We’re so used to seeing police on our streets that it doesn’t seem unusual, but did we always have a police force? Officially, the police as a united organisation has a fairly recent history and here we look at how the police force in the UK came into being:
The very first police force formed at Bow Street in London in the early 1700s. They were known as the ‘Bow Street Runners’ and were under the direction of a local magistrate. It was agreed that more of the same groups were needed so in 1753 more forces were established in the capital.
Due to the importance of London’s docks for trade and the economy, the Marine Police were created in 1798 to help prevent the increasing numbers of thefts from the warehouses along the Thames, particularly between London Bridge and the Tower of London.
After the terrible incident of the ‘Peterloo Massacre’ in 1819 in Manchester, the Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel was given the job of creating an official uniformed police force for the city of London. It was a deeply unpopular plan as many different sections of society feared for the protection of their civil liberties.
The plan went ahead, and the Metropolitan Police Force came into being in 1829. It was a less than auspicious start with no powers available to prevent or investigate criminal activity and most of the recruits were untrained and unsuitable for the position. They were too easily associated with the military and were deeply unpopular. However, by 1842 the CID was established for investigating crimes.
Despite the shaky start, by 1835 the Municipal Corporation Act required all new corporations to create a police force. A little while later, in 1856 the County and Borough Police Act required all counties to create a uniformed police force as well.
The common slang terms for policemen, including ‘bobbies’ came from the name of the Home Secretary who created the first police force, Sir Robert Peel. They were also called ‘Peelers’ at the time. The first policemen were equipped with truncheons, rattles and wore top hats. Policemen didn’t carry whistles until the 1880s. It’s a far cry from the fast cars, helicopters and high-technology that our police today have access to including the fairly recent introduction of a personal Body Worn Camera.
The police took possession of their first motor vehicles in 1903, owned by the Metropolitan Police Force. Still considered a luxury however, most policemen were using bicycles to move around as these were introduced in 1909. The first female police officers started working in 1914, possibly due to the high numbers of men having to join the fighting abroad.
In 1919, the police went on strike over a desire for better pay and it was at this time that the Police Federation was formed. The emergency 999 number was established as early as 1937 even when most homes were still without a telephone.
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