for Henry Mayhew on costermongers and policemen in
London Labour and the London Poor
see also James Grant in Sketches in London - click here
see also Regulation of Prostitution - click here
THE VIOLENCE OF THE POLICE
Sir, - This has now attained such a pitch, the truncheon has
been so freely used, and so much blood has flowed, even from the heads of women,
that some check is loudly called for, and some penalty required higher than
40s., or a dismissal, which is sometimes softened by a restoration after
penitence. In four days three sanguinary outrages have happened, two of them on
mothers and wives. On Saturday last you recorded the case of a man perfectly
innocent, who was beaten heavily on the head and shoulders by a constable,
saluted by the vilest names (though this I pass over, as it seems almost as
indispensable as an uniform), and hauled to the station. The generous victim of
this outrageous attack forgives his assailant, who for the nonce put on the garb
of contrition; but the Police Commissioners here were just, and they determined
to bring him before a magistrate, who inflicted the ludicrous penalty of 10s.,
as dismissal, he thought, would follow; but whether this happens or does not,
the public will never know. Neither is dismissal sufficient. On Monday your
report announced a similar attach upon a whole family. The first victim was the
son, only eight years old, and then his mother and his father. A good deal of
blood was spilt in it; for the mother's head was cut open on her own threshold,
and the wound given because she sought to protect her boy from the kicks and
cuffs of the brutal officer. The result was, the imprisonment of the father, the
sending the mother streaming with blood to the hospital, and the sound beating
of the poor child for no offence. When all this was fully proved in court the
magistrate owned himself fully convinced of the plaintiff's guilt (God save the
mark); he (the perpetrator) had made himself the wronged, and now sought fine
and imprisonment on the wounded and the beaten. He much condemned the
constable's violence to the boy; did not deal then with the cruel assault on the
mother (and perhaps never will); inflicted neither imprisonment nor penalty;
liberated the much-wronged father; and recommended a searching investigation by
the Commissioners, as if this investigation of witnesses on both sides was
nothing. In short, he awarded a new trial. This extreme politeness of these
justices to these Commissioners, this great tenderness for the prerogative of
either, has been often found injurious to the people, but favourable to the
irascible or intoxicated constables; for these can almost always command
witnesses, and they have a standing counsel, with a fund for fines and mishaps.
On Tuesday (my tale is odiously uniform) two officers were charged with using
unnecessary violence to a cabinet-maker's wife, knocking her down, breaking her
teeth with the handle of a truncheon thrust in her mouth as she lay almost
senseless on the ground; dragging her, with clothes torn and bosom bare, to the
station. Her husband was almost strangled because he begged them to forbear, and
a witness had his head cut open for looking on; but of him and his wound no
account was made by any one. The magistrate again condemned the police, found
them the authors of the fray, and fined them (Oh, mockery!) 40s. for wounds on
women and witnesses, and every sort of wrong and outrage.
Had the plaintiffs so acted by the defendants, they would have expiated their offence by a six months' imprisonment, and such a lecture on the clemency and gentleness of the force as would have won all listeners.
The quasi impunity of all these things makes many look on the perpetrators as kings, for quicquid impune facere, id est esse regem. Nevertheless, the periculosa libertas of other days is preferred by many before the quieto servigio of this. I, in common with many, seek your aid in manumitting us.
Your obedient servant (in hope),
letter from The Times, October 14, 1847
Open any newspaper at hazard, and you will find in it nothing but accounts of nocturnal outrages. Here it is a woman who is robbed in Oxford Street, by the glare of lamps which flood with lightthe entrance ot a much-frequented music-nail; there it is the imprudent possessor of a watch, the chain of which he allowed to be seen, who was three-parts strangled in passing from Bond Street into Piccadilly.. You will ask me what the authorities are doing all this time, and what has become of that London police which was said to be the best organized in the world. It would seem that nobody knows... Sir Richard Mayne has increased the number of policemen; but the misfortune is, that they are never to be found where their presence is desired. It is certainly very good-natured, on the part of the authorities, to post up, Notices to the Public, advising every one to provide for his own safety; but you will admit that the advice is not very encouraging. It has, in any case, the fault of proving that the taxes are very heavy in proportion to the good that is derived from them. If every one is to be his own policeman, why should any one contribute to pay the police.
Louis Blanc,Letters on England 1862
'And although the Police have been most
active in their search, the Miscreant is still at large.'
Judy, 17 June 1868
A SYMPATHETIC SOUL.
TIME - Saturday Night. SCENE - A London Slum.
Bill Sikes. "IT'S A ORFUL SHAME, THO', AIN'T IT JACK, AS THEY DON'T LET THEM PORE COVES GO 'OME TO THEIR FAMILIES, AND LEAVE THE STREETS A LITTLE QUIET JIST FOR ONE NIGHT IN THE WEEK!"
Punch, April 21, 1877