Victorian London - Police and Policing - Perception of - Negative comment 

click here 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


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),
Travellers'.                        P.

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 light the 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.'
Daily Paper.

Judy, 17 June 1868


TIME - Saturday Night. SCENE - A London Slum.


Punch, April 21, 1877