The Police Box

— #1 Fishmarket

Overview Open Air Fish Market The Building Fish Auctions Working Fishwives Pier Parliament The Police Box

Newhaven Heritage is normally open every Saturday from 10am until 1pm

RIGHT: Police Box 23, D Division, now                     LEFT: Plan of Interior
in the ownership of local artist , Johnathan

A History of Edinburgh's Police Boxes

It all began with the invention in 1878 of the telephone by Edinburgh born Alexander Graham Bell.  Police in America quickly adopted its use to help fight crime creating a number of signal posts using Morse around their major cities to improve communication within local forces.

As early as 1890, Glasgow devised the first police boxes in the UK made from reinforced concrete using telephony.  However it was not until 1923 that the Metropolitan Police devised a cast-iron box of the type commonly associated with the Dr Who TV series.

Above all, the major advantage to having a network of Police Beat Boxes was that it made for the more efficient use of the front line personnel. No longer was time spent travelling to and from police station to the area of their beat to write reports or have their meal break.

Communication was also greatly improved by having the telephones installed in each of these boxes and by giving public access to the phone, emergency calls for fire or ambulance as well as reporting crime could be easily made when public call boxes were not available.

In 1933, Edinburgh’s City Architect, Ebenezer MacRae designed the unique police boxes that can still be seen around the city today.  He wanted something that was more in character with the “Athens of the North” and would complement the city’s architecture.  142 boxes in total were produced by Carron Iron Works in Falkirk and were sited throughout the city and were painted a dark blue.  Each gable features the city crest and Saltire patterned mouldings.

Inside each Beat Box was a desk and stool, a small sink with running water, and a power point for an electric kettle. There was a foldable stool for miscreants to sit and wait until a police van, commonly called a “Black Maria”, could be summoned.  A central light bulb and a small heater completed the interior equipment.  Above the desk was a a series of pigeon holes (or doocots) which was essentially the beat constables filing cabinet..  In these slots was kept  various paperwork such as General Orders, Weekly Records, and other information, A Keyholders Book and Police Gazettes were also kept here.  On the desk was always to be found the Beat Journal and the duty constable made an entry every time he left the box to patrol his beat.  A telephone was positioned in the left corner of the desk.

On the wall above the phone was a list of the Beat Patrols.  These could be ‘Half Hourly Turn’ and ‘1st’, ‘2nd’ and ‘3rd Hourly Turns’.  Each ‘Turn’ had a list of streets in the order to which they were to be patrolled. The ‘Turns’ could be worked in random order and reversed to vary the route so that the beat officer’s route could not be predictedn if being watched.

Section Sergeants and the Shift Inspector would come to the box and check which ‘Turn’ the Beat Man was on.  Then, dependent on the time of entry, they would either follow the PC’s route until they found him or patrol it in reverse until they achieved the same result.

A blue light was sited on the police box roof.  This could be activated from the area police station when required to attract the duty constable’s attention. This light was supplemented with an Air Raid siren during the Second World War.

Next to the beat box entrance was a small hatch with a sprung door. This used a speaker-phone system for the public to make emergency calls.  With the introduction of police radio and patrol cars in the 1970s, the increasing likelihood of people having their own telephones in their houses and, of course, the ubiquitous mobile phones, these iconic industrial buildings of their period stand as monuments to a bygone age.  Virtually all of the Police Beat Boxes have now been sold off and are in private hands such as this one beside Newhaven’s Fishmarket.

By and large, the police on duty were regular to the area and were well-known and respected by the community.  They knew the police and the constables knew them.  Firm but fair seems to be the consensus of the population of the period.

So why, might you ask, would there be a police box sited here outside the Fishmarket?  The police constable was one of three officials always present at the Fishmarket, the Secretary of the Market Association who amongst other duties would keep a tally of the fishboxes that came and went into the Fishmarket using a token system,  the Harbourmaster who had a box office in the market and would check on all non-LH registered boats using the harbour for which they had to pay dues. All LH registered boats paid their dues annually.

The other official always at the market was a policeman who opened and closed the market gates and was responsible for ensuring that no unauthorised people attended the market or visited the boats docked along the pier on the market side.