Policing 19th Century England.

London Bobbies with horse
The 'Peelers' were issued with a wooden truncheon carried in a long pocket in the tail of their coat, a pair of handcuffs and a wooden rattle to raise the alarm.
Sergeant Mansbridge 1864
Sussex Police
Sie Robert Peel 1788-1850

The Beginning

The first real policemen as we know them today were better known as ‘Peelers’ or ‘Bobbies.’ They were set up in London in 1829 by Robert Peel, who was then the Home Secretary, after the Metropolitan Act of 1829 was passed by Parliament. It was the start of a campaign to improve the public law.

Reform, however, was very slow as the public at all levels distrusted the police. but at that time was seen as a step forward.

By September 1829, the first Metropolitan Police were patrolling the streets of London. At this time the area was split into 17 divisions. The force comprised of 4 inspectors, who had 144 constables each. The Force headquarters was Scotland Yard and has been ever since. The police force answered directly to the Home Secretary.

Their dress at this time was long blue coats and strengthened tall hats, which protected them from blows to the head. They were also used by the policeman to stand on to look over high walls. Their only weapon was a truncheon, this was to be used for their defence; although they did carry a rattle in order to raise the alarm if need be.

At first the quality of these police officers was poor. Many were unfit, badly educated and a bit scruffy. Of the first 2,800 new policemen, only 600 actually kept their jobs. This gave the authority to induct more fitter and intelligent persons.

The first policeman ever, was given the number ‘one’ police number. He lasted just 4 hours in the job before being sacked for drunkenness on duty. However, after that episode things quietened down and the police force started to move forward.

Despite rising crime levels, most of the counties in England and Wales retained their ‘Parish Constable. Many people were concerned about the idea of a uniformed force and had great fears that the police would be used to arrest opponents of the government, to stop protests and completely destroy free speech.’

They had no need to worry as the exact opposite would be happening. The uniformed police upheld the right to protest as well as the right of free speech.

The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, allowed Borough Councils to organise a police force but very few of them seemed eager to implement the law. In fact by 1837, only 93 out of 171 boroughs had then organised a police force of their own.

The Rural Constabulary Act of 1839, allowed any of the 54 English Counties to raise and equip a paid police force. The Act permitted J.P.’s to appoint chief constables, for the direction of the police in their arrears and allowed for one policeman per 1,000 head of population. This was still optional but saw the development of the first constabularies. It also encouraged some of the boroughs to hastily form their own police forces, to avoid he high expense of being involved with County forces. The Act still did not meet the Report’s demands for a national Police Force, with the Metropolitan Police being the controlling force. 

In the 1840’s, there was still a great disparity between the different arrears of the country with no single style of policing. By 1840, only 108 out of the 171 Boroughs had a police force. Then, in 1842, a new Parish Constables Act was passed in response to the political unrest associated with the ‘Chartist Movement.’ The appointed parish constables were part-time and very poorly paid – sometimes they went unpaid, so posts attracted a rather low calibre of persons. These people were not prepared to risk their life and limb in order to make an arrest.

However, by 1848 there were still 22 boroughs that did not have a police force but the picture was much better. Slowly the Boroughs were getting there with their recruitment of policemen. In 1855, there were still only 12,000 policemen in England and Wales. This was despite the fact that the police force in London was proving to be extremely effective in reducing all types of crime… It was pleasing to note also that the detection rate was rising year on year.

The 1856 Police Act saw a system for government inspection and audit as well as regulation for the very first time. This County Borough Police Act now forced the whole of the country to set up police forces.

It was this Act that saw the start of the modern Police Service as we know it today. In fact a total of some 239 police forces were quickly set up, still with great variation in the pay and conditions; only half of them were found to be very efficient. In 1869, The National Criminal Record was set up; this made use of the new, rapid telegraph communications between the different numbers of police forces. In 1877 Criminal Investigation Department CID) was formed starting with just over 200 detectives; six years later in 1883 another 600 detectives were added.

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David Rowland has just launched his 15th and final book, “The Spirit of Winsome Winn II”, all about the B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed at Patcham after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Germany.