Formation of the Metropolitan Police

Sir Robert Peel was appointed Home Secretary in 1822. Except for a brief period in 1827 he continued in the post until the Tories lost power in 1830. Peel had experience of creating police institutions; when he was Chief Secretary for Ireland (1812-1816) he had established the Peace Preservation Force. From the beginning of his time as Home Secretary he made it clear that he wanted to reorganise policing in London. The question is – why?

Traditional police historians saw the answer as simple. There were serious problems of crime and public order and the existing system of police was useless, full of drunks, decrepit old men or others who were corrupt or could not care, or both. But as we have seen, the inefficiencies of the old police have been over-emphasised. In parliament while supporting his bill for the Metropolitan Police, Peel argued that there was a serious increase in crime. But the statistics were ambiguous, and Peel probably knew this. There are several other reasons why he might have pressed for reform, though none can be singled out and isolated as the all-important reason.

  1. He wanted a single, unified force under central control that could be used to maintain order without having to call for the aid of the army. Soldiers were trained to use lethal weapons. A police institution could be trained to restore order without guns and sabres.
  2. A uniform system of police for the entire metropolis would mean that provision was not so dependent upon the wealth of a parish. Wealthy parishes could afford more watchmen, better watchmen, and pay them better than the poorer ones.
  3. Recently historians have begun to recognise and understand a new desire for order and tidiness on the streets of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century cities. A new, centrally-directed police made it possible to enforce such a policy across the metropolis.
Sir Charles Rowan

Sir Charles Rowan

Richard Mayne

Richard Mayne

Richard Mayne

John Wray

It is also worth noting how Peel was careful in the way that he constructed his bill. The new Metropolitan Police was not to have jurisdiction over the square mile of the wealthy and powerful City of London. The City was immensely proud of its independence and had resisted other attempts at unifying London's police provision. Even at the beginning of the 21st century the City of London still has its own, independent police.

Peel’s act creating the Metropolitan Police became law in July 1829. But the first constables did not take to the streets until the end of the following September. The new force was commanded by two commissioners who were answerable to the Home Secretary. The first men appointed as commissioners were Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Charles Rowan (c.1782-1852, commissioner 1829-50) and barrister Richard Mayne (1796-1868, commissioner 1829-68). Mayne was also appointed a Justice of the Peace, as was common practice at that time.

A receiver was also appointed to take control of financial matters. The first receiver, originally conceived as another commissioner, was John Wray (1782-1869), who served in this post until 1860. For this he received an annual salary of £700 and was authorised to retain this amount out of the monies collected for equipping and paying the force.

The Metropolitan Police was conceived as a hierarchical body. Rowan and Mayne drew up a plan for this which was agreed to by Peel.

[Transcripts of all three documents are available: Mayne's authority, the new structure, and Wray's salary.]


painting of Sir Robert Peel Sir Robert Peel