HISTORICAL NOTE ON THE CITY OF LONDON POLICE. Adapted from the Old Instruction Book as amended until 1979, then withdrawn.
The history of the City of London Police is
documented and authenticated from very early times-at least from the
Norman conquest and the establishment of the feudal system and
probably (though without the same authoritative backing) from the
sixth century when the responsibility of keeping the "King's Peace"
was placed on all local inhabitants.
Historical records make it clear, however, that the
control of the Police of the City of London has always been in the
hands of the citizens, either through the medium of the "Trained
Bands," through the Watch and Ward Committee, or otherwise.
The Trained (or "Train") Bands were voluntary
organisations comparable in many ways with the City of London Special
Constabulary of the present day. They were, however, of a
semi-military character. They took part, for example in the revolt
against Charles 1, which was an expression of the growing power of
the City Guilds and merchants in the defence of the City's
The phrase" Watch and Ward," which for so long
described the Police system of the City, referred respectively to the
night and day guard that was undertaken by the watchmen. The system
seems to have been regularised, if not established, by a Statute
passed in 1285, the thirteenth year of Edward I and the beginning of
Parliamentary history, entitled "Statuta Civitatus London." This was
the year in which appeared the famous Statute of Winchester, which
commanded that watch be kept in all cities and towns and that two
Constables be chosen in every "Hundred" or "Franchise", to see that
this was done.
A "Hundred" was comprised of ten "Tithings," and a
"Tithing" was a group of ten persons charged with the responsibility
for each other's observance of the law. The whole of the male
population over twelve years of age was divided into Tithings, which
were also known as "Peace Guilds" or "Frankpleges." The Tithing
system of preserving the public order had existed intermittently,
from Saxon times, and the Statute of Winchester merely revived and
extended it. A separate Statute seems to have been thought necessary
however, to meet the peculiar conditions of the City of London.
Originally, every inhabitant of a Ward in the City
of London was liable to serve in his turn in the Watch or to provide
a substitute. It was the duty of the Constable of the Ward, who was
required to be a freeman of the City and was similar in status to the
High Constable, Tithingman, or Head-borough of other districts, to
keep a register of the residents in his Ward, and order them for
service with the Watch. It was also his duty to arrest and bring to
justice all offenders against the law. Crimes against property for
which no arrest was forthcoming reacted unfavourably on the members
of the Watch, who, as members of the "Peace Guild" or "Frankpledge,"
were called upon to make good the damages involved.
A clear statutory recognition of this principle is
to be found in the Riot (Damages) Act, 1886, which threw upon the
local rates (via the Police Fund) the burden of compensating persons
sustaining damage in a riot.
The Constable lost prestige as his duties
multiplied. The early Constable was something very like an Alderman.
According to some authorities it was, for example, the "Constable of
the City" one Robert Fitzwalter, who led the barons in the
presentation to King John of the petition that resulted in the
signing of Magna Charta. As time went on the Constables' duties
became less and less attractive to them, and they began to employ
deputies or "Petty Constables," evading personal Police service by
paying others to do the work for them. Constables were supposed to be
appointed annually, but the deputies who did their work carried on in
that capacity year after year, and were paid to do so by the
Constables. This system, though it seems to have been the origin of
the paid Police Service as it exists today, was not an auspicious
beginning; the paid deputies were apparently of an ignorant, uncouth
type, generally too old for their duties, so poorly paid as to become
involved in numerous scandals and abuses, and a natural focus for the
public resentment which could now be centred on a few who had taken
over the distasteful duties of the many.
The "Statuta Civitatus London" provided that the
gates of London were to be shut every night, and that the City should
be divided into twenty-four Wards, each with six Watchmen controlled
by an Alderman. This was known as emerged what may be regarded as the
first City of London Police Act. The system thus inaugurated
continued for centuries although at times the responsibility of
keeping "the King's Peace" was a matter of considerable difficulty,
and the Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty were on several occasions
issued with writs from the reigning monarch to attend to this duty.
