History of British Police from 1798 to Present Day

30/09/2012 11:48

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History of British and London Police from 1798

As I am a direct descendent of Sir Christopher Wren and have many ancestors from London who were also members of various London Police Forces, I thought it may be of interest to write an article about British Policing's history. The first English and British Police Force started in 1798 as the Marine Police which patrolled the River Thames and it was later absorbed into the Metropolitan Police in 1839.

Policing in its present form has existed for about 150 years. The earliest form of policing in Britain predates the Norman Conquest. The Saxon frankpledge was a private, social obligation in which all adult males were responsible for the good behaviour of others. The people were expected to live peaceably and lawfully, keeping the King's peace.

This was more formally arranged with men between the ages of 12 and 60 organised into groups of 10 family units called tithing’s (also spelled tithing’s). These were headed by a tythingman. Each tithing was grouped into 100, which in turn was headed by a hundred men. He acted as an administrator and judge. The hundred man reported to the King's deputy, the local shire reeve whose responsibility was it to keep order in the county.

In 1750 Henry Fielding, novelist and Chief Justice of Westminster, set up the Bow Street Runners, their numbers started with just six police officers, by the end of the 18th century their numbers had risen to approximately seventy.

Debate continued during the early part of the 19th century as to the importance of a police force in England. The Home Secretary of the time, Robert Peel, later Sir Robert Peel, sponsored the first successful bill for a salaried civilian police force. The Metropolitan Police Act 1829 was limited to the London area; however it excluded the City of London and provinces.

Policemen were to be easily recognised and dressed in uniform. Patrols would prevent crime and disorder. As the police were to be salaried, stipend or rewards were not permitted for the resolution of crime or the return of stolen property. Along with their regular duties, the new police force would continue some of the duties of the watchmen such as lighting lamps, calling time and fire detection.

As Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel main achievement was the reforming of the London Police force, the forerunners of the modern day British Police services. The nickname of the police officers were nicknamed "Peeler's" and named after the prime minister.

In Britain in 1812, 1818 and 1822 a number of committees had examined the policing of London. Based on their findings the home secretary Robert Peel passed the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829, introducing a more rigorous and less discretionary approach to law enforcement. The new Metropolitan Police Service, founded on September 29th was depersonalized, bureaucratic and hierarchical with the new police constables (US = patrol officers) instructed to prevent crime and pursue offenders. However in contrast to the more paramilitary police of continental Europe the British police, partly to counter public fears and objections concerning armed enforcers, were initially clearly civilian and their armament was limited to the truncheon, a fear of spy systems and political control also kept 'plain clothes' and even detective work to a minimum. The force was independent of the local government; through its commissioner it was responsible direct to the Home Office. The new constables were nicknamed 'peelers' or 'bobbies' after the then home secretary, Sir Robert Peel.

Even within the Metropolitan Police districts created from 1829, there remained a number of police establishments outside the control of the Metropolitan Police. These were the Bow Street patrols; both mounted and on foot, latterly named the Bow Street Runners. Police constables attached to these offices were under the control of the magistrates. By 1839, with the exception of the Marine or River police and transport Police, all of these establishments were absorbed by the Metropolitan Police force. The City of London Police Force was set up in 1839 and to this day remains independent.

The first Detective Force was created by the Metropolitan Police Force in 1842 and eventually became the famous Scotland Yard.

2nd July 1798
The first organized police force in the UK, the Marine Police, commence patrolling the River Thames. It is absorbed into the Metropolitan Police in 1839.

The Surrey Iron Railway opens between Wandsworth and Croydon. This is the first public railway sanctioned by Parliament; horses pull its goods wagons.

William James, an engineer employed by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway is assaulted while surveying the line. This is possibly the first railway related crime.

30th June 1826
A Regulation of the Stockton and Darlington Railway refers to the police establishment of: "One Superintendent, four officers and numerous gate-keepers." This is the first mention of railway police anywhere and is three years before the Metropolitan Police Act is passed.

15th September 1830
The opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway by the Duke of Wellington. The event was marred by the death of the Rt. Hon William Huskisson, the local MP, who fell under an engine. He was the first person to be killed by a train.

22nd November 1830
Minutes of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway refer to their "Police Establishment".

31st May 1835
the Great Western Railway Police is formed. The officer in charge, a superintendent based at Paddington has 707 men under his command.

21st March 1838
the first section of the London to Southampton Railway is opened. A later account states: "Policemen were more numerous than any other class of (railway) servant; they acted as signalmen and ticket collectors and were stationed at regular intervals along the line. Their uniforms consisted of a swallow-tail coat, dark trousers and a tall hat with a leather crown."

The Regulation of Railways Act is passed. It includes the offences of railway staff being drunk on duty, impeding or obstructing engines and endangering the safety of persons on the railway.

March 1841
James Thompson is convicted of "holding Miss Emily Stacey in an improper manner" while on the London and Greenwich Line. This is one of the first records of a sex offence on the railway.

1st January 1845
Sgt William Williams of GWR Police becomes the first person to make an arrest using technology. Alerted by a telegraph message sent from Slough, he arrested John Tawell after he stepped off a train at Paddington. Tawell had murdered a girl at Slough.

