Glasgow City Police - Times Past

Posted on 3 August 2023

In partnership with the Glasgow Times​, our archivists are exploring Glasgow's fascinating history. This week, Nerys Tunnicliffe writes about Glasgow City Police.

The records of the City of Glasgow Police are one of our most popular archive collections. As the UK’s oldest police (pre-dating the London Metropolitan Police) it’s a fascinating collection with records dating from the force’s formation.  

Established in 1800 when the Glasgow Police Act was passed in Parliament, there had been many attempts to start a police force in the city previously. Crime, strikes and unrest in the growing city had already led to the then innovative appointments of a force of men, overseen by an inspector, to police the streets in 1778. However, without the legal means to pay these men from City’s revenue and rates, the Glasgow magistrates struggled to maintain the force.

The passing of the 1800 Act meant that such funds could now be directed to the police force, and so Mr John Stenhouse, a city merchant, was chosen as Master of Police on 30 June 1800 with a salary of £200 per year. Two sergeants, six officers and sixty-eight watchmen were also employed with wages of 10 shillings per week. In 1825 the New Central Police Office was opened in South Albion Street.

With criminals moving their operations outside of the municipal boundaries in an attempt to dodge the new police, it did not take long for neighbouring burghs to set up their own police forces. Forces were founded in Gorbals in 1808, Calton in 1819, and Anderston in 1824. As the city’s boundaries were extended in 1846, all three forces were merged with Glasgow’s and the areas covered by Glasgow Police enlarged over the years. The force was organised into four divisions; a Central division covering the original Glasgow area, Anderston became the Western Division, Calton became the Eastern Division and the Gorbals was the South Division.

The spread of industry and population growth led to later forces established in the burghs of Maryhill in 1856, Govan in 1864 and Partick in 1871. However, the continued expansion of Glasgow meant that these forces too became part of Glasgow Police and by 1912 the force was divided into eleven divisions, with over 1355 officers and men.

One of the biggest highlights of the collection are the early personnel records which provide a more human element to the force’s history. As the force expanded Glasgow Police recruited from all over Scotland. A large number of highlanders joined the force, along with Irish and English settlers to the city. The records show rewards for officers stopping runaway horses or apprehending break ins. On the flip side they also show reprimands for officers ‘worse of liquor’, lateness or absent from their beat!

Glasgow Police survived many changes over its 175 years, policing the city through good and bad. In 1975 the creation of Strathclyde Police, bringing together several forces including Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Argyllshire, marked the end of the City of Glasgow Police.