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The Metropolitan Police Service Historical Archives

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The Metropolitan Police archives date back to 1875 and contain a wide and varied collection relating to the policing of the Metropolitan Police District of London. The collection relates not only to interesting exhibits from crime cases (specifically dealt with by the Crime Museum at New Scotland Yard) but a whole range of interesting items and images reflecting the life of London as seen through the eyes of the Police Service dealing with social change in the city streets and ordinary lives of people at times of crisis.


The collection

The collection includes truncheons (236 examples from as far back as 1764), a Bow Street Runner's pistol and other early firearms (30 dating from 1849 onwards), swords (25) and cutlasses (10) with which the early police officers were equipped for self defence, and approximately 1,500 uniforms illustrating the appearance of the first Metropolitan Police officers, the earlier Bow Street runners, and the Marine Police founded in 1798. The tipstaves carried by early officers (44 examples) varied in form according to date and the rank of the officer. The shaft of the tipstaff was hollow, to contain the document (the warrant) which conferred police powers. These were the precursors to the modern warrant card held by all serving police officers.

The history of police forces in many other locations can be traced through the helmet plates and buttons (2 major collections) which faithfully represented the civic pride of towns, cities and small counties which once had their own police forces following the Metropolitan Police model before amalgamations reduced the number to the current 43 in England and Wales.

The state of crime in London prior to the formation of the Metropolitan Police and the unsafe nature of the streets can be seen by a leaflet of "Confessions of a condemned prisoner" (1687), and "An Authentic Narrative" of methods of robbery sent to Sir John Fielding in 1765. "Life preservers" and other interesting methods of self defence were carried or worn by law abiding citizens who sometimes had a dramatic response to fear of crime.

The nature of the system of watchmen can be seen by the picture of Charles Rowe, the instruction book of Thomas Robinson "The Complete Parish Officer" and the "Rules" to be followed by patrol and watchmen. Steps to improve the system were begun by Colonel de Veil who moved to Bow Street as a magistrate and set up a public office there in 1729.

From 1748, Henry Fielding expanded the work at Bow Street and his work was continued in 1754 by his blind half brother John. The Bow Street Runners were the earliest form of detective force operating from the courts to enforce the decisions of magistrates. The legacy of the Bow Street Runners can be seen from furniture reputedly owned by a famous Runner, Mr Townsend, the handwritten memoirs of Harry Goddard (1824) and the 1876 obituary of William Ballard, another Bow Street Runner. In 1763 John Fielding introduced the Bow Street horse patrol to make the highways around London safer. Funding lasted for only 18 months. He also became responsible for street lighting and lamp posts in an eighteenth century initiative similar to more modern moves to link street lighting with crime prevention. In 1796 Patrick Colquoun published his treatise on the Police of the River Thames which led directly to the establishment of the Marine Police at Wapping, and a dramatic fall in crime and corruption then rampant throughout the London docks. Wapping remains the headquarters of Thames Division to this day.

Insight into the working of the early courts are provided by original documents dealing with the appointment and yearly accounts of Thomas Venables, from 1820 - 1829 the Receiver of the police offices attached to 7 London magistrates courts like Bow Street established by the 1792 Middlesex Justices Act. Each court had three magistrates and six police officers.

Robert PeelRobert Peel became Home Secretary in 1822, and eventually persuaded the House of Commons to pass the Metropolitan Police Act in 1829. Aspects of Peel's life and possessions are in the museum, and an original copy of a Royal Pardon signed by Peel six days after the Act became law.

The first Metropolitan Police patrols went on to the streets on 29th September 1829 three months after the Metropolitan Police Act after much planning and other work performed by the first joint Commissioners.

Colonel Sir Charles Rowan brought military experience to bear and took responsibility for much of the early leadership of the Force until 1850.

The Force was initially based at Scotland Yard and 5 watch houses, with a plan to extend to comprise 17 Districts, each with 165 men.

