LONDON-L ArchivesArchiver > LONDON > 2000-05 > 0957828166
From: Eve McLaughlin <>
Subject: Re: English Police or Bobbies
Date: Tue, 9 May 2000 00:22:46 +0100
In message <>, Donna Byhre <>
>Could someone please give some information as to when English Police
>began and perhaps a bit of history.
Originally the 'policing' was done by parish constables, amateurs
appointed for the year to lean on the wicked and cart them before a
magistrate when necessary, in between doing their normal jobs. This
proved to be insufficient in urban areas, so London and other large
towns appointed watchmen (in London known as Charlies) who were supposed
to patrol the streets and check the evil doers. Generally though -when
danger loomed, they were never there.
So Fielding, the magistrate at Bow Street, set up his own force of
detectives (the Bow Street Runners) who investigated crimes in his area,
then more widely in London, and occasionally on demand outside the
capital. If there was real trouble, they sent for the army or the
But sundry bad riots, which necessitated calling in the Army, and a
spectatcular case where this went badly wrong and resulted in the deaths
of innocent and tolerably peaceful demonstrtators (The Peterloo
Massacre) caused Sir Robert Peel to set up a permanent and uniformed
force in London (only) in 1829. They were disciplined, lkargely unarmed
(occasional cutlass issues for special occasions) and were THERE
patrolling the streets, on the watch.
The right to start a police force was extended to cities and corporate
towns in 1835, though few got around to it till 1840 (more riots).
Counties wqere allowed to start a force from 1839, though not many did
until more like 1850. In 1856, the County and Borough Police Act made it
compulsory to set up a force.
The Chief Constables were normally military men (Colonels and Majors)
and ran the force like an army, with sharp punishments for any man who
stepped out of line (disobeying orders, cheeking the sergeant or the
local gentry; drinking on duty, even going in a pub on duty, drunkenness
off duty - this scuppered a lot of the very many Irish constables who
joined, as an alternative to the Army; not meeting the sergeant at set
intervals, not reporting trouble on their beat, consorting with female
persons while in uniform, travelling on trains with females of a certain
class etc etc)
Enormous numbers of men -who could read and write and reach certain
height standards - joined the police for at least a while. It was well
paid (twice the ag lab rate) and secure if the behavour standards were
reached. If you put out fire or found lost bicycle, you got substantial
tips from the gentry. After a time (1890s) there were pensions for the
longer serving men.
The Metropolitan records are mostly at the PRO, though the force
retain s=ome. County force records are usually partly at the Archives,
partly still with the force.
In Bucks, there is a Owen-Shaw Index, a database of all policemen who
served the county, (pre Thames Valley Police times), very many with
photos and complete CVs. The is accessible for a small fee,
Author of the McLaughlin Guides for family historians
Secretary Bucks Genealogical Society