Cambridge’s first police station 1836-40


The creation of Cambridge’s first police station, given there’s a chance Cambridge could be without a proper police station for the first time in 180 years.

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough has published a consultation with the view to moving Cambridge’s police station at Parkside to a site outside of the city boundaries by the old landfill site at Milton – a place I grew up knowing as ‘the tip’. Read and respond to the consultation here. If you have further concerns, write to your MP and councillors via

If you want to know how we got county-wide police and crime commissioners standing under party political labels, see my separate blogpost here – though be aware, that one is a very politically partisan post.

The Municipal Corporations Act 1835

It was this piece of legislation that brought in a requirement for local councils to form local paid police forces. Due to the debts the borough of Cambridge had built up, they had to dispose of some property it owned in order to pay off those debts and to fund the construction of a new police station. These from the British Newspaper Archive.

360311 New Police Station council debts 1836

Alderman Charles Humphrey would become Mayor of Cambridge in 1837.

In May 1836, the first adverts informing the public of the new police station (or ‘Police Station-House’) was published in the Cambridge Chronicle.

360513 First police advert Cambridge 1836

Looking at the address, it looks like it is in the vicinity of the Mill Pond where there were two large mills serviced by the still thriving river traffic. Remember the railways didn’t arrive in Cambridge until 1845 – after which the river trade declined rapidly.

Mayor of Cambridge Charles Humfrey – who owned the property that the new police station-house was based in, got into a dispute about payments for improvements. This appears to have been something of a catalyst for the borough council to look for new premises.

370106 first police station Alderman Charles Humfrey Mayor 1837

Above – details of the dispute from a town council meeting

Calls for a new police station on St Andrew’s Street – site of the Spinning House

This started off as a dispute between councillors and university authorities over the purposes of the Spinning House Site, bequeathed by Thomas Hobson of Hobson’s Choice fame.

380804 Hallack calls for new Cambridge Police Station 1838

It was a long-running sore between town and gown. In 1840 proposals were put forward to convert the site into a hospital, but these fell through. It was in 1838 that we also saw the first tenders for uniforms for the new police force.

380203 Police uniform tenders 1838

And thus by the end of the year, Cambridge had its own uniformed police force.

The new police station was sketched and republished in 1901 in the Cambridge Graphic, shortly before the redevelopment.  CBG Graphic pub police jail chapel 1900.jpg

The buildings from left to right: The pub (Pleasure!), the police station (law and order), the Spinning House (Morality), and the non-conformist chapel (Religion). This is from the Cambridgeshire Collection.

After the Spinning House was finally demolished, it was replaced by the police station buildings in the early 1900s.

011012 Police Station Opening St Andrews Street 1901_1011012 Police Station Opening St Andrews Street 1901_2

The above images are from the Mayor’s Scrapbooks in the Cambridgeshire Collection. The building is still there today – having since been converted into offices used by Cambridge City Council, and now shortly to be converted into a boutique hotel and a cafe/tea room. It comes before the planning committee on 17 June 2019 – you can see the meeting papers here. The planning case is for Hobson House, 42-44 St Andrew’s Street. Click on the drawing pack to see their proposals. At the moment the building is a hidden masterpiece so I hope the development is successful in preserving the historical aspects of it while bringing it into public use for everyone to enjoy – even though previous generations of overnight guests were there at the pleasure of the monarch or the Vice Chancellor rather than themselves!



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