It’s asking for trouble, isn’t it, using superlatives? Some smart-alec is bound to pop up and contradict your claim. Quite right too. But it’s an eye-catching headline and we really shouldn’t allow truth to get in the way of a good story.
So, next time you happen to be walking across Trafalgar Square with a companion that you’d like to impress, stroll nonchalantly across to the south-east corner (that’s the bit closest to the Strand) and spy a small, round, stone, structure with an ornate lamp on top and a pair of black, half-glazed, doors. Then ask your playmate, with a meaningful twinkle, “Now, what do you suppose that is?” Once you’ve shaken your head in merriment at all the absurd suggestions made by your fellow traveller – toilet, Downing Street’s secret back door, tobacco kiosk, Nelson’s pantry, headquarters of Universal Export, etc – you can say, “Why, bless you, that’s none other than the smallest police station in Britain” (slight pause) “ – if not in the whole, wide, world.” And before your associate has the chance to contest your assertion, you can further astound them – and the by now gathering crowd – with some additional knowledge, tempered with a touch of appealing humility, “Of course, there is a police kiosk in Carrabelle, Florida, in the USA, which is probably smaller; but nowhere near as nice. And I’m just repeating something I saw on A Bit About Britain, so I could be wrong. Anyway, isn’t it jolly spiffing?”
Your comrade will be so overwhelmed that they may even treat you to a glass of something in the Clarence across the road on Whitehall, on the corner with Great Scotland Yard.
Actually, I lied; it’s not really a police station. Trafalgar Square has long been a focal point for public gatherings and, it must be said, a smidgen of rowdiness – with the occasional riot thrown in for good measure. This small structure was in fact a kind of police observation post, created in the late 1920s by hollowing out the plinth that housed a gas lamp, dating from 1826. Slits were ingeniously cut in the side to provide 360 degree vision and a direct telephone line connected it to Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan Police. Apparently, it is large enough to hold one policeman or two prisoners (London’s criminals are quite small). Once electricity was installed, the light flashed blue when the receiver was lifted (or when the telephone rang – it depends which account you believe) in order to alert other constables to the possibility that something was amiss. Whistles blew, truncheons were waived and men came running to assist, practising puffing out, “You’re nicked, mate,” as they went.
Legend has it that the lamp originated from Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory; alas, this is unlikely. Alas, also, the tiny ‘police station’ in Trafalgar Square is no longer in use. I am not sure when it was decommissioned. It is mentioned in a London guide published in 1979 (a photo shows it with dirty, cream, doors), and it seems to have been working then. No doubt it gave way to cheaper CCTV. Or maybe they couldn’t connect a PC to it… The Met is helping us with enquiries on this and you will be the first to know what they say – though, obviously, they are quite busy catching bad people, so don’t hold your breath.
These days, the world’s smallest police station is apparently used as a broom cupboard by Westminster City Council. Seems like it’s made a clean break with its past.
This article first appeared in an earlier version of A Bit About Britain in 2016. Since then, more information has appeared on the Internet, not least an in-depth article on the excellent IanVisits blog, backed up by first-class research.