ooking into the history of police house and station plaques, it goes back to the very first days of policing. The Constabulary of Ireland, formed as a result of the Constabulary Act of August 1822, was a paramilitary police force and identified the barracks where constables and officers were based with a cast iron sign, simply marked "Constabulary" and with an Irish shamrock leaf

emblem. This prominent sign made it clear to locals and visitors alike that this was the local contact point for the Constabulary.




In 1867, Queen Victoria awarded the force the title "Royal", so becoming the Royal Irish Constabulary. With some 1,600 barracks and buildings around Ireland there were a lot of these signs and they still come up as collectables from time to time. These were followed by RUC plaques.











In addition to the Victorian Crown Constabulary of Ireland and Royal Irish Constabulary crests, there was also a King’s Crown RIC plaque manufactured too.




This was followed by a Garda plaque in the Irish Republic and a Kings Crown RUC plaque in Ulster after the 1921 separation.


The Garda cap badge design, used as a station plaque was cast at the foundry of Duthie and Large, at Athy, from a model by Herbert Painting, teacher of woodwork at the local technical school. These plaques are still in use. The original colours of green and yellow, were changed in later years to blue, grey and white on a black ground.


Forward now to the establishment of the New Police in mainland Britain and in cities and boroughs the sign for the police station became the blue lamp.




But although there were one or two rural counties who, following the voluntary acts of parliament of the early 19th century, established a Constabulary under their own Standing Joint Committee, it was not until the Police Act of 1856 that establishing a police service became mandatory and with it, of course, the establishment of the HMIs to inspect them.


So with constables now being posted to villages and small towns across the country, the question of how to identify to the public the local point of contact came to the fore. Even in small towns it was simpler with a police station, but in villages and rural communities in many counties, it was by installing a sign above the door of the place where the constable lived that became the accepted method.


Over the years, police houses with offices were provided, built and maintained by the counties, but initially houses and cottages were rented and assigned to constables.


The plaques that still exist are generally of a design with the name of the county in the circlet round the crest of the county, and surmounted with a Queen’s Crown (St Edward’s Crown). Although established during the reign of Queen Victoria, there seem to be very few plaques that have the Victorian Crown and even fewer with a King’s or Tudor Crown.




Like the uniform badges, there is quite a lot of variation. Many seem to have been painted in black or blue and white, certainly latterly, but this may have been because of economy. The redecoration of police houses was to a fixed schedule and it would be just too much time and trouble, and hence cost, to have additional colours. It was much easier to slap a dark coat of paint on top of the plaque every five years and pick out the highlights in a contrasting colour. There are still former police houses where the outline of where the crest was positioned can still be seen because of the dark paint that was applied to the brickwork as a result of the edge of the crest being painted.










Above left is Superintendent Leven outside the first Howden police station, c1890. Above right, now privately owned, the same house on Treeton Road, with the mark of the East Riding plaque still visible.


When the plaques were removed, and in my area the last few were only taken down as a result of an Instruction issued after the 1974 reorganisation, several years after the force in question had ceased to exist, the stain on the wall remained.


Here are a couple of examples of coloured plaques (besides those from Ireland). In the Durham County Constabulary example the crest is cream and the shield of the County Palatine picked out in blue and silver. The Essex cast iron plaque is one of few King’s Crown examples.








The East Riding Constabulary is, so far as I know, one of only two where the plaque contained a slider and as the Constables moved, they took their number with them and inserted it in the sign on their new house. The other force to use this method was Devon Constabulary.




Generally plaques were made of cast iron, but in my researching the manufacturer I have never been able to find out who it was. In the plaques I have seen, there has been no maker’s name included in the casting, but someone may have one that does also include the name. There were many small local foundries in the 19th century, and it is quite probable that there were many suppliers.


During my search for the maker of the East Riding plaques, I was told that that first police plaques were carved out of wood. There had been an example on the Superintendent’s house in the village of Welton, but when I visited, all trace of the sign had disappeared. The house, now named Court Lodge, still exists and still has the cells.




The RIC plaques above are made of a light weight alloy and easily recognisable as not being the original solid cast iron variety. The King's Crown example is not painted according to the regulation colours. It was suggested to him that because of the intensity of the original Troubles (1919-22) new station plaques had to be rushed into production to make up for those destroyed in attacks on Police barracks. They were made, so it is said, at the Harland and Wolff shipyard because the North of Ireland was the only 'safe' area for production, however there is no documentary evidence to support this. That would of course hold true for the King’s Crown version, but not the by 1919 obsolete, Victorian Crown style. In 1919 there would only be a requirement for KC plaques.


The owner of these believes they are actually relatively modern copies designed to fool the new collector into parting with substantial amounts of money. They're not bad reproductions though and in their favour they are light and thus easy to display, unlike the originals that would bring a modern stud wall crashing to the ground.




