Today it is hard to believe that Britain in the 19th century did not have a professional police force.

It wasn’t until 1822, when Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) became Home Secretary, that this was finally considered. Nonetheless, it took another seven years before anything happened.

He finally introduced an Act of Parliament, the Metropolitan Police Act, in 1829. It established the Metropolitan Police of London (with the exception of the City), replacing the previously disorganized system of parish constables and watchmen.

The first thousand of Peel’s police, known as ‘Peelers’ (Robert PEEL) or ‘Bobbies’ (Robert or BOBBY Peel), dressed in blue tail-coats and top hats, began to patrol the streets of London on 29th September 1829. The uniform was carefully selected to make the ‘Peelers’ look more like ordinary citizens, rather than a red-coated soldier with a helmet.

A Peeler or Bobby

A Peeler or Bobby


Peelers or Bobbies


The ‘Peelers’ were issued with a wooden truncheon carried in a long pocket in the tail of their coat, a pair of handcuffs and a wooden rattle to raise the alarm. By the 1880s this rattle had been replaced by a whistle.

To be a ‘Peeler’ the rules were quite strict. You had to be aged 20 – 27, at least 5′ 7″ tall (or as near as possible), fit, literate and have no history of any wrong-doings.

They worked seven days a week, with only five days unpaid holiday a year for which they received the grand sum of £1 per week. Their lives were strictly controlled; they were not allowed to vote in elections and required permission to get married and even to share a meal with a civilian. To allay the public’s suspicion of being spied upon, officers were required to wear their uniforms both on and off duty.

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