The interactive parts of this resource no longer work, but it has been archived so you can continue using the rest of it.

  Find Out More

The Metropolitan Police


At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were only two police forces in Britain. One was the Bow Street Runners, which was a detective force that had been set up in 1749; the other was the City of London Police Force, which had been set up in 1798. In the remainder of the country, law and order was in the hands of the local magistrates, who could enlist special constables or call in the army. In local villages there could be Parish Constables or night-watchmen.

A Victorian Police Constable

The Metropolitan Police Force was set up in 1829 by the Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel. He had already set up a police force in Ireland in 1822. There were 2,800 officers headed by two commissioners. As well as being called 'Peelers', they were also known as 'Bobbies'.

The early days of the Metropolitan Police Force were not very good. Of the first 2,800 recruits, 2,328 were dismissed from the force for breaking regulations.

In 1842 a plain clothes branch was set up with eight members. This aroused great public opposition. There were many protests that it would be unfair to have policemen out of uniform, as the public would be unable to identify them. But eventually the Criminal Investigation Department was established in 1878.