999 - the oldest emergency service in the world

The last eight decades have seen the service expand from handling more than 1,000 calls in its first week of operation in London in 1937 to around 560,000 calls a week now - 30 million calls a year, according to BT's archives.

First image: BT Handout photo dated 1935 of a police call box in St Albans

Second image: BT Operators answering emergency 999 calls in 1947

Third image: A pre 999 telephone alarm post in 1910

Published 15 Aug 2017

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More from the nostalgia section

Glimpse into a 1950s police station

Humberside Police is celebrating 60 years since the opening of Grimsby's Victoria Street Police Station which was unveiled on September 19, 1957. 

Back then it was the County Borough of Grimsby’s Police Headquarters and was officially opened by then Home Secretary Richard ‘Rab’ Butler.

Officers moved from their base at Grimsby Town Hall into the new building on September 20 under the leadership of Chief Constable Mr C. E. Butler Esq. OBE. 

The base, which took three years to build, cost £158,767 – the equivalent of about £3million in today’s money. In comparison, Lancashire Police recently unveiled plans to build a new £23 million station in Blackpool.

It was the same year that Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister, John Lennon and Paul McCartney first met, Paul Anka was at Number One in the charts with ‘Diana’, television personality Stephen Fry was born and actor Humphrey Bogart died. 

An official booklet from the time gives the total amount of sergeants and constables as 168. Six of those were women. There were 195 special officers.

The total cost of police services for the year (1957-58) came to £231,000 - less than the average price of a house in the UK in 2017. 

The two storey main building has a total floor area of 35,000 sq. ft. It was built with 14 cells for men, and six for women as well as all the modern provisions, communications, and equipment that was required for policing in the 1950s. 

Chief Supt Christine Wilson and officers cut a cake to mark the anniversary alongside retired PC Len Rayner, 86, who worked at the station as a young officer when it first opened. 

Force remembers inspector murdered 28 years ago

Inspector Raymond Anthony Codling was shot during a night shift.

History of the British Police Uniform

(Via City of London Police)


The Romans brought their own form of policing to this country almost 2000 years ago.

The Anglo-Saxons and Danes introduced a form of policing based on the Hundreds and Wapentakes?.

1252 First reference to the term constable, although the title was in common use long before

1285 The Statute of Winchester summed up and made permanent the basic obligations and procedures for the preservation of peace. The Statute Victatis London was passed in the same year to separate deal with the policing of the City

1630 The Oath of the Office of Constable was published, although it had been administered for some time

1737 An Act was passed 'for better regulating the Night Watch and Bedels within the City of London and the liberties thereof'. This Act directed the payments to be made for serving and directed the number of Constables who where to be on duty each night, i.e. the City established a paid police force before any other area

1829 The Metropolitan Police Act established that Force. The Metropolitan Police was divided into seventeen divisions each with a Superintendent, four inspectors and sixteen Sergeants

1833 The Lighting and Watching Act allowed the establishment of paid police forces in England and Wales generally

1835 The Municipal Corporations Act required 178 Royal Boroughs to set up paid police forces

1836 Inspectors of Constabulary were first appointed

1839 The County Police Act allowed the establishment of police forces for the counties - eight were formed in 1839, twelve in 1840, four in 1841 and a further four by 1851

1856 The remaining counties were compelled to set up police forces by the County and Borough Police Act. Grant were made by the Exchequer to those forces certified each year as efficient. From this Act, moves were made regularly to merge smaller forces into larger ones on the basis of effectiveness and 'value for rate and taxpayers money'

1919 The Desborough Committee, while rejecting the idea of a national police force, did achieve a measure of centralisation by the creation of a police department in the Home Office

1934 Home Office Committee effectively rationalises police uniforms

1946 Police Act leads to many police forces amalgamations - 45 boroughs were abolished

1964 Police Act results in more amalgamations to result in today's 41 county or area police forces plus the Metropolitan and City of London Police

Picture captions:


Officers in Birmingham in the early 1900s

The Met's Tug of War team which won Bronze in the 1908 Olympics

Officers in Birmingham in the 1980s

Walkie Talkie testing in 1963

With thanks to WMP Police (@WMPHistory) for the images.