16th June 1919. On the Beat.

‘You can’t trust a special like an old time copper when you can’t find your way home’. World War I, Musical Hall ditty.

However the Specials’ value was confirmed in 1914 after The Special Constables’ Act called for a volunteer force to fill the gap of the thousands of regulars now in the forces.

It was service which ended Today in 1919 when the London Wartime Specials disbanded.(1) 

‘Specials’ go back to the late 17thc to an Act giving local Justices of the Peace (JP.s) the power to summon in time of unrest, ‘Peace Officers’.

By 1831 an Act empowered J.P.s to conscript ‘Specials’ at a time when there was serious rioting and fear of revolution.

By mid-century with increasing regular police gradually being introduced the need for ‘Specials’ diminished after an Act of 1853 required Local Commissioners to raise a Police Rate to provide Law and Order.

PC c 1860.

P.C. c 1860.

County gaols were now set up as the village lock-up became increasingly obsolete.

London was different, The first London Police was set up under the Middlesex Justices Act of 1792.

The first London statutory force was the Marine Police, later the Thames River Police, set up in 1798 with the backing of the West India Merchants, to deal with larceny by widely and quixotically named groups who preyed on Thames shipping.

These Game Watermen, Night Plunderers, Light and Heavy Horsemen, River Pirates, Mudlarks, Long-Apron-Men constituted 11,000 out of 40,000 dock-workers who preyed on shipping.

Later came the Bow Street Runners founded in 1805 by Henry Fielding J.P., initially to protect people from Highwaymen within a 20 mile radius of London, and still employed in 1835.(2)

Crime in London had risen in line with its population, which had expanded from 1 to 4 ½ million in fifty years, so by 1829 The Metropolitan Police Act was passed when Sir Robert Peel was Home Secretary.(3

Now these ‘Peelers’ or ‘Bobbies’, uniformed paid police, were employed, excluding the actual City area, to take charge of the night policing of the Metropolis, initially only for the Charing Cross District, but set to grow to the force of today.

‘Specials’ were again called upon in 1939 at a time of war, to continue in peace, in supporting the regular police, thus representing a tradition of community policing going back to medieval times.

(1) On the preceding Saturday 17,000 processed past King and Queen at Buckingham Palace.

(2) The ’Runners’ were first used along with the military, in the Gordon Riots and immortalised in Dickens’s ‘Barnaby Rudge’.

(3) The preamble to the Metropolitan Police Act 1829: ‘Whereas offences against property have of late increased in and near the Metropolis’, shows that property not life was the primary concern.

Peel as Chief Secretary to Ireland had introduced modern policing in the Irish Constabulary against civil disorder resulting from proposed Catholic Emancipation.

Ref: wikipedia.org/parish_constables.

Ref: mkheritage.co.uk/Pic Image.

Ref: telegraph.co.uk/news. Volunteers Put Lives on Line. John Steele 13.5.2006.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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