bedrooms, with their own dust chute and drying balcony. A hospital for police officers was arranged on the top floor, with all wards facing south. Sports facilities were also provided for officers; there was a billiards room, and the muster-room doubled up as a boxing ring.

The billiard room, as pictured in The Builder in April 1939
The canteen, as pictured in The Builder in April 1939

Bishopsgate Police Station was opened just a few months before the outbreak of the Second World War, and it was soon adapted to meet the challenges of the War and in particular, the Blitz. Officers’ families did not live there during the War and many officers found themselves sleeping overnight in the station, in offices and under desks. Famously, part of the basement was turned into a dark room for the police photographers Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs, who took photographs of the City during the Blitz. View the Cross and Tibbs Collection on Collage: London’s Picture Archive.

The review, 'The New City Police Buildings, Bishopsgate, EC', appeared in The Builder on 7 April 1939 and can be viewed at Guildhall Library.

The Muster Room, with boxing facilities, pictured in The Builder in April 1939
The Main Ward, Hospital Section, pictured in The Builder in April 1939

The Lavatory, Ground Floor, pictured in The Builder in April 1939
The Charge Room, pictured in The Builder in April 1939