The Bow Street Runners 1748-1829

The system of crime prevention and law enforcement had hardly changed since the Medieval times. JPs or Justices of the Peace were appointed by the Crown (and had been since 1361). These were assisted by Constables who only worked part-time and were very unreliable as the pay was so bad!

Watchmen were also employed. These were called Charleys after King Charles II who introduced them.

The problem with Charleys was that they were useless! The Lord Mayor of London, Matthew Wood said that they spent very little time patrolling, instead they would be in their boxes playing cards, going to pubs with prostitutes or sleeping! He also said that some of them took bribes from criminals.

London was growing fast, and so was the crime rate, and something needed to be done. The famous writer Henry Fielding (author of Tom Jones) became chief magistrate at Bow Street Court in 1748. He wrote a report about the rise in crime, and published it in 1751.

The Inquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbersbroke down the problems:

— too many people coming to London expecting an easy life

— corruption in the government

— people were choosing crime rather than hard work

— the constables were mostly useless – only 6 out of 80 were worth keeping on.

He set up a horse patrol and a magazine called the Covent Garden Journal to give people information about crimes and criminals – a bit like the TV programme Crimewatch:UK today!

In 1754 Henry’s half-brother John took over the reins. He had been blind since the age of 19. He remained Chief Magistrate for 26 years until 1780 – and could recognise the voices of over 3,000 criminals!