The Fielding boys and other tidbits of police history (long)
Posted by Carolyn B on March 25, 1998 at 23:44:09:
In response to Henry Fielding, Crime Fighter , written by Carolyn B on March 23, 1998 at 00:15:01
While perhaps not everyone is as fascinated by the British police as I am, I do think it makes a constrasting background context for JA's stories!
PB = Paul Begg and Keith Skinner, The Scotland Yard Files
JW = John Wilkes, The London Police in the Nineteenth Century
IM = Ian McKenzie and G. Patrick Gallagher, Behind the Uniform
PW = Peter N. Walker, “The History of the English Police”
(full titles were in my earlier post on "Mr. Fielding's Men")
This first bit’s my take on the subject:
Crime prevention into the early 1800s consisted primarily of harsh punishments for offenders (e.g., JA’s aunt facing the possibility of death or transportation to Australia for shoplifting a piece of lace in 1799) and “parliamentary rewards” (financial incentives for citizens to bring a criminal to justice). The government (and the populace) did not particularly want an organized police force, which many tended to think of as an internal army that could be potentially disastrous. Many felt you could not have a free society AND a police force. Parliament only agreed to creating a real Metropolitan police force in 1829 after a number of events showed the existing system didn’t work. General pattern: something bad happened – Parliament formed a committee to look into the problem but didn’t do much (PB says there were at least 12 committees formed between 1770-1820s - sound familiar? :P
A little police history
Starting in the late 1400s – Britain’s “first professional policeman” were essentially night watchmen paid by the city of London and had “a reputation for neglecting their duties, for being otherwise unemployable, …old and infirm…or criminals themselves” – think of Constable Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing [PB]
1748 - Henry Fielding became magistrate for Westminster and Middlesex, [IM says “Chief Magistrate at Bow Street Court”] which PB calls the early equivalent of being Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police force (London) except he didn’t yet have any force to speak of. Henry had studied law but had to support himself by writing comedy (Tom Jones, etc.) He was unusual for not being corrupt (unlike the other magistrates) and gathered “six like-minded incorruptibles” to work for him [PB]. (hmm. who will play him in the movie? Kevin Costner or Robert Stack?) They became “Mr. Fielding’s Men,” later known as the “Bow Street Runners.” (The magistrate’s home and office was on Bow Street.)
Captain Everett can probably address the whole issue of what the
magistrate’s role was, etc. since he has the book - his post is linked here and in messages below but does not show up on the main board.
In 1751, Fielding wrote An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers, which described London as a city “in which a thief may harbour with as great security as wild beasts do in the deserts of Africa Arabia” [quote in IM]. (No wonder the Bennets were so dismayed when Lydia and Wickham headed there instead of Scotland.) He suggested such advanced ideas as Legal Aid and a Public Prosecutor. (It was largely ignored by the powers-that-be – perhaps it was not nearly as amusing as Tom Jones). Fielding also published the Covent Garden Journal, which gave descriptions of cases and criminals and was the forerunner of the modern day Police Review.
When Henry died in 1754, the magistracy was taken over by his half-brother John Fielding “who, although blind from the age of nineteen, was reputed to be able to recognize 3000 thieves by their voices”[PB]. In 1763, John persuaded the government to pay for a Horse Patrol to guard approaches to the city. (PB says they got money for “two pursuit horses”; PW says “two horse patrols.”) PB: “They were so successful that within a year travellers felt completely safe, but then the penny-pinching Government withdrew their finance and the Horse Patrol had to be abandoned” (but revived in 1805 - and PB may be exaggerating the safety thing).
In 1772, John Fielding began publishing The Quarterly Pursuit of Criminals, supplemented by The Weekly Pursuit and The Extraordinary Pursuit (sort of the 18th C. version of America’s Most Wanted). These broadsheets had descriptions of the culprits “like ‘wanted posters’ of gunslingers in the Old West , and were displayed in public places such as churches and inns under the heading ‘Weekly Hue and Cry.’” Has anyone ever seen any of these? (There are two later “wanted” posters reprinted in the book, from 1811 and 1842. I finally got a scanner but haven't figured out how to use my homepage yet.)
some other dates of note:
1780 – The Gordon Riots forced the government to consider possibly doing something to strengthen the police force
(Somewhere in here, John Fielding died and was replaced by Sampson Wright.)
1782 – Bow Street Foot Patrol created to patrol the city at night (under Wright) – 68 men to police the entire city – “Apart from John Fielding’s short-lived Horse Patrol, the Foot Patrol was Britain’s first preventative police force [ie. trying to stop crime before it happened] and was further distinguished by being armed!” (doesn’t say what with – just a truncheon?)
1792 – Middlesex Justices Act established eight police offices around London, each with 3 magistrates and 6 policemen
1805 – Horse Patrol revived –PB: “Known as ‘Robin Redbreasts’ because of their distinct uniform” – “Within a year the approaches to London were once again safe from highwaymen” until……
1811 – “gruesome Ratcliffe Highway murders caused widespread panic” and pointed out the inadequacies of the current system of policing – Government formed another committee to look into this. (The accused murderer hanged himself and after his body was carried through the streets of London, he was buried at a crossroads with a stake driven through his heart [PB includes a print of the body on cart with what appears to be a wooden stake].)
1815 – after Waterloo, returning soldiers in an already unstable labor market created massive unemployment. PB: “during the winter of 1815-16, London was virtually under siege by rioting gangs and mobs. Property was destroyed and buildings set alight.” Government strengthened the police force and formed another committee to look into the situation.
(This certainly adds to a reading of Miss Tilney’s misinterpretation of Catherine Morland’s comments in Northanger Abbey, “I have heard something very shocking indeed will come out in London. . . . I shall expect murder and every thing of the kind.” How would readers in 1818 view Henry Tilney’s description of an imagined riot – which JA presumably had written much earlier?)
most of this rest is from IM:
1818 – Parliamentary committee decides that a “severe system of police” would be “inconsistent with the liberties of the people” and “odious and repulsive”
1819 - “Peterloo Massacre” – not having a large enough police force, the government called out the military to deal with a crowd of 80,000 gathered in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester. In the confusion, Hussars were ordered to charge the crowd with sabers; results: 11 people killed, 400 injured (including 100 women). Popular outcry followed, and in the aftermath the PM (Duke of Wellington) ordered Parliament to start an organized police force “without delay”
1822 – Robert Peel appointed Home Secretary
1828 – Parliamentary committee (handpicked by Peel) finally concluded “It is absolutely necessary to devise some means to give greater security to persons and property.”
1829 – Peel’s Metropolitan Police Improvement Bill created the Metropolitan Police force (10 years after “Peterloo”).
Peel writing to the Duke of Wellington 5 November 1829:
I want to teach people that liberty does not consist in having your home robbed by organized gangs of thieves, and leaving principal streets in the nightly possession of drunken women and vagabonds
6 p.m. September 29, 1829 – uniformed police officers of the Metropolitan Police marched out onto the streets of London! According to PW, they wore blue coat, blue trousers, and a top hat, and the distrustful general public called them “Blue Lobsters” and “Peel’s Bloody Gang,” taking another thirty years to accept their presence!
- I better move that book to the top of the pile. (nfm) Captain Everett 22:01:15 3/26/98 (0)
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