Bow Police Station, 111 Bow Road, London E3

From Historic England entry:

“Bow Road Police Station is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * one of the finest stations in East London by John Dixon Butler, the most accomplished of the Metropolitan Police Surveyors; * the stately Baroque façade, ebullient stone dressings and the quality of the craftsmanship distinguish this from contemporary stations; * well-preserved cell block which once housed Sylvia Pankhurst; * group association with the nearby station of 1854 by an earlier surveyor, Charles Reeves.

HISTORY: Bow Road Police Station superseded a station of 1854 by Charles Reeves, which survives nearby and is listed at Grade II. The station originally housed one married inspector, one married constable (and, presumably, their families) and forty unmarried constables. Further accommodation was provided at a section house on Violet Street, Bow. In 1880, Bow was made the principal station of the Division until re-organisation in 1933.

Dixon Butler, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, succeeded his father, John Butler, to this post in 1895 and served as surveyor until his death in 1920 by which time he had designed over 200 police stations and courts. His period as surveyor is also notable for the architectural quality of his designs. Dixon Butler stations are usually in a domestic style, sensitive to the context of the areas in which they were located, with strong municipal qualities such as handsome iron railings, inscribed lintels identifying the building as a police station, and other stone dressings. Surviving stations illustrate his proficiency across a range of different sites as the Metropolitan Police’s jurisdiction was over a much wider area than comparable public service authorities, such as the London County Council, encompassing Middlesex and sections of other home counties. With this prolificacy came the opportunity to experiment with plan and elevational treatment and it is no surprise, therefore, that some of the most characterful and distinctive buildings in the Metropolitan Police estate are those by John Dixon Butler. In a wider context too, Dixon Butler’s police stations are noted as important components of early C20 townscapes which sit well alongside contemporary municipal buildings, and contribute to the high regard in which Edwardian civic architecture is held.

The Metropolitan Police Force Surveyorship was established in 1842, thirteen years after Sir Robert Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act of 1829. From the first purpose-built police station in 1831, at Bow Street, new stations were built throughout the C19, particularly in the late 1880s following the political unrest of that decade and high-profile events such as the Whitechapel Murders. Victorian police stations were hence built in prominent positions with easy access from the street, in order to advertise the presence of the police to a concerned public. Design often responded to political and social concerns, in the 1880s, for example, following a diphtheria case in Rotherhithe police station, the separate accommodation of police officers and prisoners was recommended. This was then overturned in the 1890s after a volatile police demonstration at Bow Street after which it was thought wise to house constables within the stations, and hence under the supervision of on-duty officers.

“Former Bow Street Magistrates Court and Police Station
Historical note: some of the best-known trials of suffragettes took place at Bow Street Court in the decade before the First World War. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was founded in Manchester by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903. The Union adopted militant forms of direct action including large-scale deputations to Parliament that often resulted in high numbers of arrests. Most of the offences were low-level so would be tried in London’s magistrates’ courts, including Bow Street. In 1908 the WSPU produced a leaflet that urged readers to ‘help the suffragettes to rush the House of Commons’ on October 13. Its leaders, Emmeline Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst and Flora Drummond, were arrested and tried at Bow Street. Although women were not allowed to practise law at the time, prisoners could defend themselves. Christabel Pankhurst had a law degree and conducted her own defence, becoming the first qualified woman to cross-examine witnesses in a court. A press photographer known to the Union took covert pictures of the trial showing the three defendants in the dock.” (Historic England)

By the time of Dixon Butler’s surveyorship a formula had been established: stations were designed with a mixture of police accommodation and cells; separate access for the police, prisoners and public was provided; and thought was given to the well-being of prisoners. One such occupant of Bow Road Police Station was the women’s suffrage campaigner and socialist Sylvia Pankhurst, who was arrested and held here for smashing windows in February 1913.

The cell block survives largely unaltered. The cells retain their doors with shuttered apertures for monitoring prisoners and inside there are solid half-height partitions indicating where there were once WCs. There are eight individual cells and one larger communal cell, this with a separate ablutions closet.”

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