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The Origins of the British Police Force

Brief history of the Police forces origins, it’s instigator, and what it took to become and work as a Victorian Bobby.

                  

The police are an every day sight for the majority of the British public, whether we see them on patrol by foot or transport, in the newspapers and on television in the numerous programmes featuring or based on their service. But many people do not realise that two hundred years ago, a professional police force did not exist in Britain.

Sir Robert “Bobby” Peel

The creation of the police was all down to one man ‘Sir Robert “Bobby” Peel’, while he was the Home Secretary in Lord Liverpool’sTory Cabinet. In 1812, Sir Robert Peel established the Royal Irish Constabulary which proved to be a great success. And with the public concern for maintaining law and order, it became obvious that a similar organization was needed in London, so the Metropolitan Police act was introduced in 1829 to permanently provide specially appointed and paid Constables, the first thousand Constables, went on patrol in London on the 29th September 1829.                                      

A peeler as they where known

The standard issue uniforms were a blue tail-coats and top hats, a wooden truncheon, handcuffs and a wooden rattle to raise the alarm, which would be replaced by a whistle in the 1880’s. The uniform was selected to help make these new appointed officers appear similar to ordinary citizens , rather than the red coated soldiers with helmets.

Officers of this newly formed police force were refered to as ”Bobbies” or ”Peelers” after Sir Robert Peel, which are still used to this day, “Bobbies” being used in England and “Peelers” still in use in Ireland. To become a “Peeler”, there was a strict regime for acceptance, generally, you had to be 6ft tall(although, a few got in, who happened to be just short of this height requirement), and have no history of unlawfulness or wrong doings.

In 1839, the County police Act was passed, which would see the creation of provincial forces, first in all the London Boroughs, and then into all the counties and towns, with the exception, of Lancashire town of Bury, being the only major town to elect not to have it’s own separate police force, it was to remain part of the Lanchashire Constabulary until 1974, ironically, LancashireTown was the birth place of Sir Robert Peel.

It was not an easy life for these early Victorian police officers, they would have to work a seven day week, receiving only five days unpaid holiday per year, their weekly wage was £1. There were strict rules concerning the way in which the were to conduct their lives both personally and professionally, they were forbidden from voting at the elections, getting married required permission from their Superior’s and even if they wanted to join a civilian for a meal. It was even a requirement that all “Peelers” had to wear their uniforms both on and of duty, to allay the public suspicion of being spied upon.

And here we are, 179 years later, with one of the best Police forces in the world, made up of many divisions, trained to use some of the latest equipment in preventing and fighting crime, and one thing is for sure, since it’s humble beginnings, the police have continually evolved and grown, and we can all be certain, that it will continue to do so for at least another 179 years.

So remember the next time you here the terms “Bobbies” or “Peelers”, and spare a thought for Sir Robert “Bobby” Peel, a man of great insight and innovation, whose determination has shaped and changed the face of Britain, an idea that has carried on to help keeps us as well as our families and loved ones safe in our every day lives.

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