Queen Victoria reigned from 1837-1901, a time which changed Britain drastically. When Queen Victoria was born, in 1819, Britain was a very disorderly and undisciplined country. Crime flourished, especially theft of all kinds, and everyone feared that the nation was on the verge of a revolution. But despite this, most Britons prided themselves as being free men, and so the notion of police forces was rejected. They thought that having a disciplined force would turn them into slaves. By the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, Britain had changed drastically.
The law enforcement system we have today in Britain is very different from how it was 200 years ago, in the Victorian era. Our law and order system at the present time is very complicated and all this developed and expanded from the nineteenth century.In 1880, there were two main law enforcement groups in the whole of England – the Bow Street Runners and the Thames Valley Police (or the Marine Police), both of which were situated in London. The Bow Street Runners were set up in the mid eighteenth century (1749) and were the first police force in Britain. They were established at Bow Street and were quite successful – they even launched the Bow Street horse patrol. The Thames Valley Police were formed a little later, in 1798 and patrolled the areas up and down the River Thames.In 1829, Sir Robert Peel, the acting Home Secretary founded the Metropolitan Police Force in London.
This group of law enforcers still exist today as Britain’s top police force. But it wasn’t the establishment of an efficient police force that was Peel’s greatest contribution to law enforcement – it was his philosophy. His 9 rules on policing are timeless and universal and could be used as a foundation for any police department today as they did back in the nineteenth century. Sir Robert Peel recognised the major part the police have to execute on the community. “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
” His first rule on prevention was his main aim when founding the great Metropolitan Police. The statement in essence claims that the police are better than the army, in trying to prevent the crime instead of stopping it when it happens.The Metropolitan Police Act 1829 marked out the original Metropolitan Police District as an area of about seven miles radius from Charing Cross. Seventeen police divisions were set up and centred on the following areas:A – Westminster; B – Chelsea; C – Mayfair and Soho; D – Marylebone; E – Holborn; F – Kensington; G – Kings Cross; H – Stepney; K – West Ham; – Lambeth; M – Southwark; N – Islington; P – Peckham; R – Greenwich; S – Hampstead; T – Hammersmith and V – Wandsworth.
The W – Clapham; X – Willesden and Y – Holloway were added later in 1865, with the J Division – Bethnal Green, added in 1886.These divisions each had a superintendent, 4 inspectors and 144 constables. Each officer was required to have good health, be between the ages of 18-35, at least 5″5 and be literate.’Bobbies’ and ‘Peelers’, as they were nicknamed were not immediately popular. Britons prided themselves as being free men, and so the introduction of a disciplinary force was like a violation to the community. This caused hostility between the public and the Metropolitan Police. Many police officers were scared to go ‘on the beat’ (patrol) the worse parts of London, as there was a high risk of being attacked.When the Metropolitan police started, they were quite successful.
The riots were able to be controlled due to the police force. But despite this success, the expansion of the police forces to rural areas was slow. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 ordered all incorporated boroughs to set up police forces, but it wasn’t until 1856 that Parliament made it compulsory for provinces to establish police forces.Police officers received very little training before being given the job. Most officers just had to be able to read and write. Most of their training was done on the job.
They often practised military drills before going on the beat in order to prepare themselves for the possible dangers. The working conditions for police officers weren’t very good as well. The officers would often have to spend up to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week walking their allocated beats on the streets of London. The average a policeman would walk a day was seven and a half miles – without a break.Police duties often involved dealing with petty situations, such as drunkenness, beggars and prostitutes. These matters were very serious in the past, because of the poverty in Britain. These people who resorted to such states were often forced to, because life was extremely poor and harsh.
The poor laws, which were still active in those times, were the main problems with the community for the poor. Other problems included dealing with rioting.Police officers were also required to keep a ‘clean’ record. This means that their image had to be that of a ‘perfect’ citizen – attending church every Sunday, to never be seen meeting with women and to not commit any crimes of which they, themselves should be stopping. This virtuous presentation was very important because there were no major problems or disturbances that they had to deal with, and therefore, they needed to keep their reputation.
It wasn’t until 1868, that their reputations began to go downhill. It was viewed that the police, with their heavy batons harmed the public more than was needed. This contradicts with Sir Robert Peel’s 6th principle of policing:”To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public cooperation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order; and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.”The rule states that physical force should only be used for achieving a purpose – no unnecessary actions are needed. One example of their over-used force was in 1887, the day dubbed ‘Bloody Sunday’. On 13th November 1887, the Metropolitan police conducted a savage attack against an unemployment demonstration in Trafalgar square. The protesters were beaten with truncheons and staves. They were charged down by police horses and there were many arrests.
Two men died later from injuries cause by the police.The controversy over the use of force by the police on the public was a heated battle. It was mainly the poor part of the population who argued that the police used too much force in ‘preventing’ crimes, though the police claim that it was all necessary. Because of this, the police’s reputation dropped and their popularity with the public was extremely bad. This cause the public to not cooperate properly with the police and therefore, their force would probably be needed even more.
