Glasgow Police Museum

Police museum eddie-and-alistair

Hiding in plain sight in Merchant City, tucked away on the first floor of a building above a fancy restaurant, the Glasgow Police Museum is a veritable treasure trove of historic artifacts from the UK's oldest police force. In this feature, we take a tour of this cave of policing wonders under the knowledgeable care of curators Alastair and Eddie, and see what changes the years have brought in the tools of the trade used by Scotland's finest.

"It's been sixteen years since we opened," Eddie says. "We do a couple of days a week. We’re volunteers, and the museum's set up by the Glasgow Heritage Society, which was started in 1999. In 2002, we opened the museum, and we get between nine and ten thousand visitors a year, so that’s about 160 thousand people since the time we opened. The staff are all volunteers, all retired officers apart from a few exceptions, and it’s very successful."

"The Glasgow Police Museum is based on the city of Glasgow Police, which was Britain’s first police force," Alastair tells me. "We’re all told at school that Robert Peel created the police in 1829 in London, but Glasgow had a police force fifty years before in 1779, and it was formalised by the Glasgow Police Act which was signed by King George III in 1800, when Robert Peel was a twelve year old school boy. There were actually eighteen police forces in the UK before Peele’s police, so where they got the idea his was first I’ve no idea."

Museum composite 1

"The police went from using a top hat to the helmet, to different styles of helmets," Alastair tells me as we go into the museum's gallery and are greeted with an array of glass cases. “In 1912, there were these helmets with the shiny metal badge, but the officers didn’t like them, because at night it reflected the light, so what they did was give them a black badge and black buttons on their greatcoats so they wouldn’t be so visible to suspects. Now today, stealth isn't so much of a priority, and they have the bright yellow high vis jackets."

"Getting restraints on a suspect back in the day was a two man job," I'm told as we stop to admire a selection of what look like manacles. “The handcuffs here are designed like a tourniquet and called Snitchers; you put it round the wrists, the cop on the other side did the same, and you walked the suspect into the office. The metal one there is an early version of the one we use today."

In the next case are an assortment of elegantly painted Billy clubs. "These were the early batons," Alastair explains. "We have a George the 4th model, used from 1820 to 1830, William the 4th from 1830 to 1837, and an early Victorian one 1837."


“In the Second World War, obviously there were bombings in Glasgow and Clydebank," Alastair continues, indicating what looks like an early biohazard getup, “so policemen had to carry a helmet and gas mask. The lamps they carried had a screen on the front to stop it shining upwards and being visible to German planes. Although I’ve always wondered why they bothered, as there’s a big shiny river running through the middle of the city."

The next point of interest is a display cabinet with a selection of communication gear. "Communication went from the wooden clappers, to the whistle, to the police box," Alastair informs me, "even though we all had whistles right up to the 1970s, probably longer. Even as an inspector in 1989, I still had a whistle. This radio here is dated to 1936. It’s a receive only set, the idea being you receive the call, and once you’re finished dealing with it, you went to the police box and phoned in the result. It wasn’t until after the start of the Second World War that the RAF perfected the two way radio, and then police managed to get them during the war. Up until the 1950s, if you joined the traffic department you had to learn the Morse code, which was still in use at that time."


Now we come to the guns. "The Martini International .22 Rifle here was carried on duty by Superintendent Alistair Petrie in Holyrood Crescent on 15 July 1969," Alastair explains. "An armed man, James Griffiths, was firing from the attic flat at 14 Holyrood Crescent, Glasgow. As there were no rifle marksmen in Glasgow Police at that time, the Glasgow Police Rifle Club members, with small calibre rifles, were called out to try to contain Griffiths in the flat at Holyrood Crescent, but he escaped over the rooftops. Griffiths was eventually cornered at 26 Kay Street, where Ch. Supt. Calum Finlayson shot him dead. The Enfield Pattern percussion pistol," he continues, indicating an antique sidearm of the sort Captain Jack Sparrow might be seen sporting, "was used by Glasgow Police in the 1850-60 period. The pistols were kept at the police office and issued only as required when police officers and detectives expected that the criminals they were going to arrest were armed. The pistol is marked ‘Glasgow Police’ and has an inventory number on the trigger-guard."

"We had Britain’s first police dogs too in Glasgow," Alastair says with no little amount of pride. "They were Airedales with Collie and Retrievers bred into them. Collies for the brains, Retriever for the sense of smell, and the Airedale was a big strong terrier dog that was easily bored, always liked to be active. That was why Major Richardson, an army dog breeder, selected that breed for the police. Glasgow bought four of them, two for Maryhill and two for the Queens Park area."


Before the days of modern police badges, Alastair explains, "A detective’s tip staff was his identity which he carried in his pocket. The policemen at the time carried their baton with the handle in the middle, they walked down the street and people could see they were policemen, because in that time the uniform was quite civilian in appearance. Obviously detectives couldn’t do that as they’d give the game away, so they carried a miniature in their pocket which they could show if asked to identify themselves."

And so, my personal tour of this fascinating time capsule comes to an end. If you'd like to find out more about the history of the UK's oldest constabulary force, then you can, and really should, download the leaflet at the bottom of this page and visit the Glasgow Police Museum during the following opening hours:

1st April - 31st October

Monday to Saturday 10am - 4.30pm
Sunday 12 noon - 4.30pm

1st November - 31st March

Tuesday 10am - 4.30pm
Sunday 12 noon - 4.30pm

Admission is free, groups are welcome, and can arrange an appointment on 0141 552 1818, or email them at this address.

The Glasgow Police Museum
First Floor
30 Bell Street
Merchant City
G1 1LG

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