Before the MPS, murderers, thieves and rioters ran amok with citizens taking the law into their own hands.
Victorian police uniform complete with high-necked collars for protection again stranglers. (Twitter - @KentOfInglewood)
London was a grim place in the 1800s, with poverty prevailing in the backstreet slums of the big smoke it Is not surprising that many turned to petty thieving in order to live.
Children used to pick a pocket or two while women engaged in a spot of shoplifting from time to time.
But there was a more sinister side to petty thieves, with notorious conmen called ‘sharpers’ who would go to extreme measures by dipping a hanky in chloroform to subdue their victim before robbing them.
Sometimes a man's hat might be tipped over his face to facilitate the crime - a trick called bonneting. Another ruse was to lure men down to the riverside using prostitutes as decoys. The dupes would then be beaten up and robbed out of sight of passers-by.
Murders were also on the rise along with riots where mobs of unhappy Victorians would gather at Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square to air their grievances.
Although there were foot patrols - whose main role it was to protect property - there was no overall organised policing unit.
Many prosecutions were not carried out by police and were taken into the hands of the victims. The victim would have to apprehend the criminal themselves or employ a ‘thief-taker’ to drag them by the ears to the parish constable or magistrate.
Sir Robert Peel, who was Home Secretary in 1829, decided things were getting a little out of hand so persuaded Parliament to provide a new police force for London, excluding the City and the Thames, who already had their own uniformed patrols.
He tasked a committee to investigate the current system of policing. Peel immediately acted upon the committee’s findings and created ‘Peelian principles’ that involved the payment of police officers who were organised along civilian lines.
Peel’s ideas for the system of policing were approved by Parliament in the Metropolitan Police Act with Royal Assent being granted on June 19 1829.
The 895 constables of the new force, nicknamed ‘Peelers’ or ‘Bobbies’ after their founder, were responsible for law enforcement and public order within a seven-mile radius of Charing Cross.
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They were overseen by a progressing hierarchy of Sergeants, Inspectors, Superintendents and two Commissioners who reported directly to Peel himself.
On September 29 1829 – 188 years ago – the Metropolitan Police Force was officially formed.
It would have eight Superintendents paid £200 a year, 20 inspectors paid £100 a year, 88 sergeants paid 3s 6d a day and constables paid 3s a day.
There were considerable problems with those recruited, many were drunks, unfit and unruly and in the first six months just over 50 per cent were required to leave the service.
Each officer was issued with a warrant number and a divisional letter which denoted where they worked.
The first headquarters was 4 Whitehall Place, with a back entrance for special visitors via Scotland Yard.
The bobbies were given blue uniforms to distinguish them from the red used by the military and sent out on the beat with only a wooden truncheon and a ratcheted rattle to raise the alarm.
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High-necked tunics protected officers from strangulation – it was popular back then to garrotte people from behind - and top hats were reinforced as Peelers were likely to be attacked in the street - and penalties for violent crime were more lenient.
After PC Robert Culley was stabbed to death at a riot in Holborn in 1833 a coroner's jury returned a verdict of "justifiable homicide".
At first the public did not embrace the new force, it was paid for from local parish monies and some members of the public argued the Met was a threat to civil liberties.
Some members however remained hostile, numerous reports say the first traffic police risked being run down and horse-whipped by irate coachmen.
Eventually they warmed to the idea of a police force and officers became better skilled at the difficult job they had to do.
“The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.” – Sir Robert Peel.
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