Victorian London - Police and Policing - Perception of - policeman's character 


HE walks upright, as flexible as a kitchen poker, his thoughts and hands quite full - like the KING OF PRUSSIA - Of his "beloved Berlins." He keeps his eyes straight before him, even if there is a leg of mutton from the baker's running the opposite way. He rarely looks lower than the parlour windows, when the servants are on board wages. His heart - unlike himself - is constantly "on the beat." His taste for beauty is only equalled by his appetite for cold beef. He shows the weakness of his body by calling DANIEL HARVEY "WITTLES".
    The MODEL POLICEMAN moves only in the most fashionable areas. He is rather particular in seeing if the coal cellar is fast, about supper-time. He is never inside a kitchen, unless "the street door has been left open." He is affable to the footman, and smiles to the page, but suspects the butler, and calls the French maid proud. His appearance and spirits are greatly regulated by the neighbourhood. In Belgravia he wears straps, plays with a pink, and buzzes to himself some popular tune. In St. Giles's his cheeks get hollow, his buttons grow rusty, his belt is put on anyhow, and his highlows are polished only with blacklead!!
    The MODEL POLICEMAN arrives at a row before it is quite over, and sometimes gets at a fire a minute or two before the fire-escape. He knows every pickpocket in the world, and has seen everybody who is taken up two or three times before. He has a vivid recollection of what another Policeman remembers, and if the testimony of an Inspector is impugned, he shows a great love for his cloth by swearing (as the saying is) "till all is blue." He objects to "plain clothes;" he thinks them not uniform and "unperfessional". He never smiles when inside a theatre, nor sleeps at a sermon, nor takes an opera-glass to look at the ballet when stationed in the gallery of Her Majesty's. He rarely releases the wrong person he has taken into custody for disturbing the performances. He has a virtuous horror of Punch and Judy, and insists upon the Indiarubber Brothers "moving on" in the midst even of the Human Pyramid. He never stops at a print-shop, nor loiters before a cook-shop, nor hangs about a pastrycook's, excepting to drive away the little boys who choke up the door where the stale pastry is exhibited.
    He is not proud, but will hold a gentleman's horse at an emergency, and take sixpence for it. He rings bells the first thing in the morning, runs to fetch the doctor, helps an early coffee-stall to unpack her cups and saucers, pulls down shutters, gives "lights" to young gentlemen staggering home, directs them to the nearest "public," and does not even mind going in with them, "just to have a little drop of something to keep himself warm." In fact, the MODEL POLICEMAN does anything for the smallest trifle, to make himself useful as well as ornamental. Above all, he never laughs. He is the terror of publicans on Saturday nights, but is easily melted with "a drop" - on the sly.
    He is courageous, also, and will take up an applewoman, or a "lone woman" with babies, without a moment's hesitation. He is not irritable, but knows his dignity. Do not speak to him much, unless you have a very good coat. Especially do not joke with him when on duty. You are sure to know it by his collar being up. Do not put a finger upon him, for he construes it into an assault. Of the two Forces, he certainly belongs to the Physical, rather than to the Moral Force. He is tremendous in a row, and cares no more for a "brush" than his oilskin hat. He hates the name of Chartist, and cannot "abide" a Frenchman in any shape, any more than a beggar, especially if he has moustaches. He has a secret contempt for the "Specials," whom he calls "amateurs." He rarely fraternises with a Beadle, excepting when there is an insurrection of boys, and it comes to open snowballing, or splashing with the fire-plug. He prohibits all sliding, puts down vaulting over posts, leapfrog, grottos, chuckfarthing, and is terribly upset with a piece of orange-peel, or the cry of "Peeler." He avoids a lobster-shop, for fear of vulgar comparisons, and hates the military - "the whole biling of them" - for some raw reason; but he touches his hat to "the DUKE." He rarely sleeps inside a cab of a cold night. He never lights a cigar till the theatres are over. He is a long time in hearing the cry of "Stop thief!" and is particularly averse to running; his greatest pace is a hackney-coach gallop, even after a Sweep, who is following, too literally, his calling.  He is meek to lost children, and takes them to the station-house in the most fatherly manner.
    He is polite to elderly ladies who have lost a cat or a parrot, and gives directions to a porter in search of a particular street, without losing his temper. He is fond of a silver watch, and he reaches the summit of a policeman's pride and happiness if he gets a silver chain with it. Next to himself, however, there is nothing he loves half so closely as his whiskers. He would sooner throw up staff, station, and be numbered amongst the dead letters of the Post Office, or the rural police, than part with a single hair of them; for the MODEL POLICEMAN feels that without his whiskers he should cut but a contemptible figure in the eyes of those he loves, even though he exhibited on his collar the proud label of A1! Beyond his whiskers, his enjoyments are but few. He watches the beer as it is delivered at each door, he follows the silvery sound of "muffins!" through streets and squares, he loves to speculate upon the destination of the fleeting butcher's tray, and on Saturday night he threads the mazy stalls of the nearest market, his love growing at the sight of the savoury things it is wont to feed upon.
    His principal amusement is to peep through the keyhole of a street-door at night with his bull's-eye - especially if any one is looking at him. This is the great difficulty, however, for the policeman's clothes are of that deep, "Invisible Blue" that persons have lived for years in London without seeing one. This is the reason, probably, when he is seen, that he throws so much light upon himself, as if the creature wished to engrave the fact of his curiosity strongly upon the recollection of the startled beholder by means of the most powerful illumination. Without some such proof, the incredulous world would never believe in the existence of a MODEL POLICEMAN.

