The PLA Police Office in West India Docks

Until 1908, the Port of London docks were owned and run by separate companies who competed with each other for business – competition which was detrimental to their interests (they nearly all ran at a loss at the time), and damaging for Britain’s trade with the rest of the world.

The Port of London Act 1908 changed this, amalgamating the various dock companies, removing the competition, and creating the Port of London Authority which was given responsibility for the corporate governance and operations of all enclosed docks along the Thames (apart from Regent’s Canal Dock in Limehouse).

A consequence of this amalgamation was the merging of the various dock company police forces into a single PLA Police Force of more than 500 men who…

…were responsible for the protection of London’s commercial docks and had powers to stop and search people in the Docks and on docked ships. They dealt with criminal and accidental cases as well as giving assistance for state visits.
(Museum of London Docklands Website)

Dock policeman searching a worker (year unknown, but probably late 1800s). I think this photo is on display at the Museum of London Docklands and that’s where I took a photo of it.

The West India Docks were chosen as the site for the Chief Police Office, but at the time the location’s only police office was a small room in the corner of the Dock Offices (now known as the Ledger Building).

Illustration and plan: Survey of London (Athlone Press)

Therefore, a new building was built close by (opening in 1914). Survey of London:

C. R. S. Kirkpatrick designed a two-storey building, erected in 1914 by L. & W. Whitehead at a cost of £3,097. The Police Offices are of red engineering brick, with stone dressings and a steel-trussed and slate-covered hipped roof. The entrance is in the left side of a quadrastyle Doric portico, probably conceived as an echo of the hexastyle porticoes to the early nineteenth-century Customs and Excise office buildings near by.

Former Chief Police Office

Above the portico is the emblem of the Port of London Authority Police…

PLA Police emblem (this one was ‘lifted’ from the badge on a policeman’s helmet)

Dock workers walking towards the main gate, with the police office on the left. A screenshot from a short news film that was probably made in the late 1920s (on the right the Hibbert Gate is just visible, and this was demolished in 1932).

1937 A photo taken from the balcony of the police office – PLA police officers on parade. In the background, the wider entrance to the north quay as a result of the demolition of the Hibbert Gate.

From 1954 the building was no longer the Chief Police Office, but was given over to Divisional Police staff (Survey of London).


In 1981–3 it was converted to offices, with a caretaker’s flat, as part of the Cannon Workshops scheme (Survey of London).



More recently, the building has been a hotel (which appears to have recently gone out of business).

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7 Responses to The PLA Police Office in West India Docks

  1. Rich says:

    Very interesting Mick
    I never knew that their were all separate companies running the docks up to the formation of the PLA

  2. Jacqueline S says:

    Did it house a rather swanky restaurant in the late 90s? I remember being taken to lunch in a building like this and I was told it was the old police station for the Island. I think it was called Dock House or Dockers back then.

  3. Neil S says:

    Interesting read, thank you Mick

  4. Iain Nevill says:

    Good article Mick. I wondered what the letters L & I D on the policeman’s collar were. Perhaps they stood for the London & India Docks Company formed after the amalgamation of the St Katharine’s, London, East & West India Docks in 1900. Once the PLA police were formed the numbers were on the collar and letters (PLA) on the epolette.

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