The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History

Click here to return to the Home page      Click here for more information about this website       Click here to go to the A - Z Contents page       Click here to go to the Links page       Click here to go to the Disclaimer page       Click here to link to the Can you help? page



Updated:  30 August 2011 

What was described at the time as 'One of the most important steps in the history of Plymouth's administrative life..' was taken on Thursday February 28th 1935 when Mr A L Dixon, Assistant Under-Secretary for the Home Department, opened the new Police Headquarters and Magistrate's Court at Greenbank, which had previously been the Borough Prison.

After the ceremony, which followed the opening of the adjacent Fire Station, and the speeches in the parade room, the Police had a very busy night.  Some 40,000 files appertaining to various branches of work in the Plymouth police were transferred overnight from the old headquarters in Catherine Street, alongside Saint Andrew's Church, to the new building.  So efficient was the organisation that with minutes of their arrival at Greenbank, the files could be consulted once again, as though nothing had happened.

Even the Black Maria was pressed into service.  It was twelve years old and a familiar sight around the City.   It was claimed it had never been out of service for more than two hours at a time.   But shortly after this event it was replaced by a brand new 20 horse-power prison van of the very latest type.  It was still capable of 40mph even to the end, apparently.

The contractor for the conversion of the old prison buildings was Mr J W Spencer of St Lawrence Yard, Plymouth.   The architect is not known.  Messrs Penrose & Son, of Mutley Plain, Plymouth, installed the heating and plumbing; Messrs Vincent J Pope & Company dealt with the electrical work; Messrs Harris & Sons, of George Street, were responsible for the decorating; the Western Counties Brick Company Ltd did the brickwork; the West of England Joinery Company carried out the joinery work; Messrs Fouracre & Son, of Chapel Street, Stonehouse, supplied the kiln burnt glass and coats-of-arms; and other materials were supplied by Messrs Henry Ede & Son and Messrs J F Moore Ltd.  To complete the acknowledgements given, Messrs A C Turner Ltd of Austin House, Plymouth, supplied three Austin cars for police use and Messrs W Mumford Ltd had constructed the new prison van at their Billacombe works.

An entrance from Longfield Place led to the charge-rooms.  Down one corridor were rooms for the superintendents, a recreation room for the men and the "nerve centre" of the Station - the telephone room, lined with coloured telephones, plugs and lights, where specially trained operators took the emergency calls.

One wing of the first floor was taken up by a new venture for the Plymouth police - a section house.  Here unmarried police officers could lodge.  In addition to the comfortable bedrooms, there was a small dining-room, an even smaller dining-room for officers, a kitchen, lounge and bath-rooms.  The Chief Constable's office was immediately above the charge room: presumably he could hear everything that went on beneath him.  Along the corridor were the photographic room, laboratory and what they then called the crime index room.

The former prison chapel on the first floor had been converted into the magistrate's court, entered from Greenbank Road, and in the west wing of the building was housed the weights and measures office.

Despite the air raids of the early part of the Second World War, especially those in March 1941, Greenbank managed to stay intact until the early hours of Monday June 14th 1943, when there was a short but heavy raid on both Plymouth and Plympton.  It only lasted a half hour but Twyford describes it as 'one of the liveliest half-hour's Plymouth citizens spent.'  Between 70 and 80 high explosive bombs of between 250kg to 1,000kg were dropped but, luckily, about half of them failed to detonate.   However, one of the biggest crashed through the roof of the centre of Greenbank Police Headquarters, bringing tons of masonry crashing down, but then lay unexploded on the landing of the first floor outside the magistrate's court and over the prison cells and control room.  The reserve headquarters at Widey Court had to be brought in to use until the bomb could be removed and the damage repaired.



  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

Any problems viewing this webpage should be notified to the webmaster at plymouthdata dot info