GLASGOW can lay claim to the UK’s first professional police force.

Its formation in 1800 predated that of London’s Metropolitan Police by some three decades and had a profound impact on the development of the city.

In the two centuries since, several sites have been home to Glasgow’s finest. The force’s original base was the session house of the Tron Kirk (the present-day site of the Tron Theatre) and it was here that the Glasgow Police first mustered on November 15, 1800 – exactly 223 years ago today.

Glasgow Times: Trongate in 1902Trongate in 1902 (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

The assembled squad must have been an impressive sight: Dr John Aitken, a police commissioner, declared that the force was “so large and overwhelming that it would drive iniquity out of the city as though by a hurricane.”

At this time, the staff comprised a chief of police, three sergeants, nine officers and 68 watchmen, who patrolled the streets at night. It soon outgrew the Tron Kirk session house and moved to a larger office on the corner of Bell Street and Candleriggs.

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The new premises contained two walled presses for prisoners and a large room underneath containing seven cells. “We now thought that there was no danger to us and that we had provided prison accommodation to serve us for a generation,” said Aitken.

Business increased so swiftly, however, that the force had to move again just two years later, this time to an old joinery business on South Albion Street. The police board then decided to buy the site and it was here that the first Central Police Office was opened in 1825.

Glasgow Times: Maitland Street Police Office in 1912Maitland Street Police Office in 1912 (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

This building served the force well for some 80 years and it was certainly a busy place, especially at weekends, when early reports show that more than a hundred people were detained for drunkenness alone.

As Glasgow expanded during the nineteenth century, so did its police force and its presence across the new, enlarged city.

First, it amalgamated with the burgh forces of Gorbals, Calton and Anderston, and the expanded Glasgow Police was divided into four divisions: Central, Western, Eastern and Southern.

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Another major boundary extension of 1891 added two more divisions (Queen’s Park and Maryhill) and by the turn of the century it employed more than 1300 officers. The final significant boundary extension of 1912 saw the force reorganised into 11 districts.

At the heart of this network was the Central Police Office on the corner of St Andrew’s Square and Turnbull Street. Opened in 1906 and built at a cost of £36,000 (the equivalent of more than £15 million today, compared with average earnings), the purpose-built office was the home of Glasgow police for decades and acted as the city’s court.

Glasgow Times: Central Police Office on Turnbull Street in 1914Central Police Office on Turnbull Street in 1914 (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

It later housed the Glasgow Police Museum before finally closing in 2008 after a century of service, and the B-listed building still stands today.

Alongside the new Central Police Office, other offices sprang up across the city. These included sites at Craigie Street (headquarters of the Queen’s Park Division, built in 1893 and closed in 1990), Orkney Street (originally built as Govan Burgh Chambers in 1866 before adding a police and fire station in 1899) and Gairbraid Avenue (home to Maryhill Police for almost a century, until the new office on Maryhill Road opened in the 1970s).

Glasgow Times: C Division HQ on Maryhill Road, 1978C Division HQ on Maryhill Road, 1978 (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

These buildings contributed much to the character of the neighbourhoods in which they were situated, with many of the Victorian and Edwardian offices achieving listed status. Even the later replacements, of which Maryhill is a good example, speak to a functional style of architecture that was in some ways a response to changes in policing.

By the 1950s, the reorganised Glasgow Police employed more than 2000 officers across seven divisions and was well-equipped to respond to these changing demands. The Central Police Office became an intelligence centre of sorts, adding an information room with several switchboards, exchange lines and teleprinters to enable swift communication across the network.

The City of Glasgow Police eventually stood down on May 15,  1975 with the formation of Strathclyde Police, and the new force moved its HQ to Pitt Street shortly thereafter. Although Glasgow’s own police force no longer exists, its legacy can be seen in the built environment across the city.