London – Days Before The Formation Of The Met Police

There are many conflicting views of when the first form of policing hit the streets of London. Policing however can be traced back to before the days of the likes of the Tudor and Stuart periods. In these days policing was traditionally done by the Army. Soldiers would follow basic orders but did not have overall responsiblity for the prevention and detection of crime.

I could spend a lifetime looking back looking for the answer to the question – When was the first form of Policing introduced in London? For the purposes of ease I am going to start this Blog on the days before the official formation of the Metropolitan Police.

The Current Metropolitan police Logo

The Metropolitan Police (Met Police) was officially formed in 1829 after Parliament passed the Metropolitan Police Act 1829 that had been proposed by the then Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel. As with the question about the first police we do not have a lot of information to answer the question about why the police were formed in the first place.

No crime statistics exist and from information available it would appear that London was seen as a lawless and violent place to be especially at night. What we do know is that in 1798 Marine Police were set up to deter theft from the docks. This form of first Police in London did not wear uniforms but were heavily armed to protect the docks against Pirates.

Although the Marine Police did exist, the same could not be said for the streets. People are said to have run riot committing crime as there was no worries about punishment. People would steal and rob each other and the streets of London were deemed to be unsafe.

A drawing of a Watchman

What did exist were men who operated as Watchmen who would conduct street patrols. Watchmen were not liked by the residents of London as they were corrupt and ineffective. It is said that Watchmen would simply look on whilst women would get forcibly kidnapped in front of them. There were also incidents of Watchmen taking a cut of stolen items that had been stolen by the very people the Watchmen were designed to deter.

In 1805 a foot and horse patrol service started that operated out of Bow Street Magistrates. This service would be the base for Sir Robert Peels Metropolitan Police years later. The Bow Street Patrols were formed by a Chief magistrate called Richard Ford and they wore red coats as uniform.

A drawing showing Bow Street – Source Wikipedia

Prior to the Bow Street runners in 1753 a man called Henry Fielding had formed the Bow Street Runners who are said to be the first organised Detective Service in the Country. They would operate alongside Bounty Hunter type forms of law enforcement who were people who would catch criminals and would be paid a fee on each arrest.

The Bow Street Patrols are said to have been more successful and by 1821 they had around 100 officers who would patrol the streets. The Bow Street Patrols remained in place until the formation of the Met Police in 1829.

This Blog has been written to give you a basic understanding of how things were in the days prior to the formation of the Met Police. This area of history is very unclear and can be researched in more detail. This short Blog provides a platform for my next Blog post that will cover the formation of the Met Police. You can look up The Bow Street Runners and The Bow Street Patrols online using web sites such as Wikipedia.

I bid you farewell and thank you for reading this first Blog into the history of the Met Police.