More on the Bow Street Runners
Posted by Carolyn B on March 26, 1998 at 00:12:18:
In response to From Runners to Peelers . . . ?, written by Woodhouse on March 23, 1998 at 07:55:34
Contradictions and all!
(For the nitpicky - initials of sources IM, PW, PB, JW refer to authors of sources in my earlier post "Mr. Fielding's Men")
Unfortunately, according to PB, much of the history of the Runners was lost when the Fieldings’ papers were destroyed by a mob ransacking Bow Street during the Gordon Riots in 1780.
Private detectives or “thief takers” had already been in business by the early 1700s, citizens making a living from the parliamentary rewards for catching criminals. In 1750 [PW], Fielding got a government grant to appoint six householders to serve as paid constables [IM]. (PW writes that the Runners were just ordinary unpaid householders motivated by civic duty, but PB notes they were paid a "small weekly salary, no more than a retainer" and all but one of the six original recruits were ex-constables of Westminster. Neither refers to Mr. Fielding’s Men as “constables” as IM does, but IM seems to imply that these were policemen, appointed for more than a year, unlike previous constables, so they would become familiar with the job and the criminals.) After the first six recruits, no one knows the exact number of men serving over the years, but PW describes the Runners as a “small band of men, as low as four in some cases.” They became known as the Bow Street Runners about 1785 (after Henry and John Fielding had died).
They wore no uniform, and the only sign of their office was their tipstaff, tipstave, or painted truncheon. PW’s description: The tipstave was short and could be tucked in one’s pocket or coat. It had a brass handle and a crown on the tip (opposite end). Some crowns unscrewed (presumably to reveal a hollow opening) so warrants could be stowed inside. The tipstaff was long and used for ceremonial occasions such as parades. The truncheon had a crown motif with coat of arms painted on it (royal or city). (I suppose all of these could be used as weapons if need be.)
PB says in addition to the salary, each Runner received a share of the reward when a criminal he caught was convicted, and “a good Runner, like John Sayer or John Townsend, could legally make up to £30,000 through various annual retainers.” [I have no idea where PB got that figure!] While PB suggests that “Thus there was no incentive to be corrupt,” JW reports that some were. For example, a Runner could allow a theft to occur, recover the stolen property and get a reward from the victim for returning it plus the parliamentary reward for identifying the thief as well (so basically there was no incentive to prevent the crime).
Sayer and Townsend, mentioned above, were probably the exceptions and were the best known Runners. After an attempt was made to assassinate George III in 1786, Bow Street officers were appointed to protect the Court, and Sayers and Townsend went there in 1792. PB: "Townsend, who was paid £200 a year for his services as a Court detective, was a favourite of George III and George IV." Until they were disbanded in 1839, the Runners were the only policemen allowed inside Buckingham Palace. [all PB]
PW notes that when the Metropolitan police formed in 1829 the Bow Street Runners were "unfit for recruitment" (why? age? physical condition? Possibly they may not have wanted to take a pay cut.) The Runners were around for another 10 years but their work was pretty much absorbed by the new police.
- Well, I never! Caroline 09:42:12 3/27/98 (2)
- Thanks, Carolyn! What a wealth of info! (NFM) Woodhouse 17:05:03 3/26/98 (0)
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