Keeping the RIC crests on the barracks in good order was an annual task, which fell to Constables. The following is an extract from the 1911 Royal Irish Constabulary Standing Rules and Regulations, which amended earlier versions:


Barrack Regulation – Section 39


STATION BADGE :- A station badge is to be conspicuously fixed on the outside of each barrack. Station badges should be painted by the men in the month of May in each year in accordance with the pattern on cardboard which has been issued. The cost of paint, etc., is to be charged to the public purse.


Two years later, enamel paints and brushes were supplied from the central stores.




Finance code, 1913 – Section 598


PAINT. :- A supply of pattern cards has been issued to counties, showing how station badges are to be painted, and enamels and brushes for that purpose are, under present arrangements, supplied from the Depot.


Not everyone is a dab hand with a small brush and enamel paints and I cannot help but wonder at the results of having the Constables doing the work.




However it was not only the station badges that had to be painted. One retired member of the RUC/PSNI tells me that many of the RIC and later RUC stations were in rural settings and were whitewashed with lime every year in May too. He didn’t know of the order number but there are lots of photographs of this “fatigue” as it was called being done. The RUC had a magazine called the Police Beat and also had a more formal Police Gazette magazine which carried historical articles about things like the “fatigue” duties. He included a photograph of one of the old “Barracks” which looks like it is in need of being “whitewashed” and with a clearly visible plaque above the door, that seems to have the Victorian crown, even though dated 1916.


During the early 1970s, I was a cadet stationed at the then York and North East Yorkshire Police HQ in Northallerton. For a time I worked in the housing office, where PCs Les Payne and Les Wing administered the maintenance for the stock of police houses in three former forces, the East Riding Constabulary, the North Riding Constabulary and the York City Police. York City did not mark their police houses with any distinguishing sign because, like many cities, they had a comprehensive system of police pillars and one or two boxes, where the public could contact their police.


In shire counties, it was only experienced married constables who were allocated rural police houses and beats, and indeed to get a police house of any kind you had to be married, but in the East Riding every police house had a plaque on it. In the town of Hessle just west of Kingston upon Hull, the police station, which had been the former superintendent’s house, was on Ferriby Road, but literally just round the corner in Gladstone Street, PC Dennis Radley lived in a police house. I remember the ERC plaque being above his door. Through the technology of Google Street View I could take you there but, as the front of the house has been painted, all trace of the sign has gone.


As a young officer with an interest in history, one day probably around 1973, when I was at the Sessions House DHQ in Beverley, I was shown the old mortuary which was in the basement of the Convent Building at the back of the Crown Court by the then Admin Chief Inspector, Reg Parnaby. There were perhaps a couple of hundred of the oval East Riding Constabulary signs lying in rows and piled up on the floor. Many were broken as they had been ripped from the walls by brute force, but some were intact. I enquired what was to happen to them. The answer was they had been sold to a local scrap metal dealer, along with three original gas light blue lamps, with crowns, but sans most of the glass.


Not so with North Riding plaques. I was given a copper King’s Crown crest which had once decorated the entrance to the North Riding Constabulary HQ in Racecourse Road. Also, while working at Northallerton I was offered one of the carved sandstone King’s Crown plaques that were built into the walls of police houses, rather than being attached by screws. In the police house storage yard, part of the North Riding County Council depot in Northallerton (this was before the 1974 boundary changes) there were several of these large and heavy plaques. To my great regret to this day, I declined the offer. The size and weight put me off, plus it was much easier to collect cap badges, helmet plates and collar dogs. I did manage to obtain a plaque from all three Yorkshire ridings though.




When North Yorkshire police houses were sold, the stone plaques had to be physically removed by hammer and chisel. The former detached beat house and office in Eastholme Drive, Rawcliffe, North of York bears witness to the removal with the square scar still clearly visible.




I believe PC Geoff Alderson, the son of a Gateshead Borough officer, was the last police occupier of this house. The office on the side is now a garage and I wonder if the current owners have any knowledge that this was once one of the southernmost outposts of the North Riding Constabulary?


At least one of these stone signs exists though. Above the front door of the splendid pre-war police station in Ashdale Road, Helmsley, the cream sandstone coat of arms is still clearly visible. To the right of the door is the current North Yorkshire Police crest.




This station is now closed and while the stone sign is still there, this splendid building now has "For Sale" boards outside and the North Yorkshire Police crest has gone. As policing in the UK contracts because of the continuing austerity measures, more and more rural police stations are closing. With services now being delivered by mobile police station instead, if at all, these old signs will also disappear. Once they are gone they are gone and whilst the clarity and detail in Google Street view is not great, it is better than nothing.




Above is the replacement, recently parked at the back of the old York City Police and Fire Brigade HQ, beside the Rive Ouse at Kings Staith in York.


The registration number on the Mobile Police Office is worth noting. AJ 1. This was the first registration number issued by the North Riding Local Taxation Office to the Chief Constable in 1904. It had always been on the official car of the Chief Constable of the North Riding, then York and North East Yorkshire police, and finally North Yorkshire Police.








