Describe law and order in London in the late nineteenth century
Gary Cummins Candidate no. 1036 Centre no. 61121
Describe law and order in London in the late nineteenth century
The nineteenth century saw the creation and extension of many new police forces within London. In 1800 there were two main police forces in Britain. The bow street runners had been operating since 1749, and the Thames River police had been set up in 1788. In 1829 Victorian London saw the founding of the Metropolitan police force. Before the creation of the Metropolitan police the towns of Britain were looked after by watchmen and parish constables. Little is known about these men. Special constables were also appointed in Victorian Britain. They were not very affective as they could not deal with big disturbance or riots, which happened frequently in Britain.
The founder of the new Metropolitan police force, Sir Robert Peel, was the British home secretary and his police force still exists in modern day London. Robert Peel also gave officers there more informal names ‘Bobbies’ as we call them now, or ‘Peelers’. The Metropolitan police headquarters remains till this day at 4 Whitehall Place. Once the land of Scottish kings the headquarters was suitably name ‘Scotland Yard’.
The Metropolitan police force was destined to fail with its minute force compared to the 1.5 million population of London. Before the Metropolitan police the only forces which successfully kept the streets of London under-control to an extent were under-cover spies, informers and the British army. London needed saving with slight rises in homicide and major rises in robbery and theft. London was getting more and more plagued by crime then ever before. Compared to the other forces guarding London the Metropolitan police were minute.
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The founding of the new police force was said to have made English Common Law more humane and efficient. More than two-hundred crimes that carried the death penalty were removed from the legal list. In 1861, the number was reduced to just four, those being, murder, treason, piracy and destruction of arsenals.
An event which happened 1780 shows how common riots were. The Gordon riots, led by Sir Gordon broke open Newgate prison and attacked the Bank of England. These riots were over proposals for Catholic emancipation. Many of the rioter were hanged, however Sir Gordon was found not guilty of high treason.
The Metropolitan police force was founded to combine both the work of the watchmen and the special constables. Although this did happen, it was not as effective as they had hoped. The new ‘Bobbies’ had to patrol the street to keep order and deter any crime. They were also assigned to tackle any large riots, something which had been unsuccessful with other police forces. The job of the common ‘Bobbie’ stayed the same till the outbreak of ‘The great war’, with the British army always offering to help with larger vents on the streets of London. Whereas the Metropolitan police force is a successful branch of policing today, in the nineteenth century its initial founding did not bring around a revolution in crime fighting. In the early years of the founding, many officers were dismissed. It was common for the officers to be drunk and this meant the force was not as affective as it would have hoped to be. The police force was not very popular either. Whereas some see the police as a helping hand, other people thought of them as lowlife drunks who were causing more trouble than solving problems. They were seen as ruthless men who would assault anyone who didn’t see eye-to-eye with them. All of this led to the ineffectiveness of the Metropolitan police force.
The new ‘Bobbies’ could be distinguished from the colour of the uniform they wore. The blue uniform resembled that of the British Navy and therefore resembled the heroic acts of the Navy itself. This colour was chosen for all the Metropolitan police uniforms. The ‘Bobbies’ also carried round a truncheon; a whistle to attract attention, and constables carried a cut glass. They were also issued with a top-hat which was later changed to a helmet to protect the constable’s head. The use of firearms was not prohibited in the early stages of the police forces work. By the 1840’s, inspectors began to carry revolvers as the crime rate increased dramatically within London.
London in the nineteenth century has some similarities to nowadays London. The west-end was occupied by more aristocratic people, whereas the east-end and south London where occupied with the downtrodden, lower class citizens. The east end was probably the poorest place in London, with the most crime (as it still is today). In most of London, the ‘Bobbie’ was not seen as friendly. More police patrolled the more downtrodden areas and it was not uncommon for police officer to be attacked or even killed. In the second half of the nineteenth century crime did drop, however there was a steep rise in burglaries. In 1842 a new department of detectives were set up. They consisted of two inspectors and six sergeants. However work was not organised for them till the 1860 period. The new department was successful till in 1877, three out of four inspectors where found guilty of corruption. This ended the trust given to this service.
In 1878 the founding of the Criminal Intelligence Unit reorganised the previous detective department. The department dramatically improved.
By 1884 the number of detectives and arrest increased. The C.I.D began to logically improve there methods and the way they dealt with bodies. However they did not adopt fingerprinting till the early 20th century.
A reason crime was so high in the 19th century was probably because of the lack of training given to the police force. Most constables learnt their training on the job. This was not easy and by no means affective.
Despite many improvements to the police force throughout the nineteen hundred many serious incidents tainted the now improving reputation of the MET. Baton changes meant many innocent were hurt and it was reported that police used force when told not to do so. An example of this was bloody Sunday. In 1887 on November 13th a mass demonstration of unemployed occurred in Trafalgar square. It was described as ‘Like real warfare’ and many people were injured or trampled on by police horses. Two people died in the result. Another event in Bromley saw a seventy-eight year old man trampled to death as the result of a baton change.
As already mentioned there were many problems within the police forces of London.
During the nineteenth century around 75% of crime was petty theft. 10% was made up of violent crime, however murder was relatively rare. The middle class people believed by the mid-nineteenth century there was a crime wave and it needed to be stopped. They believed this because of the news they read. There were three main nuisances which littered the streets of London. On of them was a pickpocket. They had been operating on streets for centuries. The overcrowded streets in the east-ends, Whitechapel, gave them a haven to lurk in and make a living. Pickpocket made a fair wage on the London streets. Public executions attracted wealthy people and gave them the opportunity to pick even larger amounts. Rookeries were special homes for organised gangs of pickpockets. There main items which they stole included purses and pocket handkerchiefs as these were fairly easy to steal. Garrotters where another breed of street vermin. A garrotter half-strangled their victim so that they were easier to rob. This crime was very common in London but it was only when a local MP, Hugh Pickleton, was garrotted, that something more was done to crack down on these menaces. The panic of this crime is very similar to the one we have around muggings today.
Capital punishment was the most common was of punishing criminals in the nineteenth century. These executions were very poplar as mentioned and could attract over two thousand people. This punishment method was used till 1868 but still continued way into the 1960’s. Imprisonment was also widely used. As they are today, prisons were very tough and many men didn’t survive. A common way of punishing a prisoner was a ‘Crank’. This contraption was a handle which had to be rotated a certain amount of times per day. Prison guard often tightened the crank to make it much harder to turn. Again many modern day punishments were used in prisons including solitary confinement and offshore shipment where prisoners were sent to New Zealand or Australian penal colonies, much like the infamous Guantanamo bay prison in Cuba.
Overall crime and punishment in the late 19th century was failing miserably; however some newly introduced method were helping keep London under control. Crime rates did fall in the latter half of the nineteenth century and this shows that whereas the crime system was not entirely successful it still lowered the national figures of crime.