Great Scotland Yard history | From a London base for Scottish kings to the Met Police’s HQ
Learn why London’s police head office is named after Scotland.
The name Scotland Yard is synonymous with London’s Metropolitan Police. However, how did the name of a yard end up following the Met around Westminster as they moved headquarters over the decades?
As I write, the Metropolitan police are preparing to move their headquarters again from the current site of New Scotland Yard on Broadway in Victoria to the Curtis Green Building on Victoria Embankment in 2015. While the name New Scotland Yard will follow wherever the Met goes, the name originates on a short road in Westminster, which still exists to this day.
Great Scotland Yard is a short road spanning between Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue, taking just three minutes to walk from one end to the other. While today, the road is relatively quiet from pedestrian and vehicle traffic, in the 19th century it would have been a hub of activity with police officers, victims and criminals passing through it. The name of the road is said to stem back to a medieval palace which was used as a base for Scottish kings and diplomatic representatives visiting London. By the 17th century, the road was home to various government buildings and residences for civil servants. Three notable residents include the architects Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and the poet John Milton (1608-1674).
The name Scotland Yard was first linked to police when the original Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s office at 4 Whitehall Place, had a rear entrance on Great Scotland Yard. The then-Prime Minister Robert Peel (1788-1850) selected Whitehall Place for the HQ after forming the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Today, a blue plaque commemorates the site at Whitehall Place, now the Ministry of Agriculture. By 1887, the police had acquired the nearby buildings of 3, 5, 21 and 22 Whitehall Place, as well as 8 and 9 Great Scotland Yard, but needed more space. In the early 20th century, the force moved to New Scotland Yard at the nearby Norman Shaw Buildings on Victoria Embankment (located next door to current Portcullis House), which were built between 1887-1906. New Scotland Yard remained at the site until 1967 when it moved to the current site in Victoria. The move in 2015 brings New Scotland Yard full circle as it returns to the Embankment – next door to the Norman Shaw Buildings.
While the Met has moved on from Great Scotland Yard, the association will be enshrined forever thanks to the road name. At time of writing, the Grade II-listed building at No.s 3-5 Great Scotland Yard is being converted into a five-star Hyatt hotel, due for opening in 2019. Through much of the 19th century, the site was used as stables for the force’s horses. In 1874, the ‘Hackney Carriage and Detective Department’ was built at 3-5 Great Scotland Yard – the first space designed exclusively for the Met’s detectives. In 1884, it was converted into living accommodation for the Police Commissioner and his deputies. In 1910, the building was given a new Edwardian façade and it was passed to the British Army to be used as recruitment offices in World Wars I and II. On the corner of Whitehall and Great Scotland Yard, stands The Clarence pub, which dates from 1896.
- Great Scotland Yard, off Whitehall, SW1. Nearest stations: Westminster, Embankment or Charing Cross.
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