Not all police plaques had the name of the county on them. Lincolnshire was another unique county because it was initially three police forces under one Chief Constable. The three parts were Lindsey, Kesteven and Holland. This is why older badges that were worn had ‘LKH’ in the centre and officers wore a letter L, K or H in front of their collar numbers.


Lincolnshire Constabulary used the title style County Police. This photograph is of a Lincolnshire mounted Inspector, believed to be at Alford.




Police houses had a cast metal plaque that just said the same, "County Police". This example came from the old police house at Crowle, on the Isle of Axeholme.




There are of course people who recognise the uniqueness of the houses they now own. They have called their property "The old police house" or "The old police station" and I am aware of at least one of these, in the village of Riccall near Selby, where the current owner, not a police officer, has an East Riding plaque on his wall.


Riccall, now part of North Yorkshire, was until 1974 in the East riding of Yorkshire.


Like the warrant card holders which started this train of thought, is having a sign on the wall illegal? Does it mean anything other than preserving a piece of history, before it disappears for good?


Not all the plaques were cast iron. The Kent County Constabulary example shown earlier is in polished brass. There are no prizes for guessing who would have to have kept it polished! This fine example from Oxfordshire is cast in lead and was for sale for £600 UK.




This rather nice oval plate that was offered for sale on eBay and has been identified as being from Haddington in Scotland. Haddingtonshire was a county until 1921, when it became East Lothian. There was also a Haddington Borough Police until 1875. Haddingtonshire Constabulary was formed on the 16th October, 1832 and existed until becoming East Lothian Constabulary, a separate force but under one Chief Constable with Mid-Lothian and West Lothian Constabularies in 1921, then Lothian and Peebles in 1950.






Above are two Derbyshire plaques, but apart from the RIC, like many plaques it is not know what the "official" colours were,








It seems that at least three Welsh forces also had police house/station plaques, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and the 20th Century Mid Wales Constabulary. The police on Guernsey also had (have?) a cast plaque that they use as well.








The sign above left was once on the police station at Ripley in Derbyshire.


These plaques do come up for sale. The one below, on the left, was sold at auction. The catalogue stated it was from Yorkshire. However I have never seen one used in any of the Yorkshire Ridings which didn’t include the force name. While the rose centrepiece is a "Yorkshire" or Tudor rose, a number of other counties also use the rose as their heraldic device.








The plaque above on the right has been identified after some detective work by the Derbyshire Library Service who confirm that it is actually from what is now called Cumbria, but at the time of the badge, was the Cumberland and Westmorland Constabulary – another joint police force, formed in 1856.


These badges seem to have been common on police stations across Cumbria until recently, often including the traditional blue lamp as well.








Above left the Wigton Police Station and above right the Appleby police station. However, look closely. Apart from the colours, the plaques are different. On the left, the rose is a Lancashire rose, with two petals at the top, on the right it is an English rose, with one petal at the top. One inscription reads County Constabulary, the other Constabulary Station.




There is a very enterprising website, the Old Cumbria Gazetteer (http://www.geog.port.ac.uk/webmap/thelakes/html/lgaz/lgazfram.htm) hosted by Portsmouth University - that has photographs of almost every old police station and rural police house that existed in the present Cumbria area, which includes the old counties of Cumberland, Westmorland, parts of the North Riding of Yorkshire and of Lancashire.








Researching this article, I came across a different type of crest, on a photograph of the police house at Cark, near Grange – over – sands, Barrow in Furness. This was of course once part of Lancashire, now in Cumbria, but the coat of arms in the centre is not the Lancaster Rose used by the force on their uniform badges, but the full coat of arms of Lancashire, of three lions and supporters.


The house, in Bank Top, is now privately owned, but according to Google Street view, the crest was still there in 2011.




Somerset Constabulary used a circular plaque with the name, but interestingly also without a crown.




Warwickshire was another force which used a light weight cast plaque, made of some sort of alloy.




To round off the UK plaques, this plaque is from the Mansfield area of the old Nottinghamshire County Constabulary.




And this one from the Nottingham City Police.


Of the Commonwealth plaques, the Queensland Police Museum sent me the following comprehensive information about their cast iron plates:


Queensland Police Station Badge


In 1907, Police Commissioner W.G. Cahill and the Deputy Government Architect designed the Queensland Police Station Badge. The design was similar to the uniform Cap Badge.


In 1911, 300 cast iron badges, each weighing 17 pounds (7 kgs) and costing 4 shillings and 10 pence were manufactured for the Police Department by Harvey & Son, Globe Iron Works, Brisbane and distributed as identification badges to every Police Station in the state.


In 1958, there was a need for an improved station identification sign and, over the next decade, the old cast-iron badges were replaced with illuminated signs which showed POLICE" in black letters on a white background.


I suspect that many more English, Welsh and Scottish county forces had these plaques, but where are they now? My thanks for images and information for this article to Graham Carter, Sean Hollands, John Endicott, Ian Parkin and Iain from Northern Ireland.

Copyright © 2019 British Police History. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use