They were summoned before him in 1338 and required to prepare a
written statement as to the manner in which this should be done. This
statement was accepted and as a result 223 persons were sworn to "
keep" the City according to the articles.
The variations in the system were numerous both as
to the number of watchmen and the persons called on to perform this
duty and one reads of the Chaplain to the Bishop of London, and the
vicars and curates being required by ordinance in 1543 to" find
lanthorn light and watch in a like manner to other inhabitants."
In 1693 an Act of Common Council was passed which
provided that more than 1,000 watchmen should be constantly on duty
in the City from Sunset to Sunrise, and that every inhabitant should
take his turn. These men were known as "Charlies," after King Charles
II, in whose reign their establishment was first proposed. There was
also in existence a body called the " Marching Watch," which was to
move about and assist the watchmen in the Wards. All these watchmen
were authorised to arrest offenders and bring them before the Mayor.
The Constables and the " Watch " were under the
direct supervision of the Mayor, Aldermen and Sheriffs who were
required to patrol on horse and see that the watch was kept. The
office of Constable existed contemporaneously with the system of
Watch and Ward, although each was relatively independent of the other
until 1705, when an Act of Common Council was passed which authorised
the appointment of 583 night watchmen and made provision for the
effective co- operation of the Constables and Beadles with the Watch.
It also expressly sanctioned the payment of money to a Ward Officer
for the provision of a substitute. Other evidence suggests that it
was the usual practice of the majority of the householders selected
as watchmen to pay an agreed sum for a substitute.
In 1737 the night watch of the City was further
regulated by Statute (10 Geo II cap 22) which was an Act "for better
regulating the Night Watch and Beadles within the City of London and
Liberties," etc. and which required the Court of Common Council to
order and appoint what number of Watchmen & Beadles they thought
necessary, how they should be armed and what wages should be paid to
them, and also to direct what number of Constables should attend
every night in each respective Ward, and to make such other Orders
and Regulations as the nature of each particular service should seem
to them to require,"
This, the first paid Police Force, was superintended
by the Aldermen, and consisted of 68 men, 32 of whom were employed
during the day in the general duties of the street patrol. Twelve
were allotted to preserve order in Smithfield Market, and 12 were
placed in the Station Houses throughout the City to receive charges.
The Station Houses were situated at the Mansion House, London Bridge,
Portsoken (Aldgate), Bishopsgate, Fleet Market, and St. Andrew
Holborn. These 56 men constituted the whole of the day force, the
remaining 12 being assigned as a Night Patrol, in addition to the
existing Ward Watchmen. The latter were a totally distinct and
separate body of watchmen under the control of the Aldermen and
Common Councilmen of each Ward, and maintained by a Ward Rate levied
by authority of the Common Council.
The present-day (1979) office of Ward Beadle is a
survival of that "Nightly Watch and Ward" apart from certain duties
under the Licensing Acts, and the fact that they were the Coroner's
Officers for their respective Wards their functions were entirely
The Act of 1737 with little modification controlled
the policing of the City of London for little over a century. The
Force remained the direct responsibility of the Mayor and Aldermen
but later was placed under the supervision of two Marshals who were
assisted by six Marshalmen.
The duties of the Marshals, besides supervising the
City Police Force, were to keep books of occurrences to be laid
before the Court of Mayor and Aldermen at every meeting; attend at
public processions on horseback and regulate them; cause the
Constables of the City to be summoned according to precept or order
of the Lord Mayor; hire as Constables decent men, giving preference
to the Ward Constables as additional Constables when required; attend
the Markets and preserve the peace at Bartholomew Fair; apprehend all
rogues and pickpockets; patrol the streets to see that they were
clear of vagrants, and many other duties readily accepted as normal
Police duties today
They were also required to give notice of any
non-freemen exercising their trades within the city, and put in force
all orders of the Court of Aldermen and Common Council for order of
the City according to the Statute and Common Law, and suppress all
affrays and riots.
The Marshalmen were appointed to assist the Marshals
in carrying out these duties, and to execute all warrants and
summonses. They supervised both the Ward Constables and the Watchmen,
and recorded daily in a book at the Mansion House the state of the
City, in order that the Marshals might report to the Lord Mayor.
