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London was by far the
biggest city in Britain: in 1750 its population was c650,000
and rising fast. The city obviously posed very different crime
problems from anywhere else. This unique situation was analysed
by Henry Fielding, the novelist, who became chief magistrate
at Bow Street in 1748. Henry Fielding blamed the high crime
rate on the breakdown of family and community life among people
who flocked to London seeking an easy living. He also blamed
When Henry Fielding died in 1754 he was succeeded by his half-brother,
Sir John Fielding. He was Chief Magistrate at Bow Street until
1780 and so became very familiar with London crime. Although
he was blind, he was said to be able to recognise 3,000 London
criminals by their voices alone.
Sir John reorganised Bow Street like a police station, with
a team of efficient, paid constables, the "Bow Street Runners".
He put forward several ideas for dealing with crime in London,
most of which the government ignored at the time, although they
were taken up later. He did persuade the government to pay him
occasional one-off grants. How he spent the money can be discovered
in the Sources.