19th Century Revolution, Police and Crime in Britain

At the beginning of the nineteenth century 60% of Britain’s population lived with in the countryside, this meant there wasn’t any need for police officers as people were living far apart and away from shops and financial areas. Crime was minimal, apart from small crimes like petty thieving and crimes over land etc.

Due to the Industrial Revolution and urbanisation , steam powered factories were built all over the country, a new industrial development. The factories were mainly built in urbanised areas like London, Birmingham and Glasgow, but for the factories to be run effectively workers were needed. The workers had to unfortunately work long shifts and therefore needed to live close to the factories, but this meant that people had to move out of the rural countryside and into the urban cities.
This caused problems, over populated areas around the factories meant that the minimal police forces were struggling with the increasing local population and crime. The police force knew big improvements were needed in the force to tackle the escalating problems.

The Metropolitan police force was developed from a very basic force, the Met. Police force was set up in 1829, in 1829 London’s population had risen from under a million to 1.5 million, and their were only 450 constables and 4,000 junior watchmen for the whole country. The new force was set up to carry out the functions of the existing Constables and watchmen but to also patrol the streets deterring crime and keeping the peace. The Metropolitan officers wore a navy blue uniform, with a tail-coat, a top hat and as few badges and decorations as possible so they were distinct to any army uniform, nicknames developed for these new figures of security, for example ‘bobbies’ was
a phrase used frequently. The new ‘bobbies’ were armed only with a truncheon, in the 1840-50’s inspectors occasionally carried a firearm, mainly revolvers.

Many of the new recruits were dismissed because of drunkenness, and even some of the ones who got through the selection process were told to leave for the same reasons. The new police force was very unpopular with the community due to its crowd control techniques; they mainly used one method, the baton charge that obviously injured a lot of people. The new force wanted to make a visible change to British policing but up to the mid 19th century there was hardly any change, they developed new methods, they wanted to show the civilian communities that the ‘Met’s’ were there if needed, they did this by placing officers on beats all over the city of London.

But Criminals found ways around these new techniques and continued to break the law so the police introduced undercover policemen known as CID, these new cops patrolled the streets without anyone knowing who they are, they caught more criminals and began a new age of policing.

In 1851 an article was published in Punch, it states that: “The police are beginning to take that in the affections of the people that the soldiers and sailors used to occupy. In these happier days of peace,
the blue coats, the defenders of order, are becoming the national favourites.” This shows us that the British community began to accept and even like the Metropolitan Police Officers.

The Government realised in the early 19th century that it wasn’t just the police force that needed improvements; the Prisons and Punishment system need serious work. Prison’s at that time weren’t used for long-term imprisonment, they were used merely to hold criminals why the awaited trial or execution, the prison’s though were crowded, so much so that there were 6 to 10 men in a two man cell. Criminals were also deported to Australia, a lot of them died during the journey but those who survived suffered strenuous hard labour and the fact that they could never return. By 1840 the Government began building new prisons and modifying existing ones, this was to tackle the over crowding and general state of the prisons.

They new prisons followed the design of the pentonville ,they included a radial design that included a central hub from which several wings radiated, from here the wardens could see everything,
they also included separate cells for solitary confinement, punishment sheds and exercise yards.
The existing prisons operated two systems; the Separate System was an American idea that involved inmates being kept in solitary confinement at the beginning of the sentence so they could Reflect and think about their crime, but this system was opposed by many as it made many go insane causing them top be held in the London Bethlehem Mental hospital, the system actually led to two
cases of suicide, the system was later condemned as cruel by the late nineteenth century.

The second system was the silent system, this system banned inmates talking to each other supposedly passing on criminal tendencies. Prisoners were set monotonous task like the treadmill and turning the crank handle, these task were classified as hard labour and along with inmate’s poor diet led to many collapsing with exhaustion. This system was designed to stop criminals repeating crimes.

The 19th century was a big century for crime and punishment, the metropolitan police force was developed, CID was also introduced, prisons were improved and punishments were reconsidered. All of these things changed law and order dramatically from a very small, basic organisation to one of the most well run police forces in Europe, without the changes and developments today’s Britain would be in utter chaos.