One of the earliest available records of the Force
as it existed at that time, a book of" Rules, Orders, and Regulations
for the Police of the City of London, agreed to and ordered by the
Court of Aldermen, the 30th day of March, 1824" the first page of
which shows that the whole of the Force resided within the City, that
each member was required to have the name of his office placed or
painted upon his door or some conspicuous part of his residence, and
that the Police Force still consisted of two Marshals with a number
of "Marshalmen" and Constables. The latter exercised a similar
supervision and authority over the existing Watchmen to that which
marks the relationship of Inspectors to Constables of the present
day. The Act of 1737 said, for example that the "Watchmen, in the
absence of the Constable, are required to apprehend malefactors and
suspected persons and to deliver them to the Constable of the night,
who is to carry them before a Justice."
Outside the City, efforts were also being made at
about this time to combat crime by appointing Constables to act under
the Magistrates at the Police Offices, and in 1812 a Parliamentary
Committee appointed to investigate the state of the nightly watch and
of the police, cited the example of the City as one which, "if it
could be successfully imitated in Westminster and its Liberties, and
within the other adjacent parishes, considerable benefit might be
expected." Three other Parliamentary Committees followed, up to the
year 1828, reporting to similar effect, and Sir Benjamin Stone,
Chamberlain of London, in his "Statistical Vindication of the City of
London, 1877," states that it was from the City Force, as then
existing, that Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, formed his plan
for the creation of one force for the Metropolitan parishes.
In 1829, Sir Robert Peel established the
Metropolitan Police Force and sought to consolidate the two Forces.
The City Corporation resisted this proposition strenuously and
successfully; but the City Police began to undergo drastic remodelled
in 1832 so as to consist of 1 Superintendent, 3 Inspectors, 10
Sergeants, and 85 Constables, and was appointed for duty in the
daytime only. Police duties at night being left to the Ward
Constables and Watchmen as hitherto. Only six years later, however,
it was again increased and reconstituted, on the grounds that it was
found to be inadequate, and in order that it might take over the
whole duties of both Police and Watchmen day and night. The City was
divided into six Police districts, with stations at St. Sepulchre's,
St. Bride's, Cordwainer, Tower, Bishopsgate, and Cripplegate, with a
Chief Office at Guildhall. The establishment was increased to 501,
made up as follows: I Superintendent or Chief Officer, 12 Inspectors,
50 Sergeants, and 438 Constables. A Chief Clerk and a Surgeon were
This brought the Force into conformity with what had
been done outside the City. That is to say, the Police functions of
the City Marshals and other Corporation Officers were absorbed, as
had been the Offices of High Constable and Petty Constable in outer
London by the passing of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1829.
In 1839 a further attempt was made to bring about
amalgamation. Lord John Russell was now Home Secretary, and he
introduced a Bill in the House of Commons "for further improving the
Police in and near the Metropolis" by which it was proposed that the
City of London should become part of the Metropolitan Police
district. A petition from the Court of Common Council to Her Majesty
Queen Victoria met with immediate success, however, and the proposed
merger was again defeated. A deputation from the Police and Watch
Committee agreed, after consultation with Lord John Russell, to
introduce a Bill into Parliament in that year (1839) for the
reconstitution and regulation of the City Police, and for the
preservation of all attendant rights and privileges. The City of
London Police Act, 1839 (2 and 3 Vic. cap. XCIV), came into being. It
repealed the Act of 1737, and established the system which has
continued with no fundamental changes until the present day. Further
attempts were made from time to time, notably in 1856 to 1863, to
bring about a fusion of the City and Metropolitan Police Forces. On
the latter occasion, when a Bill with that object was introduced by
Sir George Grey, a protest meeting of 3,000 merchants and bankers
took place in the Guildhall, and such a powerful body of opinion
addressed itself to the matter that the Bill was eventually
The City of London Police Act, 1839, authorised the
appointment of a Commissioner. The Chief Office, although originally
established at Guildhall, was in 1841 removed to 26 Old Jewry, E.C.2,
where a very fine building was purchased as a residence and office
for the Commissioner. This was rebuilt in 1930, the fine carved oak
staircase of the old building being retained and incorporated in the
The strength of the Force increased as its duties
multiplied, extra men being added from time to time to enable the
Police to take a more active part in controlling the ever growing
flow of traffic; thus in 1865 an extra fifty men were added on the
grounds that, "the duties of patrolling beats could not be left and
that it was essential for public safety that constables should be
posted to wherever two crowded streets meet, so as to prevent as far
as practicable those accidents which are now of frequent occurrence,
and which in several recent instances have terminated fatally.
