Port of Bristol Police

Port of Bristol Police

The Port of Bristol Police Force, formerly often referred to as the Port of Bristol Authority Police, are responsible for policing and the security of the Port of Bristol estate in England, which comprises Avonmouth Dock, Bristol, and Royal Portbury Dock, in North Somerset, and includes Denny Island and the islands of Flat Holme and Steep Holme in the Bristol Channel.

The force is considered a specialist force, and its remit is primarily towards the Dock Estate. The Port of Bristol police are sworn Police Officers and have all the powers a Home Office Police Force. This small but professional force had close links with the Dept of transport, the home office, Avon and Somerset Constabulary. The Port of Bristol Police is the second dock police force in the country to be established after London.

The force polices the Avonmouth and Royal Edward Docks, situated in Bristol, and the Royal Portbury Dock, situated in the district of North Somerset.Under a memorandum of understanding serious crime will be handled by the local Home Office police force, Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

The Port of Bristol Police force formerly used two ranks not common in British police forces: Junior Sergeant (introduced at some point between 1958 and 1963, and obsolete by 1969), between Constable and Sergeant, and Staff Sergeant (introduced at some point between 1951 and 1958), between Sergeant and Inspector.

A Bristol Docks Police baton inscribed ‘ Property of the Bristol Docks Company – 1804’ and two other batons dated 1825 are on display at the Bristol Museum.


The Port of Bristol Police started as The Bristol Docks Company in 1803. The Bristol Docks Act 1803 created the company and provided for the improvement of the Port and Harbour of Bristol.

A force of 51 men were duly appointed as constables under this Act and were stationed in a Police Office building at Wapping Wharf, adjacent to the Bristol Dock Company office at Underfall Yard, Bristol City Docks. This force can boast to be among the first in the country to have formed a similar Dock Police to that of London.

Section 22 of the Bristol Docks Act 1803 gave the company powers to appoint constables for the purpose of preventing thefts on the Rivers. The City Docks, then as now, lie on the Rivers Froome and Avon. Jurisdiction of the constables extended to land within the City of Bristol boundary and where the docks lay within the adjoining counties of Gloucestershire and Somerset then constabulary powers were also enjoyed and offenders brought before the Bristol Justices.

Section 25 of the 1803 Act gave power to constables to stop and detain persons suspected of having goods stolen from vessels in the harbor. This power was not only given to constables appointed under the Act but extended to…..every Constables, Petty Constables, and Watchman of every Parish, Precinct and Place in the said City of Bristol……

Section 26 provides powers to magistrates to issue warrants to the said constables.

Section 32 provided penalties of Transportation to such places beyond the seas for fourteen years……..or imprisonment or whipping.

In 1848 the Bristol Dock Company was taken into the ownership of Bristol City Council and began trading as the Port of Bristol Authority. It was then deemed unnecessary by the new authority to continue with the inherited police force, as Bristol had by then in 1842 formed a River Police section of the Bristol Constabulary.

In 1877 the Bristol and Portishead Pier and Railway Company formed a small police force at Portishead Dock comprising of a sergeant and six constables. A force of similar size was also formed by the Bristol Port and Channel Dock Company at Avonmouth in 1878.

These two dock companies were subsequently acquired by the Port of Bristol Authority in 1884 and the present Port of Bristol Police Force were then reformed from its beginnings in 1803.

Existing records show six constables joining in 1885, they were W.Hawes, J.Kilminster, J.Cook, M.Bailey, J.Smith and C.Beasant. Supervisory officers appointed at that time were sergeants J.Morcombe and W.Jelly. In command was Inspector Twitt on secondment from Bristol Constabulary.

Little is known of these first officers, however the following letter from a retired Dock employee appeared in the February 1957 issue of the Ports newspaper Tideway.


I was very interested to see in the September 1951 Newsletter of Tideway as it is called today “Another Exhibition of Beauty” and it showed me what a great difference there is in the Dock Police Force of today to that of 60 odd years ago.

The beauty part of it would not have been so great as at present, although some of the Old Brigade did fancy their chance in their uniforms, especially Sergeants Jelly and Morcombe and later Sergeant Buckingham. 60 years ago There were about 6 policeman and now, I understand, it is more like 66.

The first dock policeman was William Hawes who lived in Shirehampton. I did not know him as a policeman, but I knew all the others.

I stated work on Avonmouth Docks in January 1889 and the Sergeants were Jelly and Morcombe doing 12 hour shifts, the others were Constables John Kilminster (Bobby Jack), Joe Cook, Bailey, Smith Lawrence, Charley Beasant and John Buckingham who when the three shifts operated became the third Sergeant. Then came Constables Bradshaw, William Burge and his two sons William and Edgar, Dick Painter and Jimmy Rex, and then another Sergeant came on the scene, Sergeant Baker.

Constable Charley Beasant was stationed at the Marine Bank Station wicket gate, which was about where the Central Time Office is now. That was the way out to the Marine and Tower Hotel, along the sea bank dividing the mainland from Dunball Island with the two rivers running between them. Many a time I have crossed the bridge connecting the island with the shore.

After some time the other policeman became jealous of Charley Beasant who was always on day work duty, and he in time had to take his turn with the others on shift work.

The main Gloucester Rd entrance gate was always kept shut and only ever opened when traffic had to be let in or out .There was a small police office there where dock workers were able to enter and leave the docks after being checked by the Dock Police.

There was one policeman stationed at the Eastern Gate, which was past N Berth towards the westend of the dock, he changed over with another policeman who patrolled the dock and another at the Cattle Lairs, when a cattle ship was in., or otherwise they patrolled on a roving commission.

One or two great yarns could be told about these men and some of the old dock workers, but most have long gone to the Great Beyond. I expect that Dock Office in Queen Square may be able to carry on with the Dock Police history from there, about the men who came along when the new Dock was started and when Inspectors came and the others made their presence felt.

