An urban view — 03 November 2017
Marking Time

Islington might today be trendy with little crime, it certainly wasn’t at the turn of the last century. Then, unlike today, a policeman had to walk his beat, a certain presence to deter criminal activity and reassure the public.

One place in need of policing was Myddelton Passage, just behind modern Sadler’s Wells Theatre. At the time this was a narrow footpath frequented by prostitutes and thieves.

So the local constabulary decided to position a policeman to guard this little alley. But what was the poor chap to do during these lonely evenings?

Today, should you pass an embassy guarded by SO6 you’ll often see them looking at their phones, rather than scanning the locality in which nothing seems to be amiss.

For the Edwardian plod, he had no such distraction and so a tradition seems to have arisen where members of the Metropolitan Police G Division (Finsbury) based out of King’s Cross Station, carved their collar numbers in the soft brickwork on a wall running one side of Myddelton Passage.

In addition, some officers added their initials and even their full name.

Curiously the incisions are only located in one area of the wall, with the rest of the brickwork untouched, posing the question: were the officers instructed to stand for hours at one point mid-way along the passage to deter miscreants?

Research by Peter Guillery from English Heritage and Margaret Bird of the Metropolitan Police Service historical archives have even tracked down some of these would-be Banksys.

Further images of inscribed bricks may be found at Cabbie’s Curios: The Policemen’s Wall.

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