Further increases were made, until in 1910 the
establishment of the Force reached 1,181, with an additional number
of 150 men allowed for Private Service, this representing the peak
establishment of the Force.
In 1865 the City Police Hospital at Bishopsgate was
founded, supervised by a surgeon and a matron, with a staff of
nurses. Here, men who reported sick and were likely to be absent from
duty for more than a few days were admitted and given expert nursing
and medical treatment. The Hospital was closed in 1947 when the
provision of medical attention was brought under the National Health
The City of London Police have been trained in First
Aid since 1890. In 1907 the first ambulances, powered by electricity,
were purchased, and an ambulance service, staffed and supervised by
the City Police, was brought into operation. At this time the London
County Council were trying to obtain a better ambulance service in
the Metropolitan area and that of the City of London was cited as an
example. A system of street telephone call boxes was adopted as part
of the ambulance with equipment and ambulances until 1949 when it was
taken over by the London Ambulance Service in accordance with the
provisions of the National Health Service Act, 1946.
In the year 1910, the City Police were concerned
with a case which has probably become an "epic" of English Police
History, the" Houndsditch Murders," in which whilst attempting to
arrest a desperate gang of armed criminals, three members of the
Force lost their lives and two others were so severely injured that
they were unfit for further service. The investigations culminated in
the "Sydney Street Siege" at which military forces assisted and which
was attended by the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill.
In 1914 further re-organisation of the Force took
place, the strength being reduced, and the Divisions cut from 6 to 4,
the Stations being "A " Division, Moor Lane; " B " Division, Snow
Hill; "C" Division, Bishopsgate; and "D" Division, Cloak Lane.
In the First World War a considerable number of
members of the Force volunteered for service with the armed forces,
as a result of which the strength of the City Police was considerably
reduced. During this period the Force was assisted by the First
Police Reserve and the Special Constabulary.
With the passing of the Police Act, 1919, the City
of London Police were grouped, for the purposes of pay, with their
Metropolitan neighbours and the pay of the lower ranks of all Forces
was standardised. It was also in this year that the City Corporation
were forced to ask the Government for a grant towards the cost of the
Force. This was brought about because of the parlous state of "
City's Cash" (i.e. the special funds of the Corporation) upon which,
up to that time, the City had been able to draw to augment the Police
Rate, authorised to be raised to meet the cost of the Force by the
City of London Police Acts, 1839 and 1919. The grant was approved and
a special government contribution has been received each year since
1919. In the case of the City the government grant has not been on
the same terms as that made to all other Police Authorities (viz 50%
of total net approved expenditure) but consisted until 1964 of one
half the total net approved expenditure on Police during the year,
less the sum which would have been produced in that year by the
product of a rate of 4d in the pound on the area served by the Force.
Since 1964 the government grant to the City has been one third of
total net approved expenditure.
A programme of re-building was commenced in 1926,
and included the reconstruction of Snow Hill police station, the
erection of a large block of police flats in Ferndale Court, Brixton,
and the re-building of the Chief Office and Bishopsgate station, the
last named being completed in 1939.
In 1930 a system of controlling vehicular traffic by
signal lights was introduced at Ludgate Circus to assist the City
Police to deal with the ever increasing volume of traffic, and two
years later the first automatic vehicle activated traffic signals in
Europe were installed at the Cornhill/Bishopsgate intersection. Since
than the control of traffic by this system of traffic signals has
been progressively pursued throughout the City, and the installation
at the Bank intersection was, at the time, the most advanced of its
type in the country.
