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
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
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.