God's police get power of arrest

The long tradition of wearing a cross keys and crown badge of gold and silver wire goes back many generations, and was only changed to an enamelled cross keys and crown badge on an upside down shield in recent times.
York Minster Police officers circa 1900
Today's Minster Police

For the first time in nearly 80 years, York Minster’s Minster Police hold the same powers as regular police constables within the cathedral’s precinct.

The Force’s claim to fame is that they are the forerunners of the modern police service. Sir Robert Peel visited the Minster on a number of occasions and monitored the workings of the force prior to forming the Metropolitan Police.


York Minster Police can trace their history right back to 1275. In this year King Edward appointed a constable to keep order at the Minster. By 1285 everything was in place for the Minster Police, including their own court and prison.

Between 1285 and 1839 York Minster had its own Liberty. The Liberty, known as the ‘Liberty of Saint Peter and Peter Prison,’ was the walled area which enclosed the Minster – forming an almost mini-city state. Within the Liberty, the Dean and Chapter of York Minster held complete jurisdiction, and were able to appoint official constables.


There are occasional mentions of the force in the history books through the centuries, but the history is better documented from the 1900s onwards. During World War I the officers helped with fire protection when grenades were being thrown from aircraft. By World War II they were trained in fire prevention by the local fire service.

Saved from Amalgamation

The York Minster Police was part of the Home Office from the time when Robert Peel introduced the modern police service to the UK. At some point between the world wars they moved to being a non-Home Office force. This saved this very small force as they would almost certainly have been merged with the county force.

The minster is one of only seven cathedrals in the world with a private police force, employing its own officers since the 13th century.

The seven cathedrals with private police forces

  • York Minster, UK
  • Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, UK
  • Canterbury Cathedral, UK
  • Hereford Cathedral, UK
  • Chester Cathedral, UK
  • St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  • Washington National Cathedral, USA

The constables lost their power of arrest in the 1930s when they stopped being sworn in the same way as regular police officers.

Today’s Minster Police

Today’s Minster Police continue to fulfil their policing role with the same dedication and determination of their predecessors. Currently the Minster employs 8 constables lead by a head constable, who in turn is managed by the Security Manager. All officers have completed the Level 3 Certificate in Cathedral Constable Attestation. In 2001 their first female officer was appointed.

Similar Uniform

Officers wear a uniform similar to their Home Office colleagues, a white shirt, black tie, black trousers and a blue NATO-style sweater with a York Minster Police patch worn on the left side of the chest. Officers, when outside, wear a black peaked cap with the familiar blue and white diced band worn by cathedral constables nationally. They wear numerals on their epaulettes together with the Minster’s crest of crossed keys surmounted by a crown. The head constable is distinguished by his wearing of a white shirt, and epaulette insignia, similar to that worn by a police inspector.


The main purpose of the Minster Police is to provide security and ensure that the dignity of the Minster is upheld. In addition to patrolling the Minster and its environs, officers monitor CCTV. They are trained in first aid and monitor the health and safety of staff and visitors.

York Minster Cathedral police regain power of arrest

For the first time in nearly 80 years, since May 2015, York Minster’s Minster Police hold the same powers as regular police constables within the cathedral’s precinct.

Cathedral Constables have undergone specialist training and will be attested giving them the power of arrest within the cathedral and its boundaries.

Mark Sutcliffe, Head of Security, said:’We have worked closely alongside North Yorkshire Police for many years to keep the Minster and the people who visit it from around the world safe.’

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