Printed by William Bradbury, of No.6 York Place, Stoke Newington, and Frederick Mullett Evans, of No. 7 Church Row, Stoke Newington, both in the county of Middlesex, Printers, at their Office, in Lombard Street, in the Precinct of Whitefriars in the City of London, and Published by them at No.85, Fleet Street, in the Parish of St. Bride, in the City of London. SATURDAY, JUNE 17th, 1848

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1848

THE LONDON POLICE. Before the year 1829, when (pursuant to 10 George IV., c. 44) the present excellent Police Force (for which, London is wholly indebted to Sir Robert Peel) was first introduced, the watchmen, familiarly called "Charlies," who guarded the streets of London, were often incompetent and feeble old men, totally unfitted for their duties. The Police is now composed of young and active men, and the force that has proved perfectly effective for the metropolis (having saved it more than once from Chartist and other rioters, and from calamities such as befel Bristol in 1831) has since been introduced with equal success nearly throughout the kingdom.
    The streets of London were long ago infested with a set of disorderly debauchees, unthrifts of the Inns of Court and Chancery, who, under the various cant names of nickers, scowrers, mohocks, &c., insulted passengers and attacked the watch. Shadwell's comedy of The Scowrers affords a striking picture of the streets of London at night, in the reign of Charles II., and the Mohocks are well described in the Spectator and in Swift's Journal. ...  The London Police is divided into the City Police and the Metropolitan Police; the latter force consisted, in 1847, of 4792 men. The number of persons taken into custody by the Metropolitan and City Police, between the years 1844 and 1848 inclusive, amounted to 374,710. The gross total number of robberies committed in London, during the same period, amounted to 70,889; the value of the property stolen to 270,945l., and the value of the property recovered to 55,167l., or about a fifth of the stolen property.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

    The continental policeman is the torment of the stranger. The London policeman is the stranger's friend. If you are in search of an acquaintance and only know the street where he lives, apply to the policeman on duty in that street, and he will show you the house, or at least assist you in your search. If you lose your way, turn to the first policeman you meet; he will take charge of you and direct you. If you would ride in an omnibus without being familiar with the goings and comings of those four-wheeled planets, speak to a policeman, and he will keep you by his side until the "bus" you want comes within hailing distance. If you should happen to have an amicable dispute with a cabman - and what stranger can escape that infliction? - you may confidently appeal to the arbitration of a policeman. If, in the course of your peregrinations, you come to a steam-boat wharf or a railway-station, or a theatre or some other public institution, and if you are at a loss how to proceed, pray pour your sorrows into the sympathetic ear of the policeman. He will direct yourself and baggage; in a theatre, he will assist you in the purchase of a ticket, or at least tell you where to apply and how to proceed. The London policeman is always kind and servicable.
    At night, indeed, as some say, he is rather more rough-spoken than in the day-time; and when you meet and address him in some solitary street, he is reserved and treats you with something akin to suspicion. Whether or not this remark applies to the force generally, we will not undertake to decide. But it is quite natural that they should not be altogether at their ease in solitary or disreputable quarters, and that their temper gets soured thereby. A glass of brandy now and then may also contribute to produce the above effect. But the English climate is damp; the fog makes it home in the folds of the constable's great-coat; the rain runs from the oilskin cape which stands the policeman in the stead of an umbrella; the wind is cold and bleak; and we leave the policeman on his beat with "the stranger's thanks and the stranger's gratitude". 

Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853

    Most prominent of all is the POLICEMAN. Go when we will into the London streets, let the weather be what it may ?wet or fine, hail, snow, or rain?he may gene?rally be found leisurely walking the streets, and to all appearances with nothing to do. And he looks so comfortable in his uniform, so well dressed, so warmly clad, and so thoroughly prepared for cold or wet, as he walks along with a slow and measured tread, stopping occasionally at some corner to gaze around, we might think that his was a very idle as well as a very comfortable life.
    ?Nothing to do!? ?Comfortable!? ?Idle!? ?Dear me!? whatever would he say if we told him so? For he is a very busy person, with plenty to do, and much to worry and annoy him, having many duties to perform, which the greater part of the people are not aware of. Do we find ourselves nearly lost in great London, and unable to make out the way to a certain place? Well, who shall direct us? The postman? O, no! he looks so busy delivering his bundle of letters. Who then? This slow-moving policeman. Yes, let us try him.
    ?Officer, can you direct us to that address, please?? We hand the card to him; and at once we get correct instructions. Or if a fire breaks out, he is ready at once to call the firemen, and knows where a ladder may be found, so as to use it for rescue before the fire-escape comes. He knows the quickest way to the turncock?s house, and calls him to give a quick supply of water to put out the fire. Or if a doctor is wanted, he knows where the nearest one lives. And not only does he know all about his district or ?beat,? but he seems to be an intelligent man ready at all times with advice and assistance. He knows when a horse should be in its stable instead of in the shafts, and soon finds out if the animal is being ill-treated or not. He is courteous, patient, and civil; will gladly assist timid persons across the crowded roads; and sees that nothing goes wrong with people or property; and though people and things often give him very much annoyance, he must forget all that annoys, and speak civilly.
    Policemen have to preserve the peace; to do their utmost to prevent robberies and other crimes, and to catch any that offend against the laws; to watch over the safety of four millions of people, who are spread over more than six hundred square miles; and to look after about six hundred thousand houses, and property that is worth more than twenty millions of pounds. ?Bobby ??as he is familiarly called, in memory of the great Sir Robert Peel, who first instituted this useful body of men?is exposed to all kinds of weather, and has a hard time of it during the cold, wintry nights, while you are soundly sleeping, snugly tucked in your warm beds. Not only has he to face the sharp winds of winter, but ofttimes the armed burglar, who resists the officer?s interruption of his midnight thefts. And then it is we find that not only is the policeman a busy and an intelligent man, but he is a brave man also.

Hark! the cry is raised, ?Stop thief! Stop thief! ? and a boy is seen racing down the road. Biddy, the gaunt old Irishwoman who keeps the hot chest?nut stall at the corner, has just served a customer, giving change for a piece of silver. This piece she had just dropped into her long purse, when the jingle of the money attracted that young rascal?s attention, and, quick as thought, he dashed forward, upsetting her fire and tray of baked nuts, snatched the purse from her hands, and was off like a shot. It did not take Biddy long to recover, and soon she was loudly calling, ?Stop thief!? Instantly as the cry fell upon our slow-moving policeman?s ears, he seemed to he full of life, and, catching sight of the thief, was soon with flying strides overtaking him. Now the thief is caught, and we will leave our policeman on his way to the station. But we have seen enough of him to know that his life is no easy one; that his duties, no matter how unpleasant, are performed cheerfully; and that but for his watchfulness and courage we could not feel so safe as we do.

Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)