The communications of the Force were re-organised in
1933 and a system of visual signalling was adopted in conjunction
with ambulance call boxes, enabling officers to communicate with each
other, and to be communicated with, by means of a flashing light
signal. In the same year the teleprinter service was adopted between
City Police Stations and New Scotland Yard and between Headquarters
and Provincial Forces.
The area of the City, approximately one square mile,
did not encourage the view that patrol cars could be used to
advantage, and it was not until 1937 that two cars were purchased to
patrol the City. They were fitted with wireless and worked in close
collaboration with the Information Room, New Scotland Yard. They
proved a great success principally because the liaison between the
two Forces was so closely maintained.
The second World War was a formidable test for the
City of London Police. The organisation of the Warden's Service (Air
Raid Warden's) in the City had been placed upon the Police and, a
Police Officer was in command as Chief Warden. Incident control was
carried out by a Police Officer who was responsible for the
co-ordination of the services which were necessarily involved.
The regular Force was supplemented by First Police
Reserves and Special Constables and in addition a Force of "War
Reserves " was recruited, from men over 25 years of age who expressed
a desire to serve in the Police rather than the fighting Services.
The City was one of the most heavily damaged areas
in the Country, about one-third being devastated; all the Police
Stations received direct hits with H.E. bombs and Moor Lane Station
was completely destroyed. The morale of the Force during the war
years was exceptionally high and members of the Force enhanced its
reputation by their devotion to duty, as a result of which some
received civil decorations.
Due to the extensive damage occasioned to "A"
Division the Force was later re-organised into three Divisions. In
1965 Cloak Lane station closed and was replaced by Wood Street police
The Police Act, 1946, brought about a
re-organisation of the smaller Police Forces throughout the country,
many of them being amalgamated with larger adjoining Forces. During
the parliamentary debates before the passing of the Act there were
further attacks on the separate status of the City Police but the
Bill was so drafted as to exclude the City Police from its operation,
and the Government resisted all attempts to change it in this
The establishment of the Force underwent further
changes when in 1947 it was reduced to 975 for Public Service and 150
for Private Service.
In 1949, by the addition of one Woman Police
Sergeant and six women Police Constables, the authorised
establishment of the Force, including the Commissioner, was brought
up to 983.
Further amalgamation of Forces resulted from the
Police Act, 1964, but once again the City was not affected.
Further advances in the communications system of
this Force were made in 1952 by the introduction of a V.H.F. radio-
telephony network entirely independent of any other organisation,
giving a radio link between Headquarters and units carried on
vehicles or personal receivers carried by individual members of the
Force. The system has proved effective in traffic control, C,I.D.
work and for duties on special occasions as well as for routine
In post war years, the problem which overshadowed
all others was the recruitment of suitable men as Constables. In
spite of vigorous efforts this proved difficult of solution and the
strength of the Force fell to approximately one third below
establishment. The expansion of traffic control by vehicle- actuated
signals helped to compensate for this shortage. The more effective
deployment of the available manpower was given much thought and led
to the introduction of a duty system designed to ensure that the
correct balance of manpower was on duty at those times which
experience and statistics have shown to be most advantageous in
dealing with the Police problems involved and that the manpower was
mobile and capable of quick concentration where most required.
The perusal of these notes will have indicated that
the history of the City 0f London Police through the years
constitutes a record of advance and development in keeping with an
ever changing environment, and that the Force occupies a unique
position in the Police Service of this country. It has maintained its
individuality to the present day, the only modification of its
privilege of self-government being the measure of Home Office
supervision introduced by the Police Act, 1919, and the Regulations
made thereunder by the Home Secretary.
The man who becomes a member of the City Police
inherits a tradition as old as English History itself. If history has
any meaning the realisation of this heritage should furnish him with
the incentive to that continual progress and improvement which
distinguishes history from a mere record of dates and events.