Law and Order in 19th Century London Essay

London in the late 19th century was quite clearly split into two main classes, rich and poor. There wasn’t really an in-between, and not only were the classes split by income, but also where they lived. The rich mainly resided in the West End of the great city, while the poor in the East End. At the time London was one of the largest cities in the world, and therefore one of the main areas of attraction and action for all. People would come there to make their fortune just as they did New York, some would also come for the entertainment and theatre side of things.

If you needed a job, or wanted to have your lucky showbiz break London would be the place for you, at least that’s what the rest of the world saw, in truth it was nothing like that, London wasn’t built to cope with the amount of immigrants that flocked there, and as most were poor, overcrowding and unemployment flourished. There simply weren’t enough jobs for all the inhabitants. As more people became poor, more moved to the East End, and were forced to desperate measures to ensure their own, as well as their families’ survival, this included housing more than one family per room.

Women took to prostitution as their main source of income, the men who couldn’t get jobs in factories would work in the fields, but this wasn’t all year round employment, this meant they had to find other ways, some turned to theft and mugging. Others who would not stoop that low, but still had no stable source of income turned to drink, and the rate or amount of alcoholics increased drastically, (but it wasn’t just men, some women spent their income on drink also, possibly to forget how they had earned it).

It wasn’t just the inhabitants that caused problems, but the weather and design of the city that contributed to the unwelcoming feel of London. This was an especially big hindrance for those residing in the East End, full of winding streets and smog (a mixture of the factory/industrial smoke and fog that rose from the river) the area was a blessing for anyone who wanted to commit the perfect crime, not just because of the cover you received from the smog, but also the winding, concealing, maze-like streets and alleys. Sometimes the smog was so bad people struggled to see more than a few yards ahead of hemselves, which would be a great help if and when you needed to creep up on someone.

These conditions led to a rise in crime that needed to be dealt with and Sir Robert Peel knew this. In 1829, the Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel set up the Metropolitan Police Force (the Met. ), which is still in effect today. Peel gave the police their first nicknames; ‘Bobbies’ and ‘Peelers’. Since then the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Force has been responsible to the Home Secretary. Before the introduction of the Met. treets were patrolled by watchmen and parish constables, little is known about them but it is thought that they were probably relatively effective as they would have had knowledge of the local areas and their trouble makers. The original roles of the Metropolitan Police Force were to patrol the streets, keep order and deter crime, but also to tackle major disturbances such as riots. In short they had to keep peace on the streets of London, well at least the streets they would go down, for in the East End there were a few streets that most Police officers only dared enter in pairs, if at all.

Unfortunately, because the police focused on, and were trained to deal with, street crime their investigations into more serious crimes, such as burglaries and murders, were not what they should have been. As a result street crime went down, but the amount of burglaries rose. It wasn’t because they were unintelligent or incapable, but because they simply hadn’t received training on how to go about such investigations. The training received consisted mainly of March drills, often done in the army. This was mainly so the police force looked good on parade.

Another reason that they found it hard to deal with such crimes, was because the pubic weren’t fond of the police, they still brooded over memories from when the army had been called upon to deal with trouble or crime in the city. This problem was addressed and the way in which the Met. tried to address the problem was by changing their uniforms, they wore dark blue suits to show that they weren’t in anyway related to the army, who wore red. Another reason they chose blue was because the British Royal Navy wore blue, and people liked the Navy, they protected the borders and kept the country safe from any threats of invasion.

Unfortunately, even with their blue uniforms, to begin with policemen were likely to receive verbal or even physical abuse from members of the public, but eventually people warmed up to these new ‘defenders of order’. After all, they had made the streets of London safer, even if they couldn’t solve crime. Regrettably, even though the police force was praised and thought highly of, it was not without corruption, drunkenness was a common factor among officers. Many police officers took bribes, or came on duty drunk, they may have upheld the law but they were not very disciplined.

The main reason for this was that any man under 35, who was fit and able could become a police officer, background checks often weren’t done and character assessments were sidetracked, this may have been because there was such a need for new officers, London was a large city, and that meant a large amount of people were needed to patrol the streets. In 1842 the first detectives were introduced to the police force, two inspectors and six sergeants, and yet again the public took a dim view towards the police.

The idea of plain clothes policemen could walk around unidentified worried people and it was not just the public. The Home Office was concerned that detectives would become too friendly with criminals and become corrupt. As a result of doubts, it was not until 1860 that detective work began to be organised. In 1860 an inspector and a sergeant were sent to investigate a murder in Wiltshire, so creating the pattern of inquiry which has lasted to this day.

Things continued to develop within the police force, for example; in 1862 photographs were taken of the criminals that resided in prison and sent to Scotland Yard to form the ‘Rogues Gallery’, this in itself was a good step forward, even if it was only done under the belief you could tell criminal ‘types’ by the shape of their heads. More progress was made when, in 1869, the Detective Department was created and full time detectives assigned to each division, but yet again not all went well, when in 1877 three out of the four inspectors in the Department were found guilty of corruption.

This led to the reorganisation of the department in 1878 and the Criminal Intelligence Department (CID) was introduced and this led to considerable improvements. The Number Of Arrests increased with the Number Of Detectives, e. g. 1879 –N. O. A=13,128 N. O. D=216, 1884- N. O. A=18,344 N. O. D=294 . Another example of corruption on the force could be that many officers got struck off after only a week or two of service, due to being drunk on duty mainly. A prime example of this is when one officer got struck off after only four hours of being on the force.

But it wasn’t just drunkenness that prohibited progress in investigations, proper procedures hadn’t been emplaced and many mistakes took place that would now be classed as ‘obstructing a police investigation’. For example there were no rules in place about not moving the body or interfering with the scene of the crime. Many people, public not just police, would be free to walk through an area of police investigation, this was simply because no-one paid much attention to detail. Besides the problems within the force itself, they also faced problems with public help.

People looked to the police to set an example and show how the law should be upheld. Unfortunately, the police began to get a name for heavy-handedness, mainly as they were called upon to deal with riots; for which the main tactic for dealing with was baton charges. This involved the officers forming rows and charging at the crowds, this often led to injuries, in fact one baton charge resulted in a seventy-eight year old man being trampled death, this unfortunate accident happened at Bromley in 1868. It was events like this that led to the policeman’s reputation as the ‘friendly bobby’ to be discarded by most in working class areas.

I personally feel that the police force had many faults, and though they also had a few positives, like their view for safety, bringing down street crime and putting order back into London and many other cities across England. But these just can’t justify or compensate for all the problems within the force; lack of training, lack of procedure, the minimalist attention to detail and the amount of corruption within the force itself. In my opinion the police force in the late C19th was not what it could have been, and although one of the largest cities, London just could not compete with the rest of the world in regards to their police force.