Mention was also made of other officers who joined in the period 1885 to 1901 and include Sergeant J.Davis 1886 at Portishead Dock. A memorandum dated 2nd Feb 1902 from the Portishead Dock Master to the Secretary of the Dock Company shows that Messrs Pearson, Huggins & Co of Bristol were supplying dock police with naval police hats , reefer jacket coats, knitted polo necked jumpers, (with the words DOCK POLICE woven in silver wire across the chest,) together with trousers and boots. These were issued to Sgt Davis, Constables Hill, Russell, Smith, Poulson, Brown, Parrell , Grandfield, Charler, Phillips and Hookway and later a helmet to replace the earlier hat and a top coat instead of the reefer jacket coat.

28th January 1929 The Chairman reported that the Sub-Committee appointed in Minute No. 10,053 of the 12th Nov 1928, had this day considered recommendations of the General Manager for the reorganization of the Police and Fire Brigade arrangements at Avonmouth and Royal Edward Docks, and the following Minute had been passed to them:-


The General Manager referred to the changed conditions as regards fire risks at Avonmouth Docks since the present system was adopted many years ago, ie the construction of the Royal Edward Dock and the Extension recently completed, and the consequent smaller use of the Avonmouth Dock, also the urgent necessity for economies, and submitting proposals which had been discussed with the Chief constable for reorganizing the existing arrangements. These proposals are, briefly, that in future the Committee should revert to the former practice of accepting from the City Watch Committee the normal position for fire protection afforded to property owners in general within the City, undertaking, however as a voluntary matter, the provision and maintenance of the Fire Float Salamander to assist in dealing with large fires; that the City Police at present engaged in patrol work be gradually replaced by the Dock Committee’s own Dock Police Force as before under an officer appointed for that purpose and that a smaller number of City Police (not exceeding three) be engaged solely for general detective work. The immediate step proposed to be taken is that the services of eight of the City Police be dispensed with and that they be replaced as before by Docks Police, to be transferred from Portishead Dock and additional Constables be engaged and appointed. Resolved that the scheme be approved and that the General Manager make the necessary arrangements with the Police Authorities and report further on the matter in due course.
Dock Committee minutes 1929

11th Feb 1929………also for the deduction of the number of the Dock Police (at Portishead Dock) from 12 to 7 and for the transfer of the balance for duty at Avonmouth, be approved.

25th Feb 1929 With reference to Minute No 10,201 of 28th January 1929, read memorandum dated 19th January, 1929, the General manager, reporting that the Chief Constable has obtained the sanction of the Home Office to loan to the Committee of either a Sergeant or an Inspector for the purpose of organising the proposed new Dock Police Force at Avonmouth Docks, and submitting for the approval of the Committee draft ruled and regulations for this service. Resolved that the report be recorded, and that he draft rules and regulations to be signed by all members of the force be approved.

29th April 1929 Authorised expenditure for repairs, decorations etc, to four of the Dock Committee houses at Avonmouth to be occupied by Dock Police transferred from Portishead Dock. Amount of Estimate £45. Additionally authorized to arrange for gas and electricity supply at 55, Richmond Terrace, Avonmouth.

13th May 1929 Annual supply of one pair of boots and waterproof leggings to members of the Dock Police Force at Avonmouth. Estimated costs £45. Costs of first issue will be about £70 owing to double issue of boots in order that arrangements may be made for repairs as required.

10th June 1929 That in reference to the report made by the Dock Police that they arrested G.Hookwas, foreman, Sack Department, Avonmouth, on a charge of disposing of sacks under the control of the Docks Committee, the Dock Police be requested to proceed with this prosecution.

10th June 1929 J.R. Hoult (31) twisted left ankle when crossing permanent way, R.E. Dock, whilst on Police patrol duty.

14th October 1929 Fatal Accident Dock Policeman J.R. Hoult. With reference to minute No. 10,541, the Town Clerk reported negotiation conducted with the representatives of the widow of Dock policeman John Hoult with regard to the claim for compensation arising out of the death of her husband, and it was proposed that his claim should be settled by the payment of a sum of £800 less the amount of the weekly payments of £2.10s.Od made to Mrs Hoult by the Docks Committee since the date of the accident, and that Messrs. John Robinson & Co had agreed to pay 50 per cent of the total claim, viz £400, and to ignore the sum of £50 which they had already paid to the widow, subject to the Dock Committee agreeing to bear the cost of any legal expenses concerning the settlement of the matter. Resolved that the proposed settlement be approved.

9th December 1929 Number of established posts (for the purpose of proposed Corporation Superannuation Scheme) Dock Policeman, including Dock Fire Policeman (28) Estimated increase of posts during five years of scheme (12)

During the two world wars the War Reserve Police were introduced and supported the Dock Police Force. The Force was restructured in 1929 and 1945 with stations at Portishead and Avonmouth Docks. When Royal Portbury Dock was built in the 1970’s an additional station was built there and Portishead Docks Stn was closed.

In 1991 there was an establishment of a Chief Police Officer (Supt rank), two Chief Inspectors, two Inspectors, one Staff Sgt (replaced by a Station Sgt) nine tour Sgts and 80 Police Constables, allowing for one Detective Sgt and four Detective Constables, all trained at the Detective Training School in Hendon, London.

The force was then restructured with Bristol City Council leasing the Port Estate to the Bristol Port Company, the force was then reduced in size to one Inspector, one Station Sgt and two Tour Sgts and twenty constables. These were joined in 2005 by a number of newly created Police Community Support Officers. All Police Officers are trained at Dover Harbour Police Training College .


See also

* Policing in the United Kingdom
* List of police forces in the United Kingdom

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