Page images

ART. IV.- Report of Her Majesty's Commissioners appointed to

inquire into the alleged Disturbances in Hyde Park, with

Minutes of Evidence. 1856. 2. General Regulations, Instructions and Orders for the Govern

ment and Guidance of the Metropolitan Police Force. 1851. Mo$ OST men who have arrived at that age when the last one or

two buttons of the waistcoat are allowed to be unloosened after dinner, can remember the time when the safety of life and property in the metropolis depended upon the efforts of the parochial watchman, a species of animal after the model of the old hackney coachman, encumbered with the self same drab greatcoat, with countless capes, with the self same Belcher handkerchief, or comforter, speaking in the same husky voice, and just as sottish, stupid, and uncivil. At night-for it was not thought worth while to set a watch in the day time—the authorities provided him with a watch-box in order that he might enjoy his snooze in comfort, and furnished him with a huge lantern in order that its rays might enable the thief to get out of his way in time. As if these aids to escape were not sufficient for the midnight marauder, the watchman was provided with a staff with which he thundered on the pavement as he walked, a noise which he alternated with crying the hour and the state of the weather in a loud singing voice, and which told of his whereabouts when he himself was far out of sight.

Up to the year 1828, and indeed for ten years later, in the City these men were the sole defence by night of the first metropolis in the world. The Charlies, as they were familiarly termed, had very little fight in them at any time, but it is well known that they winked hard,' when required to do so by people who could afford to pay them for it. It is not astonishing that crimes under such a police flourished apace, or that robberies increased to an extent which alarmed all thoughtful people. Mr. Colquhoun, a magistrate, whose work on the police, written at the beginning of the century, gave the first ideas of the reforms which have been since adopted, estimates that the annual value of the property stolen at the time at which he wrote, was at least 1,500,0001. ; and that the evil was gaining ground may be judged from the fact that the number of receivers of stolen goods had increased between 1780 and 1800 from 300 to 3000 !

In addition to the nightly watch there was another class of persons who, if more active, were calculated in a still greater degree to defeat justice, but in a totally opposite direction : we allude to those men who made their bread out of the blood of the criminal population. The Government of the country was



mainly to blame for the sins committed by these loathsome creatures. Since the time of Jonathan Wild thief-catchers had been stimulated to make criminals by what was termed Parliamentary rewards, or sums of forty pounds given by the Homeoffice to persons affording such information as would lead to the conviction of felons. The object of the officers was to secure blood-money, not to suppress crime ; and it was their deliberate practice to allow robberies to proceed which they might have prevented, in order to obtain the reward. To use their own language, they were accustomed to let the matter ripen' until the fee was secure, and work was cut out for the hangman. These men must not be confounded with the Bow-street Runners, or detective police, some of whom were able and perhaps honest men; but they chiefly occupied themselves with thief-catching in private preserves, where the pay was ample, and contributed little if anything to the suppression of general crime.

With a class of watchmen totally inoperative as a preventive police, with a class of informers stimulated by unwise enactments to lure men into villainy, and with a code savage almost beyond belief-as late as 1800 there were 160 capital crimes, and to break the dam of a fish-pond, or to cut down an apple-tree in a garden, were offences punishable with death-it is not to be wondered at that the deadly never-green,' as the gallows were called in the slang language of the day, bore fruit all the year round. Old Townsend, tàe Bow-street officer, who gave evidence before the Committee which sat in 1816 to inquire into the police of the metropolis, said, “I remember in 1783, when Serjeant Adair was Recorder, there were forty hung at two executions; the unfortunate people themselves laugh at it now, they call it a bagatelle.' Among the more serious offences were the robberies committed by mounted highwaymen; and, in order to give an idea of their frequency, we again quote the racy evidence of Townsend : “Formerly there were two, three, or four highwaymen—some on Hounslow Heath, some on Wimbledon Common, some on Finchley Common, some on the Romford road. I have actually come to Bow-street in the morning, and while I have been leaning over the desk had three or four people come in and say, “I was robbed by two highwaymen in such a place; I was robbed by a single highwayman in such a place.” People travel safe now by means of the horse patrol, which was planned by Sir Richard Ford.' This horse patrol, established in 1805, was the first innovation on the old system of watching; and it succeeded so admirably, that in a few years the highwaymen were entirely banished from the metropolitan counties, and the great roads in the neighbourhood of London, which were




once as unsafe as those in the vicinity of Rome, became as orderly as Fleet-street. It does indeed seem strange that while the outskirts of the metropolis were thus provided with a new force which proved itself to be perfectly capable of clearing away the ruffians, no means should have been taken until 1829 to supersede the old parish constables who had flourished from the time of the Saxons, and appear to have been in full bloom in Elizabeth's reign, since Dogberry is a finished portrait of the race. No means existed by which the watchmen of different parishes could be made to co-operate against their common enemy the thief. In the City they were under the direction of no less than thirty different authorities. There were the street-keepers, the patrol, the ward-constables, &c., all acting under separate masters; and so complete was the division that the constable of one ward would not interfere to prevent a robbery going on on the opposite side of the street, if it was out of his bounds.

