The common assumption, and the view often presented in popular history books, is that, until the creation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829, the system for maintaining law and order in London, and elsewhere in England, was ineffective. There were improvements during the eighteenth century, most notably the small band of detectives – the Bow Street Runners – established by two magistrates Henry Fielding, the celebrated novelist, and his blind, half brother Sir John. But, according to this view, London had to wait for the far-sightedness of Sir Robert Peel as Home Secretary (1822-27 and 1828-30) before a professional force was created to deal with crime and disorder.


More recently historians have shown that there was rather more continuity between the old system of policing London and the force established in 1829. The aim of this module is to allow you:

  1. To appreciate the continuities and changes with the systems of policing prior to the establishment of the Metropolitan Police in 1829;
  2. to understand why there was so much cross-class opposition to the idea of a police force under central government; and,
  3. to recognise that present day problems that plague the police, such as the issue of local accountability, police and public tensions, and the exercise of discretionary powers, were apparent from its formation.


painting of Sir Robert Peel Sir Robert Peel