How policing started in England

Brief History of the British Police Force
Peterloo Massacre
Peterloo massacre
Women reformers at Peter Field

History of the police in England.

The Bow Street Runners

The first police force in England was established at Bow Street, London, in the early eighteenth century. The “Bow Street Runners” were under the control of a magistrate. In 1753, upon the recommendation of the magistrate and novelist Henry Fielding, more forces were created in London along these lines.


The Marine Police were set up in 1798 to control the alarming rise in thefts from the quays and warehouses along the north bank of the Thames, between London Bridge and the Tower.

Following the Peter Field Riots, known as the ‘Peterloo Massacre’, in Manchester in 1819, Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary at the time, was tasked with setting up a lawful uniformed police service for the Metropolis in London.

Police Force or Army?

Both the establishment and the middle class objected to an established force citing the French Policers who were in effect Napoleon’s spies and the government’s secret police. The working classes also feared that a standing police force would eventually lead to a standing army which could be deployed by any government to enforce unpopular laws by military force. In short every section of society saw a police force as a threat to civil liberties.

Metropolitan Police

Peel and the Tory government went ahead anyway and set up the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829. Whilst patrolling the streets, they had no power to prevent or investigate crime. Most officers were poorly trained and unsuitable for the job.  Although wearing blue navel style uniforms policemen were quickly associated with the army (memories of Peterloo were fresh in the public’s mind) and they were soon called ‘raw lobsters’. British redcoats were often refered to as ‘Lobsters.’ In other words policeman were soldiers by any other name.

Criminal Investigation Department

In 1842 the CID was set up in London. Many of those who were against setting up a police force in 1842 were crying out for a criminal investigation department.


Following the successful commencement and the acceptance by the public of this new ‘uniformed’ body on the streets, the Municipal Corporation Act 1835 required all new corporations to set up a police force.


However, it was not until 1856 that the requirement for all counties and boroughs to have a uniformed police service came about as a result of the County and Borough Police Act 1856.

History of the British Police Force

BBC Northwest Tonight report on Peterloo Commemoration

History of Police – The Fieldings and the Bow Street Runners

The Peterloo Massacre – History of Britain B12

Peterloo Massacre


Bernard Hogan-Howe on Sir Robert Peel