The lack of detective experience meant that any serious crime that developed would simply not be solved. Because of this, detective work began in the 1860s, when the first murder case was being investigated. Photographs had been developed by then and pictures were taken at the crime scene. Photographs of criminals were also taken – it was popular belief that you could tell a criminal from the size of their head and their features. It was almost like ‘another race’ of criminals, with their vulgar features and appearance. In 1869, a detective department was formed, but then, statistics revealed that 3 out of 4 officers were guilty of corruption. The detective department was abolished and replaced by the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) in 1878.
With the new CID unit, new methods of investigation began to develop. In 1879, instructions for murder cases were established – the murder scene had to be exactly the way it was when the incident occurred, and the public was to be kept away. In 1892, the Alphonse Bertillon method was adopted.
His theory of ‘no two individuals being identical’ meant that fingerprinting and measurements of the limbs could be used to gather evidence. This was a huge step to forensic science, and when the first person was convicted of murder using the fingerprint method, the theory became largely practised and began to develop to what it is now.With the introduction to the police force, the rates of crime did gradually fall. The graph below shows the changes in crime within 25 years.In the 19th century, 75% of all recorded crimes in London were petty theft.
Pick pocketing was among these crimes and were committed by almost every age range from five year olds and upwards. The newly overcrowded streets of London gave pickpockets new and greater opportunities. There were ‘gangs’ made up of these pickpockets who preferred to “adopt” children to use them for their small figure to steal valuables from people’s pockets. In Charles Dickens’s famous novel, Oliver Twist, he demonstrates the life of a child in poverty resorting to one of these gangs as a means of survival.Garrotting was a new crime created in the 19th century. It was another form of theft, but in such a brutal and harsh way that it often resulted in murder. Garrotters often worked in small groups.
Most commonly, three men would work together in order to Garrotte a victim. Two of the men would hold back and half-strangle the victim in order to make them easier to rob, which the third man would do. There was a panic over this new crime.
The newspapers would publish information, pictures and everything on Garrotting which helped spread the panic.It wasn’t until 1862, when a Member of Parliament, Hugh Pilkington fell victim to one of these violent attacks, that the Government began to take the issue seriously. Because the attacks normally took place on dark roads where it was difficult to see, the gradual introduction of gas street lighting caused garrotting to slowly reduce.Another type of crime that was common in the 19th century was murder. Murder was often committed in numerous ways, though the most popular choice (especially for wives who wished to kill their husbands) was poison. It was difficult to tell if a person was killed by poison or if the death was natural. It wasn’t until technology developed even more, that they would finally be able to deal with forensics.
Punishment in the late 19th century had changed quite a lot. The main concern for the public regarding punishment was the ultimate sentence – Capital Punishment. The death penalty was still used frequently in the beginning of the 19th century. The crimes which could lead to these were considered petty and not equal to death.
These crimes include: theft, stealing sheep, chopping down trees in Downing Street, murder, treason and skipping hot wires. The crimes like theft were the ones which resulted in the death penalty most. Many people began to believe that it was too harsh and that the juries did not convict criminals according to an equal punishment. In 1841, the law had changed and capital punishment was only the result of murder or treason.Transportation was also an extremely big sentence to receive. It meant that the convict would be taken to Australia to stay for a certain amount of time or even for life. If the offender were to return, the penalty would be death.
When sentenced, the convict would be sent to jail until there were a sufficient number of prisoners for the voyage to Australia. They would then be loaded onto a boat and shipped off to Australia. The journey would take about 4 months and the conditions were very poor and cramped. Upon arrival, they would be assigned a family and given work to match their crime. Transportation was in fact a successful method of reducing crime, because life in Australia was more calm and peaceful. Criminals were even able to earn their own money and able to earn a social status. In Charles Dickens’s novel, ‘Great Expectations’, Dickens represents a convict sent to Australia and becoming rich and obedient because of that experience.Prisons in the 19th century were in extremely poor conditions.
The prisoners would be all together (women, men and children sharing the same facilities), it was very cramped, there was no sanitation, no cleanliness and the place was crawling with diseases and infections. But then again, why would there be comfortable places for criminals? The prejudice against criminals of all kinds was harsh and extreme back in those days. It wasn’t until the turn of the century, when prison conditions changed for the better. Now, our prisons are completely different from these cages of vileness.Other crimes include: paying a fine – for the rich, this was a huge advantage.
By paying fines, the rich could escape other means of punishment, and their reputation would not be tarnished. Whipping – this was not done very often in the 19th century. It had died out; though it could still be used in some cases (women were also given this punishment).The reason why there was so much crime in the 19th century was mainly because of poverty.
The poor did not have enough to feed themselves even, and the rate of mortality was extremely high. Their last chance of survival would be to turn to crime for a living. If more time was taken to acknowledge those with the disadvantage of wealth, I think that London would not have been as corrupt as it was.