29 September 1829: London’s bobbies pound the beat for the first time

On this day in 1829, the first of London's 'Peelers' hit the streets as the Metropolitan Police Force began its patrols.

Nineteenth-century London was a grubby and lawless place, full of drunkards, thieves, house-breakers and other ne'er do wells. What law enforcement that did exist was piecemeal, and not under any central control.

There were random parish constables and watchmen keeping an eye on things – the Bow Street Runners, which had been put together by the novelist Henry Fielding in the mid-18th century, and the Marine Police Force – the river police established in 1798 to combat crime in the docks. But there was very little organised city-wide crime-fighting going on.

But London was expanding. People were growing rich, and crime was on the rise. The Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, wanted things organised properly. And so he drew up "An Act for improving the Police in and near the Metropolis".

Peel's force would be a civilian outfit, with a blue tailcoat and top hat. Officers had to be aged between 20 and 27, be at least 5'7" tall, be able to read and write, and be of good character.

The force was based in 4 Whitehall Place, and would operate within a seven-mile radius of Charing Cross (excluding the City of London).The back entrance was in Great Scotland Yard, soon shortened to Scotland Yard.

It consisted of 895 constables, 88 sergeants, 20 inspectors and eight superintendents. Standard equipment was a truncheon, handcuffs and a rattle to raise the alarm.

They worked seven days a week for £1 a week, with five days holiday a year – the low pay was supposed to ensure that the men would not feel “superior to the job”. They were required to wear their uniforms at all times, even when they were off duty.

The Act was passed in July 1829, and on 29 September, the first “Peelers” took to the streets, pounding their beats at 2.5 miles an hour.

Recommended

Is London’s office market a bargain?
Property

Is London’s office market a bargain?

Private-equity groups are swooping on London’s property companies, which are trading on steep discounts to net asset value.
23 Oct 2020
Big spending government is here to stay – just ask Rishi Sunak
UK Economy

Big spending government is here to stay – just ask Rishi Sunak

Governments around the world are splashing huge amounts of cash as they do “whatever it takes” to prop up their economies. John Stepek looks at where …
23 Oct 2020
Why negative interest rates are a lousy idea
UK Economy

Why negative interest rates are a lousy idea

The Bank of England’s governor says negative interest rates can encourage investment rather than having cash stashed in the bank. But is that really t…
22 Oct 2020
I wish I knew what negative interest rates were, but I’m too embarrassed to ask
Too embarrassed to ask

I wish I knew what negative interest rates were, but I’m too embarrassed to ask

There’s been a lot of talk from the Bank of England recently about introducing “negative interest rates”. So what on earth are they, and what would th…
20 Oct 2020

Most Popular

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm
Bitcoin

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm

The Bank of England could win the race to create a respectable digital currency if it moves quickly, says Matthew Lynn.
18 Oct 2020
Don’t miss this bus: take a bet on National Express
Trading

Don’t miss this bus: take a bet on National Express

Bus operator National Express is cheap, robust and ideally placed to ride the recovery. Matthew Partridge explains how traders can play it.
19 Oct 2020
Last chance to secure a Bounce Back loan for your small business
Small business

Last chance to secure a Bounce Back loan for your small business

The government’s Bounce Back loan scheme will only run for another six weeks. Act now if you need to take advantage of it.
16 Oct 2020