The other first joint Commissioner, Sir Richard Mayne, provided legal expertise and became sole Commissioner from 1855 until 1868, the longest serving Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

punishment bookThe early problems of discipline in the Force were reflected by the punishment book (1847). The police officer allocated Warrant Number 1 was dismissed for drunkenness after only four hours duty.

The wisdom and leadership of the first Commissioners was reflected in the enduring Primary Objects of an Efficient Police emphasising the importance of prevention of crime and preservation of public tranquillity which became a cornerstone of the British policing style.

Letters in the newspaper after the first day's patrolling reflected concern that policemen were not seen in the places that the public would like them to be to prevent crime and disorder.

Additional police manpower was provided for by the Special Constables Act 1831. Special Constables remain an important part of the Police Service to this day, and were particularly important during the General Strike of 1926 and during World War Two. Many famous people became Special Constables, including Prince Napoleon whose tipstaff is in the museum collection.

Bow Street Horse PatrolIn 1837 the Bow Street horse patrol was transferred to the Metropolitan Police.

The Mounted Branch formed an important part of the communications and despatch system within the Metropolitan Police District.

By 1886 training of horses for controlling disorderly demonstrations had begun. A riot in Hyde Park took place that year.

Historically, rioting has regularly occurred in London. The Strand Riots of 1749 needed the policing attention of "Mr Fielding's people". The 1768 Wilkes riots (caused by attempts to prevent the electorate choosing their own MP) led to a Parliamentary Committee re-examining Fielding's "Plan of Police", and the Gordon Riots about Catholic emancipation led to the Bow Street office and Newgate prison being set on fire. In Manchester, 11 were killed and 400 injured by the Army who dispersed crowds at the Peterloo Reform meeting.

RiotingThe Metropolitan Police were involved in crowd control from their earliest days. After an experiment with passive control, baton charges were used in 1830. In 1833 a riot at Cold Bath Fields resulted in the death of PC Culley. The inquest jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide and were treated as heroes, but popular opinion turned when newspapers publicised the plight of PC Culley's widow.

There was a tangible fear of revolution in the nineteenth century. In 1848 150,000 special constables were sworn in, and the greater part of the Metropolitan Police were deployed on bridges over the River Thames to prevent the Chartists from a meeting on Kennington Common reaching Parliament. In the event a petition was delivered by cab.

The "Bloody Sunday" riot on 13th November 1887 resulted in the Riot Act being read when the Square was subject to a mass occupation by the unemployed. The 1715 Riot Act provided for the death penalty for rioters who had not dispersed one hour after the Act had been read by a magistrate.

officer in vanIndustrial disputes have often surfaced on to the street scenes of London. The police were instrumental in keeping public transport running in the 1926 General Strike. More recently police help was required in relation to disputes with the Fire brigade, Ambulance Service and at Wandsworth prison.

Large scale deployments of police officers were used in the 1950s and early 1960s in connection with sit down demonstrations in support of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and in 1967 and 1968 to control demonstrators converging upon the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square to protest about US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Officers were sent from London to Wales in the miners' dispute on Churchill's instructions. More recently the Grunwick and Wapping trade disputes have created major disturbances and protests.

facist literatureLaws providing a procedure for banning marches were introduced in 1936 following the activities of Sir Oswald Moseley and his "black shirts" who mounted large scale demonstrations against Jewish people in London's East End. This echoed the anti-Semitism which marred the coronation of Richard the Lion heart in 1189.

More recently, demonstrations by the National Front and other Right Wing organisations have been the cause of violent confrontations on London streets.

The demonstration in Red Lion Square on 15th June 1974 which involved rival demonstrations both seeking to use Conway Hall, was the first time for 55 years that a demonstrator died in a demonstration.

Protective shields were first used in Lewisham in 1976, followed by changes in protective helmets and other equipment as riots occurred in Brixton in 1981 and 1985. The 1981 Brixton riots were followed by the Scarman report which had immense importance for police and community relations.

officers in riot gear with burning carNotting Hill was the scene of race riots in 1950s but has more recently been famous for the Notting Hill carnival, founded in 1966 and now a full-blooded Caribbean festival which is the largest street carnival in Europe.

