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London Metropolitan Archives



Reference code(s): GB 0074 PS/TH

Held at: London Metropolitan Archives


Date(s): 1804-1971

Level of description: Collection

Extent: 79.78 linear metres (857 files and volumes).

Name of creator(s): Thames Magistrates Court


Administrative/Biographical history:

Thames Magistrates Court:
Thames Police Court was in origin the Marine Police Office or Thames Police Office opened at the instigation of merchants and dock owners and Patrick Colquhoun in 1798, and regularised by Act of Parliament in 1800. It was probably amalgamated with the Police Office in High Street Shadwell in 1839/40 and with the Lambeth Street, Whitechapel, Police District in 1845. In 1841 it was situated at 255 Wapping High Street. In 1844 it moved to Arbour Street, Stepney, where it remained, undergoing changes of address because of street-name changes: 1922-1939 Charles Street and 1939 onwards Aylward Street, Stepney.

History of magistrates courts:
An Act of 1792 established seven 'Public Offices' (later Police offices and Police courts) in the central Metropolitan area. The aim was to establish fixed locations where 'fit and able magistrates' would attend at fixed times to deal with an increasing number of criminal offences.

Offices were opened in St Margaret Westminster, St James Westminster, Clerkenwell, Shoreditch, Whitechapel, Shadwell and Southwark. An office in Bow Street, Covent Garden, originally the home of the local magistrate, had been operating for almost 50 years and was largely the model for the new offices.

In 1800 the Marine Police Office or Thames Police Office, opened by 'private enterprise' in 1798, was incorporated into the statutory system. In 1821 an office was opened in Marylebone, apparently replacing the one in Shadwell.

Each office was assigned three Justices of the Peace. They were to receive a salary of 400 per annum. These were the first stipendiary magistrates. Later they were expected to be highly qualified in the law, indeed, to be experienced barristers. This distinguished them from the local lay justices who after the setting up of Police Offices were largely confined, in the Metropolitan area, to the licensing of innkeepers. In addition each office could appoint up to six constables to be attached to it.

The commonly used term of 'Police Court' was found to be misleading. The word 'police' gave the impression that the Metropolitan Police controlled and administered the courts. This was never the case, the word 'police' was being used in its original meaning of 'pertaining to civil administration', 'regulating', etc.

In April 1965 (following the Administration of Justice Act 1964) the London Police Courts with their stipendiary magistrates were integrated with the lay magistrates to form the modern Inner London Magistrates' Courts.

The police courts dealt with a wide range of business coming under the general heading of 'summary jurisdiction', i.e. trial without a jury. The cases heard were largely criminal and of the less serious kind. Over the years statutes created many offences that the courts could deal with in addition to Common Law offences. Examples include: drunk and disorderly conduct, assault, theft, begging, possessing stolen goods, cruelty to animals, desertion from the armed forces, betting, soliciting, loitering with intent, obstructing highways, and motoring offences. Non-criminal matters included small debts concerning income tax and local rates, landlord and tenant matters, matrimonial problems and bastardy.

Offences beyond the powers of the Court would normally be passed to the Sessions of the Peace or Gaol Delivery Sessions in the Old Bailey (from 1835 called the Central Criminal Court). From the late 19th century such cases would be the subject of preliminary hearings or committal proceedings in the magistrates' courts.

Outside the London Police Court Area but within the administrative county of Middlesex lay justices continued to deal with both criminal offences and administrative matters such as the licensing of innkeepers.

The exact area covered by a Court at any particular time can be found in the Kelly's Post Office London Directories, available on microfilm at LMA. The entries are based on the original Orders-in-Council establishing police court districts. A map showing police court districts is kept in the Information Area of LMA with other reference maps. Please ask a member of staff for assistance.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Thames Magistrates Court, 1804-1971, including court registers; clerk's letter books and papers; and wreck enquiry notes. Court registers record the date of the hearing, the name of the informant or complainant (often the police), the name of the defendant, a brief note of the offence and the decision of the magistrate.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Court Registers (PS/TH/A); Clerk's Records (PS/TH/C); Merchant Shipping Act Commission (PS/TH/W).

Conditions governing access:

These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 1998.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to these records rests with the depositor.

Physical characteristics:


Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Received in multiple accessions, in 1984, 1988, 1991 and 2003.


Related material:

For related material see:
- Papers of Patrick Colquhoun (ACC/1230);
- Papers of John Reeves in ACC 0931;
- Calendars of Convictions 1794-1797 (MSJ/CC/01-03);
- Letter Books, 1804-1842 (X83/01-02).

DESCRIPTION NOTES Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: November 2009 to February 2010

Court administration | Administration of justice
Court officials | Legal profession personnel | Personnel | People by occupation | People
Court papers | Court records | Records (documents) | Records and correspondence | Information sources
Courts | Administration of justice
Legal history | Law
Legal procedure | Administration of justice
Magistrates | Legal profession personnel | Personnel | People by occupation | People
Magistrates courts | Legal systems | Law
Shipwrecks | Seaborne disasters | Accidents | Disasters
Manmade disasters

Personal names

Corporate names
Thames Magistrates Court

Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe
Stepney | London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe
Thames, river | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe
Whitechapel | Tower Hamlets | London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe