Sir Robert Peel (5 February 1788 - 2 July 1850)

The Maintenance of Law and Order before 1829
Authorities had few resources to cope with riot, crime and disorder. Country parishes and smaller market towns had constables and the local watch and ward. This was the old Tudor system. In London, the Bow Street Runners were set up in 1742. Troops were used to keep order. Local militias were used for local problems. Spies were used to track down those who were suspected of disaffection. The industrial revolution put new pressures on society, leading to violence. Collective living led to collective organisation, which helped to create social disorder on a larger scale. The Penal Code was severe with almost two hundred capital offences and other punishments including transportation. This actually encouraged more serious crime as evidenced by the idiom, "I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb". However, prisons were still dens of iniquity, even after Peel's reforms of the 1820s. As Home Secretary, he undertook an overhaul of the prisons and also a large-scale reform of the penal code. Eventually prisons did improve although much of the pioneering work was done by people such as Sir Samuel Romily and Elizabeth Fry. Debate about the creation of a standing police force in England raged during the early part of the 19th century. Confronted with political objections and fears of potential abuse Robert Peel (later Sir Robert Peel) sponsored the first successful bill creating a bureaucratic police force in England.

In 1829 Peel's Metropolitan Police Act was passed by Wellington's government as a political compromise, the Act applying only to London. Sir Robert Peel could now established the Metropolitan Police Force. The jurisdiction of the legislation was limited to the Metropolitan London area, excluding the City of London and provinces. The constables employed were affectionately nicknamed "Bobbies" or "Peelers" (both terms are still used today).

Authentic signature of Sir Robert Peel
owned by Richard

  • All London's police were the responsibility of one authority, under the direction of the Home Secretary, with headquarters at Scotland Yard.
  • 1,000 men were recruited to supplement the existing 400 police.
  • Being a policeman became a full-time occupation with weekly pay of 16/- and a uniform.
  • Recruits were carefully selected and trained by the Commissioners.
  • Funds came from a special Parish Rate levied by the overseers of the poor.
  • Police were responsible only for the detection and prevention of crime.

Crime and disorder were to be controlled by preventive patrols and no stipends were permitted for successful solutions of crimes or the recovery of stolen property. Crime prevention was not the only business of the new police force: they inherited many functions of the watchmen such as

  • lighting lamplights
  • calling out the time
  • watching for fires
  • providing other public services

The new constables were not immediately popular. Most citizens viewed constables as an infringement on English social and political life, and people often jeered the police. The preventive tactics of the early Metropolitan police were successful, and crime and disorder declined. Their pitched battles with (and ultimate street victory over) the Chartists in Birmingham and London proved the ability of the police to deal with major disorders and street riots. Despite the early successes of the Metropolitan police, the expansion of police forces to rural areas was gradual. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 ordered all incorporated boroughs to set up police forces under the control of a watch committee, but it was not until 1856 that Parliament mandated that provinces establish police forces.

"Bobbies" or "Peelers" (circa 1830)

The Metropolitan Police Act established the principles that shaped modern English policing. First, the primary means of policing was conspicuous patrolling by uniformed police officers. Second, command and control were to be maintained through a centralised, pseudo-military organisational structure. The first Commissioners were Charles Rowan (an ex-Colonel) and Richard Mayne (a Barrister). They insisted that the prevention of crime was the first object of the police force. Third, police were to be patient, impersonal, and professional. Finally, the authority of the English constable derived from three official sources-the crown, the law, and the consent and co-operation of the citizenry.

St. Peter's Church, Drayton Bassett, where
Sir Robert Peel is buried

Drayton Manor (now demolished) the
home of Sir Robert Peel


  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
  3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
  7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.
Original material from "The Web of English History"
Many thanks to Dr Marjorie Bloy for her allowing us to use this information.