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Tour of Thames River Boat Museum

17th May 2022


Visit to the Thames River Police Museum at Wapping – 17 May 2022


A capacity attendance of 16 Members of the Club were met at the door of the headquarters of the Thames Division of the Metropolitan Police by Rob Jeffries, the Hon. Curator, who led us to the Museum which is housed in what used to be the carpentry workshop.  Rob joined the Met in 1973 and moved to the River Police in 1988.  He gave us an interesting and amusing talk on its origins and development.

In the 1790s, London was the world’s busiest port and a considerable amount of goods were being lost to theft.  Goods from the West Indies such as sugar were a particular target and those trading in them were understandably keen to limit their losses.  Inspired by Patrick Colquhoun, who had written ‘ A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis’, and against the opposition of the Government of the day, they established in 1798 a force, composed of ex-sailors, at their own expense to police the river.  This was overseen by two magistrates, one of them Colquhoun, whose courts were at Wapping.  The force’s effectiveness was quickly recognised and the Government took it over in 1800, although it did not get around to forming the Met itself until 1829 and the Thames River Police can thus be said to be the forerunner of all police forces.  Ten years later, it became the Met’s Thames Division.

The Division currently consists of 65 officers.  Officers have to have served two years with the Met before they can join and undergo a twelve month training course in such matters as navigation.  Ten officers are divers and they comprise the Underwater Search Unit, which covers the whole of the Met’s area, not just the river itself.  Another specialist skill the Division has is abseiling, used among things to check over the roofs of the stands at Wimbledon.  It works regularly with other Divisions of the Met such as the Armed Response Unit and the Drugs Squad.

Rob said two events had changed and expanded the Division’s work.  The first was the ‘Marchioness’ disaster of 1989 in which 57 people died when a pleasure boat was hit by a dredger.  The second was the 9/11 attack in New York in 2001 which revealed the need to assess the risk of the properties along the River such as Canary Wharf being attacked by terrorists and plan for their protection.

After Rob’s talk, we had an opportunity to look round the Museum which is small but contains many interesting objects dating from the foundation of the River Police up to the present day and ranging from cutlasses and paintings of Patrick Colquhoun and the rowing boats first used by the force to a diving suit.  Rob said he believed the most valuable object was a very rare medal commemorating the flight in 1912 of Frank McClean under Tower Bridge.

After thanking Rob, we adjourned to Il Bordello which, it is stressed, is just a restaurant providing no other services.  We had an enjoyable lunch there of good food served in generous portions.  

Wapping was looking at its best in the fine weather and we thank the Master for organising this successful visit and Siobhan for ensuring the lunch went smoothly.


William Morton

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