West Midlands Police

West Midlands Police Museum

Police History Society

Staffordshire Police history

The story of policing
(aimed at schoolchildren)

History of police dogs

Police Federation

The Police and the Black Country

by Mick Pearson

The Police Arrive

In 1822 government were already contemplating the need for 'police reform'. One option that was excluded straight away was the French method, which was based on a system of espionage. Sir Robert Peel fought throughout the 1820s to reform criminal law, but it would be 1829 before he suceeded and the Metropolitan Police was born.

London was not the only place Peel was to consider permanent policing. Manchester was considered, as well as towns such as Burnley and Blackburn. In Birmingham 1799 saw the establishment of stipendary Magistrates where county justices took it in turns to administer justices. The Rural Constabulary Act of 1839 gave the decision to establish a rural police and control of that police in the hands of the county magistrates. Other legislation gave control of police in Birmingham as well as Bolton and Manchester, to government. This was partly because of fear of the Chartist Movement (Birmingham was the meeting place for the national Chartist Convention in July 1839), but also because of problems within local government.

The Victorians

During the 1830s and into the 40s there were many incidents of internal disorder. Metropolitan Police Constables were regularly drafted into the provinces. This was seen by some as interfering with local policing, but preferable to drafting in the military. There were occasions (including in Birmingham in 1839) where the Metropolitan worked together with the military to combat election disorder.

In the 1870s and 1880s police were deployed to deal with strikes in various industires, and were often condemned for brutality. However, deploying officers against rioters was a relatively small part of policing in Victorian England. The principal task of Metropolitan police officers was "prevention of crime". Once installed the growth and spread of police officers across the country was sometimes fuelled by public panics - an example being Jack the Ripper in 1888. Spates of crime also sparked criticism that officers were never seen, with angry ratepayers calling for greater efficiency for their money (sound familiar?).

There was also focus on the style of policing - there were concerns, for example, about officers patrolling in plain clothes (shades of the French system). Detectives became part of policing at a relatively early stage, in June 1842 the Home Secretary approved the appointment of 2 Detective Inspectors and 6 Detective Sergeants for the Metropolitan Police. By 1884 the detective force had spread and grown, Birmingham, it was said, had a larger proportion of detectives than London.

Policing soon developed beyond the 'prevention of crime' and evidence grew of involvement with the local public at a local level. A task quickly adopted was to search for missing persons, especially lost children. In some stations it was suspected that some children deliberately went missing so that, when found, they could "enjoy" some time in the police station playing with toys and a jam sandwich before being taken home (not in a jam sandwich of course).

Charitable funds were also set up, with police involvement in soup kitchens, providing clothing and excursions for poor children, as well as charitable contributions to hospitals etc.


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