'Bobbies' - A look at the History of the Metropolitan Police Service.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A brief look at Sir Robert Peel and when he created London's Metropolitan Police Service.

Submitted: February 16, 2016

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Submitted: February 16, 2016

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The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is often making the headlines with good and sometimes, not so good reports, but where did it all begin?

Peels Plan.

Sir Robert Peel, the man behind it, was born in Bury, Lancashire in 1788 to a wealthy cotton mill owner. He was educated at Harrow and Oxford where he discovered politics and joined parliament in 1809. He had various roles in his political career, but it was when he was the Home Secretary, that he created the Metropolitan Police Service - almost 187 years ago.

Peel decided that London needed a police force that not only provided permanent and paid constables, but had coherent discipline and were uniformed. This was possibly the first properly organised police service where crime prevention and detection were the main duties, rather than political snooping! Of course there were other police ‘groups’ in London such as the River Police set up in 1798 to combat crime on the extremely busy Thames. And the ‘Bow Street Runners’ which came about in the mid-18th Century, when the novelist and dramatist Henry Fielding had a group of respectable householders working together to prevent and detect crime.

By 1839 when the 2nd Metropolitan Police Act came into power, these sections had been absorbed into the MPS and the district had extended to a 15 mile radius. The exception being the City of London Police - any attempts to incorporate it into the MPS has been unsuccessful and it has always retained its independence.

A Bobbies Uniform.

The ‘Peelers’ or ‘Bobbies’ as they were colloquially known wore a uniform that was chosen to make the men look like ordinary citizens rather than soldiers with a red coat and helmet. So they wore a blue tailcoat like servants - as they were considered servants of the people, but wore top hats for authority. These had the added benefit for creating height and therefore visibility, they were easy to spot in a crowd. In 1850 the top hat was replaced by a helmet which also offered protection. The policemen were issued with a wooden truncheon, handcuffs and a wooden rattle for alerting assistance, by the 1880’s this had been replaced with the more effective whistle.

So what did it take to become a ‘Bobbie’ in 1829? Recruits needed to be:

- A minimum age of 20 and under the age of 35.

- Well-built and at least 5ft 7.

- Literate.

- And of good character with no history of any wrong doings.

Working Life.

The working life of a MPS officer was difficult (as it undoubtedly is now but perhaps for different reasons). They worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week with only 5 days unpaid holiday a year, all for the weekly wage of £1. Their lives off ‘the beat’ were also strictly controlled:

- They were not allowed to vote.

- Needed permission to marry.

- Needed permission to even have a meal with a civilian.

- And had to wear their uniform on and off duty to ally the public’s suspicion of being spied upon!

And Now…

But, evidently the formula Sir Robert Peel used worked, his proposal that senior uniformed ranks should not be filled by those from higher social classes, but from those working their way up - this practice is still followed today.

He also is said to have accepted low pay for the men because he did not want any policeman to feel superior to his colleagues or his job - an interesting sentiment.

Peel is commemorated at Hendon Training School with a bronze statue which was acquired in 1873 and by the naming of the training school ’Peel Centre’.

So as 1000 officers took to the streets of London on the 29th September 1829, could they have imagined that 31 000 are now patrolling an area of 620 square miles in 2016?


© Copyright 2020 Nicola Macbeth. All rights reserved.

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