Founded 1946, by Geoffrey Beard

Stourbridge Historical Society

19th January 2017

The monthly meeting was held in the Wollaston Room on 19th January at President Chris Glaze-Millis welcomed Dr. David Cox who spoke on “A Short History of the British Police”. Dr. Cox who is black country born and bred is Reader in Criminal Justice History at the University of Wolverhampton specialising in 18th and 19th century crime and police history.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and author of several books on criminal history.

Dr.Cox posed the question as to when the police were first formed as a professional force.  There had been many ad hoc approaches to policing.  In the 17th century law was enforced by parish constables who served in the job as volunteers for a year.  It was a dangerous job and not popular.  In the towns, night watchmen known as ‘Charlies’ kept order.

It was the Radcliffe Highway Murders in 1811 which provided the impetus for a more organised professional force. The perpetrator a John Williams had committed suicide before he could be brought to trial. His body was paraded in public with a stake through his heart.

There was opposition voiced by John William Ward the first Earl of Dudley to a national para-military style force such as the French police who had detectives.

The Metropolitan Police were formed in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel the Home Secretary. They wore uniforms designed to suggest they were not para-military. They wore reinforced top hats, not only for protection but to provide a stand to enable them to look over walls.

The Metropolitan Police were not the first professional force. Indeed, professional police forces had been established in Ireland in 1814 by Sir Richard Willcocks and in Scotland in 1789 by Act of Parliament.

The first professional force goes back to the Bow Street Runners who operated from 1749 to 1839. They were founded by Henry Fielding a novelist and author of ‘Tom Jones’ and who was a magistrate. The runners operated from his house in Bow Street near Covent Garden which became the Bow Street Magistrates Court. The runners were tough men armed with pistols and handcuffs and operated throughout the country in catching criminals.  They were principal officers not wearing uniforms and undertook the detection and apprehension of criminals rather than patrols which were carried out by men known as “robin redbreasts”.

Henry Fielding’s brother Sir John Fielding took over as chief magistrate in 1754 and published the “Hue and Cry” which later became the “Police Gazette”.

In 1830 George Ruthven was principal officer of the runners having played a part in preventing the murder of cabinet members planned by the ‘Cato Street Conspiracy’.  A role for which he was rewarded by a pension.

The Metropolitan Police took over the role of the Bow Street Runners from 1839 and established the detective branch in 1842 following the failure to catch murderer Daniel Good. In 1877 three officers of Scotland Yard were tried for corruption and imprisoned for two years.  This led to the formation of the CID.

Eventually Parliament passed laws setting up watch committees and police forces in the counties and boroughs. Subsequent reorganisations leave us today with 43 police forces and one in Scotland. Police women were late entrants and wore skirts until 1986.

The President thanked Dr. Cox for his informative and interesting talk.