THIS YEAR is the 180th birthday of the Metropolitan Police Service. Founded in 1829 by Robert Peel, Home Secretary, the Met has now opened a new museum looking back at police history in London
UNTIL 1829, there was no central organisation of law enforcement in London. As the population of the capital grew during the 18th and 19th centuries, the public became more and more concerned about the whole question of law and order and various parliamentary committees were appointed to investigate the subject. In 1828, Sir Robert Peel, who, as Home Secretary in the Tory government, introduced several important reforms of British criminal law, set up a committee and its findings paved the way for his police Bill, leading to the setting up of an organised police service in Greater London.
Before the passing of the Metropolitan Police Act, law enforcement among the general population was carried out by volunteer constables and ‘watchmen’. In cases of serious public disorder, the British Armed Forces would take over. Because the system was fairly unorganised and wasn’t set up to carry out criminal investigation, the novelist Henry Fielding (who had been appointed a Magistrate in 1748) introduced the first detective force, known as the Bow Street Runners. The creation of the Metropolitan Police Service in 1829 meant that Greater London finally had a single police force, except for in the City of London (the financial centre), which has kept its own force.
The Met is the largest police force in the UK and it is sometimes referred to as Scotland Yard, after the location of its original headquarters, which moved to New Scotland Yard in Westminster in the late 1960s. In 1934 the force opened its own training centre at Hendon in north London. The Met has been involved in many famous criminal cases, including The Brides in the Bath, Dr Crippen, Jack the Ripper and The Krays, and you can learn more about the force and its fascinating history on its website.
A new ‘mini-museum’, the Met Collection, has opened this summer at the recruitment centre at the Empress State Building opposite West Brompton underground station. On display are ancient truncheons, handcuffs and the uniform worn by the first TV cop, Dixon of Dock Green, artefacts dating back to the year the Met was founded, as well as archive photographs of the early days at Scotland Yard. For information, tel: (020) 7161 1234.