The Metropolitan Police Marine Workshop has a unique history operating along the River Thames. In the 1790s, with an estimated £500,000 of imports being stolen every year from the London Docks, the merchant magistrate Patrick Colquhoun, along with Essex Justice of the Peace John Harriot and the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, proposed the creation of a Marine Police Force, which would be financed by the shipping companies. The Marine Police were officially formed in July 1798, taking a building at Wapping Old Stairs, with a force of 50 men and a carpenter’s workshop for boat building and repair. In 1839 the Marine Police Force was merged with other law enforcement groups, including the Bow Street Runners, to form the Metropolitan Police Force.
The police building at 100 Wapping High Street was built in 1872, with a new workshops for boat building and a jetty for moorings. At that time the Thames Division, as they were known, operated from Teddington to Dartford Creek, primarily rowing the length of the river in 6 hour shifts, known as ‘patrolling the beat’ because of the beat of their oars. After the Princess Alice disaster at Gallions Reach in 1878, two steam launches were commissioned to enable the Thames Division to reach incidents more quickly. By 1910 the fleet were largely power boats, and the workshop at Wapping was covered to include a trap door to enable marine engineers to lift engines in and out of the vessels.
In 1973 a new boatyard was opened at Wapping for the maintenance of the Marine Policing Unit vessels. Today they continue to patrol 36 miles of the Thames, and 100s of miles of inland waterways, employing boat builders and marine engineers, as well as training new apprentices to work on their vessels. With a state-of-the-art workshop, training opportunities and excellent working conditions, many of the men who have apprenticed at the yard have continue to work at the Marine Workshop throughout their careers.
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