Mr. J. Elliot, in his evidence, given in 1838, before the Committee on the Metropolis Police Offices,' mentions a glaring instance of the perfect paralysis of the executive which arose out of this absurd system. Two years ago,' he said, 'a neighbour of mine had his warehouse broken open, and a hundred pounds' worth of tea was taken away; a watchman at the top of the street saw a cart going away from the warehouse, but he said it was not in his ward, and therefore he did not interfere.' The public indisposition to get rid of the old watchmen most certainly did not arise from any ignorance of their inefficiency; they had long, in fact, been bywords of feebleness and imbecility. To thrash a Charlie was a pet pastime of the young bloods of that day. The determined propensity to doze of these worthy functionaries was a standing topic for witticism. “A friend of mine,' said Erskine, was suffering from a continual wakefulness, and various methods were taken to send him to sleep, but in vain. At last his physicians resorted to an experiment which succeeded perfectly. They dressed him in a watchman's coat, put a lantern in his hand, and placed him in a sentry-box, and he was asleep in ten minutes.' It might be imagined that tokens like these indicated pretty clearly that a reform would have been hailed with delight. The result proved, however, that to abuse a thing and to amend it are widely different. Mr. Peel, who had been feeling his way to his grand experiment by the establishment of a Bow-street day-patrol, obtained in 1828 the appointment of a committee of the House of Commons to inquire into the expediency of establishing a uniform system of police in the Metropolis, and the Committee having reported to the House in favour of the scheme, it was immediately adopted. This salutary change


was not inade without creating a deep sensation. That stalkinghorse, "the liberty of the subject, which in truth meant the liberty of rogues to plunder, was immediately paraded before the public; and we have no doubt whatever that in the tavern debatingclubs of the day it was reported, that with the fall of the Charlies 'the sun of England's glory had set for ever.' And indeed to Englishmen, jealous of their personal liberty, the establishment of this new force might at first have created some well-founded alarm. It was no longer a question of a few constables, but of a standing army of nearly six thousand men, drilled like soldiers, taught to act in masses, and entirely independent of the control of the ratepayers. The very fact of the appointment as one of the Commissioners, of Colonel Rowan, who had been employed in that quasi-military force the Irish constabulary, favoured the idea that the new police were to be a veritable gendarmerie. That such was the popular idea was clearly indicated by the numerous prints which appeared at the time of a fierce-looking • Peeler,' armed with a belt full of pistols and a formidable sword.

Those accustomed only to the slow pace of the constitutional watchman, as he waddled out to his post, beholding with astonishment the sergeant's party as it marched along the kerb in close file, and keeping quick military step, believed that so powerful a force concentrated under a single head might be turned to political purposes. The constables never appeared in the streets without being followed by crowds hooting at them, and calling them by the obnoxious names of 'Peelers,' raw Lobsters, Crushers, Bobbies, &c. At last, in 1833, an actual collision took place between them and the great unwashed in Coldbath Fields. A meeting of Chartists was appointed to be held there, from which serious consequences were expected to arise. Directions were given to disperse it; but whilst in the performance of their duty three of the police were stabbed, and one of them mortally. It might have been thought that the very fact of a mob coming thus armed, with the express purpose of resisting a constituted authority, would have excited the indignation of the more respectable classes of the citizens; the contrary was the fact. A coroner's jury brought in a verdict of justifiable homicide, a pretty significant sign of the feeling towards the new force of the class from which the jury was selected. Such was the ferment that a commission was held to inquire into the conduct of the police, and they were exonerated from the charge of having as a body acted with greater violence than was necessary. From that period, with the exception of the investigation during the present year into the charge of having dispersed a gathering in Hyde

M 2

Park Park with undue severity—a charge which was not at all substantiated-their conduct has been so exemplary as completely to have removed the original dislike. Experience has served to teach the men the virtue of moderation and patience; and they are now looked upon as a constitutional force, simply because we have got accustomed to them.

At the present time the Metropolitan Police Force consists of a Chief Commissioner, Sir Richard Mayne, 2 Assistant-Commissioners, Captain Labalmondiere and Captain Harris, 18 Superintendents, 133 Inspectors, 625 Serjeants, and 4954 Constables, making a total of all ranks of 5734. The machinery by which this comparatively small force is enabled to watch by night and day every alley, street, and square of this vast metropolis, nay, tries every accessible door and window of its 400,000 houses, patrols 90 square miles of country, exercises a surveillance over the 8000 reputed thieves who prey upon its inhabitants, and keeps in awe the 40,000 or 50,000 people who form the uneasy classes of the Metropolis, is not very complicated. The Metropolitan Police district extends from Charing Cross 15 miles in every direction, and includes the whole of Middlesex and large portions of Surrey, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Buckinghamshire, and Berkshire, for which seven counties the Commissioners are magistrates and the police are sworn constables. The River Thames is also under its jurisdiction, from Chelsea to Barking Creek, including all its wharves, docks, landing-places, and dockyards. The entire district has a circumference of 90 miles, and extends over an area of upwards of 700 square miles, 100 of which, forming what is called the interior area, is covered with our great Babel of brick and mortar. This wide extent of ground is mapped out into 18 divisions, each of which is watched by a detachment of men, varying in number according to the extent of the area, the exposed nature of the property, or the density of the population. Letters of Local Names of

Strength of each



St. James's


St. Mary-le-bone .. 371


Covent Garden 165
Finsbury ..



Lambeth ..



N ..


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »