By K.B. Owen
Ever wonder how the police came into existence? We certainly wouldn’t have any detective fiction without them.
Although each country has its own history in that regard, the formation of the police force in England was what led to the birth of detective fiction as we know it.
Here’s where it all started:
The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829
Manchester Police, 1880s, from flickr.com
Sir Robert Peel, Home Secretary in the British Cabinet and a Tory, brought about a number of reforms in the area of criminal law and the gaol system, but it was the Metropolitan Police Act in 1829 that was most far-reaching and controversial at the time. For the first time in Britain’s history, the Act established an organized police force in London, with 17 divisions of 4 inspectors each, its central base at Scotland Yard, under the purview of the Home Secretary. (The Detective division was formed in 1842).
The early names for these policemen – “Bobbies” and “Peelers” – derived from the man who passed the reform. They carried truncheons as their only protection, and dressed in blue uniforms (similar to the color of the Royal Navy uniform) with long tail coats and top hats (LearnHistory.org.uk says that the top hats came in handy as stepping stools for policmen to stand on and look over walls).
However, the idea of a government-instituted police force made people nervous. It was an alien concept, in an age of Bow Street Runners and local constables (poorly-paid and barely trained), hired individually by each town, walking a beat. What if the government started using this new police force to get rid of its political enemies, or to spy on honest citizens?
But people also knew that their options were few. The Industrial Revolution was crowding London quickly, and with more people came more crime. Constables were notoriously unreliable, preferring to drink in a sheltered corner on a cold night, go to sleep, or visit a prostitute. Even if every constable was reliable, there still weren’t enough of them.
Although it took a while for the general population to accept police (who were often jeered in public), the police force worked well in suppressing riots and bringing down crime in the areas they were allowed to go, driving crime, in a way, out into the neighboring boroughs, which experienced an increase (later Municipal Acts were instituted to address this problem).
One significant black eye for the police, however, came in 1888: Jack the Ripper. But that’s another post.
Punch cartoon by John Tenniel, Sept 22, 1888. Wikimedia Commons.
Want more info?
Text of the 1829 Act
Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 (Wikipedia)
History of the Metropolitan Police
Crime, Punishment, and Protest Through Time, c. 1450-2004
The Metropolitan Police
So, who’s your favorite detective? Do you prefer your protag to be an amateur or a professional, private eye or cop? I’d love to hear from you!
About K.B. Owen:
K.B. Owen taught college English at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature. A long-time mystery lover, she drew upon her teaching experiences to create her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.
K.B. currently lives in Virginia with her husband and sons, and is busily planning the lady professor’s next adventure.
Check out the latest Concordia Wells adventure!
cover art by Melinda VanLone
A deadly secret that won’t stay buried…
It is the fall of 1896, and Miss Concordia Wells is hip-deep in the usual tumult of a lady professor’s life: classes, clubs, student pranks, and the unending drama generated by the girls she lives with on campus. Complicating this normality is the new Lady Principal, whom the students have nicknamed “the Ogre.” The woman seems bent on making Concordia’s life miserable.
And then there’s the exotic spirit medium, Madame Durand, who has befriended Concordia’s mother and has started a “Spirit Club” on campus. Madame’s prognostications of doom are at first only mildly irritating – until events take a sobering turn. An ancient Egyptian amulet donated to the college mysteriously disappears, the donor is found murdered, and his daughter – Concordia’s best friend – confesses to killing him.
Desperate for answers, Concordia unravels a 20-year-old secret, closely guarded by men now dead. But such secrets can be dangerous for the daughters left behind, including Concordia herself. Can she make sense of the mystery that has bound together their fates, before it’s too late?
Where to buy Unseemly Pursuits:
Barnes and Noble
Ready for an “unseemly” giveaway?
During K.B.’s Unseemly Pursuits book tour, which goes through the first week of March, there’s a giveaway at each blog stop (including here!). The winner, randomly drawn from the commenters at each stop, will get a free ebook copy of Unseemly Pursuits. At the end of the tour, she’ll hold another random drawing from among the ebook winners for the final prize: a special Concordia Wells series swag package! It includes customized mug, keychain, JellyBelly mini-tin, and signed paperback copies of the first two mysteries: Dangerous and Unseemly and Unseemly Pursuits. You can read, sip your coffee, and snack on candy in unseemly style. Check the sidebar on the home page of kbowenmysteries.com for the full tour schedule and other info.
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