As I may have mentioned, I’m working on a new Malcolm/Ives historical series starring the descendants of my Georgian couples. Since I’ve written predominantly in the Georgian and Regency eras, my historical curiosity was whetted for “what happened next.” We all know that Prinny took over after the death of his mad father in 1820 and ruled that decade until his own demise in June 1830. It’s at the point where younger brother William succeeds to the throne that the genealogy for my characters kicked in best—when the combination of mystical Malcolms and scientific Ives have entwined through several generations and are ready to meet the future with a whole new set of gifts.
In 1830, the Industrial Revolution was in full sway, with railroads, steamships, manufacturing, and medical advances evolving rapidly. Technology allowed more exploration of this world and the skies, leading to discoveries that added to the same kind of future shock as we’re suffering today.
And just as today, the old-fashioned legal system didn’t apply so well to all the changes in society resulting from industrial advances, and the courts were being stretched to the breaking point. In the UK, the civil court, called the Chancellery, was on the verge of total collapse—very useful for my stories where inheritances, guardians, and marriage laws are so important. And the criminal courts basically relied on the fairness of the judges because there wasn’t any police system in place to provide anything resembling evidence. Bow Street Patrols—both mounted and foot by this time—might catch criminals if pressed upon, but they weren’t there to keep civil order. And by 1830, civil disorder had become the only means that the common man could use to demand change—or sometimes, demand that industry quit changing their lives. Riots could explode upon any occasion, terrifying rural villages or forcing the city to a halt.
All through the 1820’s, a far-sighted man, Robert Peel—later Sir Robert Peel—(that's his image above. Doesn't he make a dashing hero? historical photocredits to http://www.maryevans.com/ ) fought to bring order to the streets of London and its outlying neighborhoods. Despite Peel's earlier efforts, it wasn’t until September 29, 1829 that the first Metropolitan Police Act was finally passed, and even then, it wasn’t comprehensive. The act eliminated the local Watch in the London suburbs but still didn’t interfere with the City of London, which resisted change. Bow Street kept its unpopular thief-taking role and the magistrates still had their own officers. But the suburbs now had a new tool promoted as in the interest of “crime prevention,” an actual police force.
From these humble beginnings our now famous and respected Scotland Yard emerged. Headquarters for the new police was at 4 Whitehall Place, in the St. James’ district of Westminster. The courtyard behind this office was called Scotland Yard, for an historical stew of reasons. There were all of two commissioners stationed there. (the image of Scotland Yard below is from 1808, before the police took over)
For centuries, England had resisted anything resembling a military force patrolling civilian streets, so Peel’s new recruits were given blue uniforms rather than the military red, and they were originally armed only with truncheons, plus a rattle to signal a need for assistance. Flintlock pocket pistols were authorized, but no one ever carried them. They rusted, unused, on shelves. I’d like to think it was because policemen didn’t want to act as judge and jury against their fellows and preferred a good fistfight to killing the people they were meant to protect.
The initial force consisted of 2 Commissioners, 8 superintendents, 20 inspectors, 88 sergeants and 895 constables. Recruits had to be under the age of 35, in good health, and at least 5’ 7”. They worked 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, and the standard wage for a constable was one guinea a week. Obviously, they did not come from the social elite, but Peel intended his force to be for the common man.
The job wasn’t for the weak of will. For those lousy wages and working conditions, the police were universally despised. The original use of “bobby” and “peeler” for these overworked civil servants was a taunt, a reference to Sir Robert Peel’s unappreciated efforts. In the same month Prinny died, the first constable was killed, and the coroner called it “justifiable homicide.” After that, officers were often physically assaulted, impaled, blinded, and once, held down while a vehicle was driven over him. Disrespect for the law and policemen isn’t exactly new.
And as usual, the rural communities were very slow to change to the modern city ways, so the local magistrates still ruled their home villages—again keeping life interesting for my characters. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same!
What brings you to reading historicals? Any idea?
Are there any questions you’d like me to dig into about the 1830s while I plot my way out of my next story hole? I can’t promise I’ll have a chance to blog about all of them, but I’ll do what I can!