While continuing my quest to explore hidden historic London, I stumbled across a claustrophobic policeman’s worst nightmare – Britain’s smallest police box. Nestled in the south-east corner of Trafalgar Square lies a lamp post with a secret, and much like the subject of my last blog, something I have unwittingly leant against in the past. But there is an interesting, and I suppose practical, history surrounding this structure which makes the history of the square just that much more layered.
By the 1900s, Trafalgar Square was already a popular site of protest, with emotions often running high and tensions bubbling. This continues today. The banners might have changed but the power of protest has not. One thing though, that has altered, is the way these protests have been policed.
In 1927 it was decided that a lamp post was to be hollowed out and repurposed into an observation post for police officers. Here, lawmen could monitor and report on protests within the relatively safe and hidden confines of a lamppost. The police box was outfitted with a direct line to the police station – Scotland Yard I’m told, but this is disputed. The lamp itself remained, and upon making a call for help, it would flash and alert surrounding policeman to come and assist. The box could house two prisoners and a single officer; close confines acquaints a man with strange bedfellows I’m sure.
The police box has now been decommissioned. I suppose CCTV and radios made it somewhat obsolete, or health and safety made it a hostile work place. If you were to look inside today all you would see are some brooms. I had a whim that the brooms somehow – somehow – had historical significance. All it took was a Google search though, to discover that the police box had taken on a new practical role – a broom cupboard for Westminster’s council cleaners.