Recruiting the London Policeman

In common with many other Metropolitan Police Officers, Battle was born outside the capital. Historians have shown that around 10 per cent of recruits for the Metropolitan Police were born in London during the first half of the nineteenth century. This figure rose to 25 per cent during the twentieth century. It was especially high in the years following the First World War when the demand for recruits was high since a large number of old men, who had been retained for the duration of the war, were retired, and a number of police strikers (see below) were sacked. Recruits from outside the capital before the First World War were favoured as senior officers thought that country men were fitter and tougher, and also that they were better at taking orders. Senior officers were also concerned about conflicting loyalties over locals policing their own neighbourhoods. Though if we factor in those who resided or worked in London at the time of joining, then 'Londoners' accounted for 58 per cent of officers by 1909.

Extract from G Resgister for  'officer 196'

The document shown alongside is an extract from the register of 'G' Division showing the number of men who filled the post of 'officer 196' (the identification number that police officers wore on their collars) between 1842 and 1871. It contains a number of interesting details about selection criteria necessary for entering the force. It can be see that the average age of recruits was 24 years. When the Metropolitan Police was first established men between 18 and 35 years of age were eligible to apply. However, as the calibre of recruits increased over the years, as policing became a more attractive job, more rigorous selection criteria were introduced and recruitment begun to be limited to those aged between 20 and 27 years. Men needed to be both physically fit yet mentally experienced. The minimum height of 5 feet 7 inches was also increased to 5 feet 9 inches. The majority of these recruits were labourers before they entered the force. Yet in London, the number of recruits from non-manual backgrounds increased as the nineteenth century progressed and as the job was seen rather more in terms of a respectable working-class clerical job. Crucially, policing, with the provision of a pension from 1890, was seen to embody job security. This was a late nineteenth-century phenomenon. During the early years, it is probable that most men joined the force in times of economic hardship and often returned to their original job when trade conditions improved. As you can see, most of the men who served as G196 resigned from the force after a relatively short period of time.

Resignation Certificate from 1847

This document certifies the resignation of an officer who left after seven years of service in 1847. Though no compulsory pension scheme existed at that time, it is interesting that, as his conduct was noted as 'good', he received a gratuity of £28, not an inconsiderable sum of money.

While these dry statistics do not tell us why men wished to join the police in the nineteenth century, we can find indications in the unpublished memoirs of police officers. William Edward Pearce is one such. He was born in 1853 in Poulshot, Devizes, Wiltshire. Formerly a sawyer, he joined the police aged nineteen years in 1871, being posted to ‘B’ (Westminster) Division. He was promoted to sergeant in the 'H' (Whitechapel) Division in 1880, though he died of consumption three years later.

If we compare Pearce's and Battle's memoirs we can see that they both joined for similar reasons of economic security. A transcript of Pearce's memoirs is available.


William Edward Pearce 1853-1883 William Edward Pearce 1853-1883