15th May 1855
the Great Gold Robbery. Gold bullion locked in a box, locked in a safe in a guards compartment of a train is stolen whilst en-route between London and Paris. The thieves replace the gold with lead shot and re-seal the boxes so the crime is not discovered until Paris. It is an 'inside job' and three men are convicted and transported to Australia for life. One of the bullion boxes is on display at the National Railway Museum at York.

The Great Western Railway forms the first 'Detective Department'.

September 1867
John Reid and some friends comment on the smoky atmosphere at Gower Street Underground station (now Euston Square) by "coughing outrageously". When a porter, Henry Maunders asks them to be quiet, Reid pulls his beard and is later fined £3 for assault. This may be the first record of a crime on the Underground.

The Great Western Railway Act is passed which gives its police officers jurisdiction on and within half a mile of the railway. It also requires them to produce their Warrant card on demand with a penalty of 40 shillings for failure.

13th September 1880
a bundle of explosives is placed on the track between Bushey and Watford with the purpose of blowing up a train carrying Grand Duke Constantine of Russia. Chief Superintendent Copping of the MR Police assists the Metropolitan Police with the investigation. This is the first record of terrorism on the railway in mainland Britain.

The Regulation of Railways Act created offences of travel fraud which are still in use today.

26th November 1907                                                                                                                   Superintendent Dobie and three other NER Police Officers from Hull Docks visit Ghent in Belgium to study the police dogs in us

20th December 1917
the first policewomen are sworn in on the North Eastern Railway. Women police officers were previously employed on the Great Eastern Railway and Great Western Railway.

The Railways Act amalgamates more than a hundred separate railway systems (most with their own police forces) into four groups: the Great Western Railway, the London and North Eastern Railway, the London Midland and Scottish Railway and the Southern Railway. Each of these has a police force headed by a chief of police.

October 1948
the first edition of the staff magazine The Railway Police Journal, later the British Transport Police Journal, is published.

October 1953                                                                                                                                               The BTP Journal announces the first arrest made in the force using a 'walkie-talkie' radio.

15th October 1959                                                                                                                                        the first British Transport Police Headquarters is formally opened in Coronation Road, Park Royal, and London NW11.

The British Transport Commission is disbanded and the word 'Commission' is dropped from the name of the force which becomes the British Transport Police. The force loses jurisdiction over British Road Services and the British Inland Waterways Board.

31th August 1963
William Owen Gay becomes Chief Constable.

Chief Constable William Owen Gay retires and is replaced by Eric Haslem.

Force Headquarters moves to 15-17 Tavistock Place, London WC1. The building is the former headquarters of Express Dairies.

Kenneth Ogram becomes the new Chief Constable of the BTP.

Associated British Ports decides to no longer use the services of BTP.

18th November 1987
A fire on an escalator at King's Cross Underground station results in the death of 31 people. BTP officer PC Stephen Hanson suffers severe burns.

24th  April 1989
Desmond O'Brien OBE, QPM, becomes the new Chief Constable of the BTP.

April 1991
the first edition of BTP staff newspaper The Blue Line is published. Edited by Simon Lubin, it replaces the BTP Journal published since 1948.

March 1994
Superintendent Joyce (London Transport Area) exchanges duties with Deputy Chief Bohrer of the New York City Transit Police. The first international exchange involving BTP.

June 1996
Special constables reintroduced to police the railways. Paid special constables had previously been used during war years.

19th September 1997
seven people are killed in the Southall Train Crash.

6th October 1997
David Williams QPM, LLB becomes the new Chief Constable of the Force.

September 1997
The BTP Free phone number 0800 40 50 40 is launched.

June 1999
The Midland-Metro, a tram system linking Birmingham and Wolverhampton, starts operation. This is the first tram system to be policed by BTP.

July 1999
BTP website is launched.

5th October 1999
Thirty-one people are killed when the driver of a local train misses a signal and is hit by a Paddington bound express train.

11th May 2000
the 28km of the Croydon Tram link is opened and policed by BTP.

17th October 2000
four people are killed at the Hatfield Train Crash which was caused by a broken rail.

28th February 2001
The Selby train crash. A Land Rover driven by Gary Hart comes off the M62 onto the railway. It is hit by a passenger train which collides with a freight train killing 10 people.

1st May 2001
Ian Johnston CBE, QPM becomes the new Chief Constable for British Transport Police.

June 2001
Commencing with London Underground Area, officers begin to get issued with yellow high-visibility tabards as opposed to the orange ones.

11th December 2001
British Transport Police jurisdiction is extended in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act to effectively cover all of England, Scotland and Wales.

10th May 2002
a faulty set of points south of Potters Bar station in Hertfordshire causes the derailment of a northbound train. The last carriage overturns and becomes lodged under the station canopy. Six passengers are killed as is a pedestrian walking nearby who is struck by debris.

February 2003
a series of four one-hour television programmes called Rail Cops is shown on BBC. It follows the duties of several British Transport Police officers.

13tth December 2004
the first BTP Community Police Support Officers are recruited in Liverpool and London.

October 2012                                                                                                                                                                                                   New National police Force created in Scotland.

Outside of the metropolitan area the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 and further legislation in 1839 and 1840 allowed counties to create their own constabulary. The first county force created was Wiltshire in 1839. Around thirty counties had done so before the County and Borough Police Act of 1856 made such forces mandatory and subject to central inspection. There were over 200 separate forces in England and Wales by 1860.


I also have some very funny Victorian policeman on art prints at my hobby website: