Policing has always had rules attached to it. In theory if a crime was identified in the medieval period hue and cry had to be raised thus ensuring decent law abiding citizens turned into a pitchfork wielding mob looking for the stranger in their midst in order to avoid being fined by the local lord or the monarch. Gradually officialdom became involved – initially on an enterprising basis with thief takers which generally speaking is a polite historical term for bounty hunter. In urban areas there were also parish constables and night watchmen.
Things started to be more regularised by foundation of the Bow Street Runners. The Metropolitan Police was founded in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel pictured at the start of this post. They were responsible for keeping law and order in London as well as policing Windsor Castle. The square mile of the City of London was, and still is (I think), policed by its own force.
Elsewhere the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 allowed local councils to set up their own police forces. The detective branch of the Metropolitan Police followed in 1842. Inspector Whicher – as in the “Suspicions of Mr Whicher” was one of its orginal members. New Scotland Yard was founded in 1890 in the aftermath of the Jack the Ripper case that began in 1888.
As the Metropolitan police developed other areas developed their own constabularies. Mostly the newly founded police forces were urban. Halifax was one of the first areas to have a police force founded in 1848 along with an accompanying Watch Committee. Gradually a network of police forces spread across the countryside. For example in Derbyshire there were eight divisions of police sited at: Ashbourne, Bakewell, Belper, Chesterfield, Derby, Glossop, Melbourne and Matlock.
At the same time that various police forces were being established around the country moving the transport police were also evolving to meet the needs of the Railway Age.
In 1913 the Government increased the capacity of the police force by setting up a police reserve of retired officers who were retained on an annual fee so long as they were still able to do the job of a constable. A second reserve was to be made up from volunteers. The Special Constable Act of 1914 allowed these volunteers to be appointed as Special Constables. This was probably just as well because there were numbers of territorials as well as reservists in the regular ranks. Such was the pressure on the London force that women were admitted to the ranks for the first time.
The Metropolitan Police Roll of Honour is in Westminster Abbey. More than four thousand of the twenty two thousand officers serving in 1914 joined the armed forces. Of that number 864 were killed or wounded.
The pay that a policeman received had been kept deliberately low since the founding of the service as a means of keeping the police on a level with the communities they served. But by the end of the Great War many men were working long hours for very little pay. Wages for long serving officers were less than the average rate for agricultural labour. This resulted in the police strike of 1918. Matters were compounded by the fact that each local area had a watch Committee that set the terms of pay and conditions for their local force.
The problem was that by the end of 1918 the Government was rather alarmed about the police being unionised as they made the connection to revolutionary Russia – they had been less concerned by the fact that a poorly paid police force might have been susceptible to the odd back hander. As a result of establishment fears the Police Act of 1919 was passed which made it illegal to join a union, though the Police Federation was created as an alternative. Men who went on strike after the passage of the act faced immediate dismissal.