The details of police operation and planning for ceremonial occasions show a perspective on events normally hidden from the public view.

The pageantry and ceremonial for which London is internationally famous also has the additional role of protecting the Sovereign and members of the Royal Family.

Protection of the Head of State from assassination was a serious issue in the nineteenth century. Queen Victoria was subjected to five attempts on her life. The Russian anarchist Bakunin preached a doctrine which resulted in the deaths of 25 Heads of State.

The history of Anarchists is illustrated by various incidents from the man Bourdin who blew himself up with his own bomb at Greenwich in 1894, the Sidney Street siege in 1911 and the Tottenham Outrage, a chase of two anarchists who commandeered a tram, during which incident many shots were exchanged with police.

Faberge cigarette case and Czareevitch fob watchesDetective Superintendent Melville was a famous Head of Special Branch who was personally involved in the protection of Czar Nicholas 1. He subsequently went on to become Head of the Security Services. The museum possesses a Faberge cigarette case and Czareevitch fob watches presented to Melville.

Special Branch started life as the "Special Irish Branch" and contains a unique national record of subversive activity directed against the State, terrorism and espionage, much of which can be made available for public view. The history of the Fenians has many echoes of topical matters relating to IRA terrorism, and is clearly divided into distinct campaigns from the 1860s onwards.

The history of the Suffragettes and the protest movements to secure voting rights for all is reflected in the records of various riots through the life of the Metropolitan Police. The original report and the summary of evidence of eye witnesses of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, who was killed by the King's horse at the 1913 Derby, is a fine resource for school children making historical investigations.

WWII memorabiliaThe details of life in London during World War Two, which is often studied by schools, are illustrated by the Police Instructions for war time, air raid precautions and equipment, images and accounts of dealing with casualties from bombed buildings.

The arrangements for dealing with aliens resident within the United Kingdom seem remarkable today. Sergeant Everest on port duty individually arrested a group of 250 young men about to depart British shores to enlist in the German army.

The use of explosives in London has not been confined to Irish terrorism. A more modern version of anarchism emerged with the Angry Brigade who operated in the late 1960s and were responsible for a number of incidents which created great alarm and concern at the time.

London has also been the venue for terrorist attacks which have been the result of international politics, particularly in the Middle East.

Crime investigation has always been at the heart of police work, but even before the formation of the Metropolitan Police, the Bow Street Runners dealt with a fair amount of investigative work in tracing suspects. In 1884 John Toms was tried and convicted of murder on evidence of torn paper used for his pistol wadding recovered from the victim's head wound matching a broadsheet found in Toms' pocket. In 1816 a murder case in Warwick was solved by matching an impression in the earth with a labourer's patched trousers. This was the early foundations of the development of forensic science.

In modern times, forensic science deals with analysis of blood samples, DNA, ballistics, fibres, glass and paint, shoe and glove marks and many other scientific applications.

early detective workIn 1840 a serious jewel robbery in Welbeck Street led to "active, intelligent men" being employed to trace the property, one of the earliest use of detectives in plain clothes to investigate crime.

In May 1840 Daniel Good committed a murder at Roehampton, and fled to Tonbridge, but not before the case had caused much criticism of the methods of circulation of details of wanted criminals within the Metropolitan Police.

In 1860 Inspector Whicher from Scotland Yard was the first to ask for the assistance of a Sergeant to investigate the murder of 4 year old Francis Savile Kent in Wiltshire. The senior detective and Sergeant assistant became the pattern for many years. The suspect nurse, Constance Kent was discharged by the magistrate, but later confessed, was convicted, sentenced to death and then reprieved.

From 1862, copies of photographs of criminals taken by prison governors were sent to Scotland yard, and formed a "Rogues Gallery". In 1864 the first murder on the railway occurred when a bank clerk named Briggs was killed. The suspect Muller escaped the country by sailing boat, but was eventually caught by detectives on a steamship. On 20th June 1869 the Home Secretary gave authority for the creation of a detective department. The tipstaves issued to plain clothes officers from 1867 were re-issued in 1870 engraved "Metropolitan Police officer in plain clothes".

