As a writer of crime novels, both the slightly more cozy sort (already published) and the more gritty thriller type (coming in April/May) it seems to me that it would be a good thing for me to write a bit about crime, criminals, and policing, primarily with regard to the UK, where my books are set, but I may also spread out and encompass information, trivia and fun facts from around the world in later posts.
Usually when it comes to something like this I would now find myself sitting here, fingers poised over the keyboard, wondering where in hell I should start. That is not the case on this occasion, there’s a fairly obvious place for me to start – where policing started.
Obviously, since the title is ‘a brief history…’ I’m not going into too much depth, and I don’t plan on going back too far with things; I’m going to start with what is generally considered the beginning of formalised policing in the UK – The Bow Street Runners.
The Bow Street Runners
The ‘Runners’ as they were known were founded by Henry Fielding, a magistrate and author of Tom Jones (not the singer) who formalised and regulated a system that previously had been in the hands of private citizens. The name derives from the fact that they operated out of offices on Bow Street and were attached to the magistrate’s court there.
The ‘Runners’ were not police officers as the term is understood now, they did not patrol the streets, instead they were responsible for serving writs and making arrests on the authority of the magistrates.
Although founded by Henry Fielding, who ran the ‘Runners’ from 1750-1754 it was John Fielding, Henry’s brother who led them to gain recognition from the government during his time in charge, 1754-1780.
The ‘Runners’ continued to operate following John Fielding’s death in 1780 until they were made redundant by the Police Act of 1839, 10 years after the establishment of the Metropolitan Police.
John Fielding was blind and is reputed to have been able to tell if someone was lying by the sound of their voice.
The ‘Runners’ are occasionally known as Robin Redbreasts, however this is believed to be incorrect and is, more accurately, a derogatory term for The Bow Street Horse Patrol that was organised in 1805 by Richard Ford, who succeeded John Fielding. The term stems from the distinctive scarlet waistcoasts they wore under their blue greatcoats.
Look out for future instalments, which will include The Peelers and the establishment of Scotland Yard.