Praise for one old copper while a sharp eyed dealer intercepts the theft of another…
History Lecturer, Drew Gray tells us about how modern policing was established: setting the stage for our students to study policing today. This piece was originally published on The Police Magistrate Blog.
Apologies in advance for the convoluted puns in the title but sometimes it is very hard to resist!
1856 was the year which saw the passing of the County & Borough Police Act — the final piece of legislation that ensured that professional police forces (the forerunners of the ones in place today) were created. The first act (in 1829) had established the Metropolitan Police in London (excluding the old City which retained an independent force). There were a series of small local acts and the important 1839 Rural Constabulary Act — or County Police Act (which allowed but did not demand) that counties create their own bodies on the lines of the Met.
The 1856 act finally ended the voluntary system of parish constables that had existed since the medieval period, in towns the old watch had gradually been replaced by uniformed constables under a hierarchical system of control.
Britain’s experiment with modern policing was now fully underway.
At Westminster Police Court in January 1856 there were just two hearings that caught the attention of the newspaper reporter sent there by his editor.
James Thomas was charged with stealing a copper (not a policeman but ‘a large kettle, now usually made of iron, used for cooking or to boil laundry’). Thomas tried to sell the copper to Charles Clark, a metal dealer who had a shop on Queen Street in Pimlico.
Clark was suspicious because he thought from ‘its appearance that it had been stolen’, so he turned Thomas away. But when the prisoner left Clark quickly alerted a police constable who arrested Thomas and took him into custody.
Clark was suspicious because he thought from ‘its appearance that it had been stolen’, so he turned Thomas away.
The man denied the charge at Westminster and was remanded for further examination.
The press also reported that Inspector Moran from B Division was retiring from his present post to take up a position as the inspector of police at the House of Lords. Inspector Moran had served B Division for twenty years, so almost from the creation of the Met itself and the magistrate thanked him publicly for his efforts.
Mr Arnold told him:
‘I ought not, perhaps, to express regret at an event which I hope is conducive to your interests, but I will take this opportunity of publicly offering my testimony to the zeal and ability you have always exhibited in the discharge of your duties in this court, and of stating my entire satisfaction with your conduct in every instance brought under my notice’.
Praise indeed and evidence perhaps of the by now fairly widespread satisfaction with, and recognition of, established professional policing — something that was far from evident in the first decade of the Met’s existence.