By March 1878 the Detective Department was renamed the CID with a Director of Criminal Investigations in charge of 250 officers, 30 of whom were based at Scotland Yard.

The "Jack the Ripper" murders occurring in London's East End in 1888 have been a constant source of speculation and research, but the cases illustrate only too well the background of crime and poverty prevalent in the East End of that time.

The first police photographer was employed in 1901.

Edward Henry, the Commissioner, introduced fingerprints to this country from his experience in India. On 27th June 1902 the first conviction by fingerprint evidence was obtained. Harry Jackson was given 7 years penal servitude for burglary, whilst in 1905 the Stratton murders saw the first convictions for murder on fingerprint evidence.

By 1906 Scotland Yard were regularly assisting provincial forces to investigate murders, invariably by the "Big Five" Chief Inspectors Arrow, Dew, Fox, Frost and Cane.

In 1910 Dr Crippen was arrested on the SS Montrose and became the first murderer apprehended by means of the electronic telegraph.

early fingerprintingIn 1912 Sergeant William McBride took a photograph of the bullet which killed Inspector Walls at Eastbourne.

Mr Churchill, the gunsmith, took wax castings of the rifling and proved that the bullet could only have been fired by the revolver exhibited in the case.

The "Crumbles" murder in Eastbourne brought to light criticism by the famous pathologist Bernard Spilsbury of the lack of equipment to deal with dead bodies, and led to the development of the famous murder bags used by detectives.

On 10th April 1935 the Forensic Science Laboratory was opened at the Police College, Hendon, and subsequently transferred to Lambeth. Microscopic comparison of scratch marks left by tools could prove which implement had been used at the scene of a crime.

The Stolen Motor Vehicle Squad was introduced in 1960, primarily to deal with investigations involving cars which had been stolen and their identity changed.

ceremonial uniformThe murder of Georgy Markov on Waterloo Bridge in 1978 was famous for the miniature metal pellet injected into his leg, apparently by an East European agent using a false umbrella.

The early uniform and equipment can be seen from a replica Peeler's uniform and original rattles, bulls eye lanterns, and handcuffs.

Senior officers' uniforms were more ornate, as illustrated by the examples belonging to Sir Edward Henry and Sir Edward Bradford.

WWI women officersThe first women patrols in the First World War are recorded in museum documents, together with women police uniforms from 1921.

Other images of women police officers come in the form of a painting by the famous Walter Sickert, and many photographs.

Traffic control has always been one of London's problems. The first traffic signal was invented by John Peake Knight and was installed at Bridge Street, SW1.

street crossing signalsOne of the original posters in the museum illustrates the gas powered light and the signal mechanism.

The Metropolitan Police licensed and controlled many aspects of London's street life from taxi cabs to messengers, boot blacks, pedlars and other people who needed to show they were of good character. Police were also involved in the supervision of common lodging houses and other places where vulnerable people could go astray.

Measuring the distance covered by police beats was achieved by measuring wheels or pedometers, dating from 1934-8.

Hand ambulances were in use until 1928.

The first motor vehicle owned by the Metropolitan Police bore the registration number A 209 (which is still in use today).

Fordson VanEarly experiments with radio took place with a Crossley tender on Epsom Downs in 1920.

The first motor car used by the Flying Squad was a 1927 Lea Francis. In 1933 a Fordson van was introduced.

A 1948 Wolseley owned by the museum provides a more traditional image of the police patrol car/Specialist transport has often been used, from horse boxes and mobile control vans to prisoner transport.

Items presented to individual police officers during their service, or sometimes on the sports field, reflect the life within the Police Service, supplemented by scrapbooks and diaries from serving officers such as Detective Sergeant White.

The Metropolitan and City Police orphanage was established at Strawberry Hill, and the charitable fund continues to support the children of dead or disabled police officers today.