Victorian London – Police and Policing – Perception of policeman’s character According to an article published on SATURDAY, JUNE 17th, 1848…
The MODEL POLICEMAN moves only in the most fashionable areas. He is rather particular in seeing if the coal cellar is fast, about supper-time. He is never inside a kitchen, unless “the street door has been left open.” He is affable to the footman, and smiles to the page, but suspects the butler, and calls the French maid proud. His appearance and spirits are greatly regulated by the neighbourhood. In Belgravia he wears straps, plays with a pink, and buzzes to himself some popular tune. In St. Giles’s his cheeks get hollow, his buttons grow rusty, his belt is put on anyhow, and his highlows are polished only with blacklead!!
The MODEL POLICEMAN arrives at a row before it is quite over, and sometimes gets at a fire a minute or two before the fire-escape. He knows every pickpocket in the world, and has seen everybody who is taken up two or three times before. He has a vivid recollection of what another Policeman remembers, and if the testimony of an Inspector is impugned, he shows a great love for his cloth by swearing (as the saying is) “till all is blue.” He objects to “plain clothes;” he thinks them not uniform and “unperfessional”. He never smiles when inside a theatre, nor sleeps at a sermon, nor takes an opera-glass to look at the ballet when stationed in the gallery of Her Majesty’s. He rarely releases the wrong person he has taken into custody for disturbing the performances. He has a virtuous horror of Punch and Judy, and insists upon the India rubber Brothers “moving on” in the midst even of the Human Pyramid. He never stops at a print-shop, nor loiters before a cook-shop, nor hangs about a pastry cook’s, excepting to drive away the little boys who choke up the door where the stale pastry is exhibited.
He is not proud, but will hold a gentleman’s horse at an emergency, and take sixpence for it. He rings bells the first thing in the morning, runs to fetch the doctor, helps an early coffee-stall to unpack her cups and saucers, pulls down shutters, gives “lights” to young gentlemen staggering home, directs them to the nearest “public,” and does not even mind going in with them, “just to have a little drop of something to keep himself warm.” In fact, the MODEL POLICEMAN does anything for the smallest trifle, to make himself useful as well as ornamental. Above all, he never laughs. He is the terror of publicans on Saturday nights, but is easily melted with “a drop” – on the sly.
He is courageous, also, and will take up an applewoman, or a “lone woman” with babies, without a moment’s hesitation. He is not irritable, but knows his dignity. Do not speak to him much, unless you have a very good coat. Especially do not joke with him when on duty. You are sure to know it by his collar being up. Do not put a finger upon him, for he construes it into an assault. Of the two Forces, he certainly belongs to the Physical, rather than to the Moral Force. He is tremendous in a row, and cares no more for a “brush” than his oilskin hat. He hates the name of Chartist, and cannot “abide” a Frenchman in any shape, any more than a beggar, especially if he has moustaches. He has a secret contempt for the “Specials,” whom he calls “amateurs.” He rarely fraternises with a Beadle, excepting when there is an insurrection of boys, and it comes to open snowballing, or splashing with the fire-plug. He prohibits all sliding, puts down vaulting over posts, leapfrog, grottos, chuck farthing, and is terribly upset with a piece of orange-peel, or the cry of “Peeler.” He avoids a lobster-shop, for fear of vulgar comparisons, and hates the military – “the whole biling of them” – for some raw reason; but he touches his hat to “the DUKE.” He rarely sleeps inside a cab of a cold night. He never lights a cigar till the theatres are over. He is a long time in hearing the cry of “Stop thief!” and is particularly averse to running; his greatest pace is a hackney-coach gallop, even after a Sweep, who is following, too literally, his calling. He is meek to lost children, and takes them to the station-house in the most fatherly manner.
He is polite to elderly ladies who have lost a cat or a parrot, and gives directions to a porter in search of a particular street, without losing his temper. He is fond of a silver watch, and he reaches the summit of a policeman’s pride and happiness if he gets a silver chain with it. Next to himself, however, there is nothing he loves half so closely as his whiskers. He would sooner throw up staff, station, and be numbered amongst the dead letters of the Post Office, or the rural police, than part with a single hair of them; for the MODEL POLICEMAN feels that without his whiskers he should cut but a contemptible figure in the eyes of those he loves, even though he exhibited on his collar the proud label of A1! Beyond his whiskers, his enjoyments are but few. He watches the beer as it is delivered at each door, he follows the silvery sound of “muffins!” through streets and squares, he loves to speculate upon the destination of the fleeting butcher’s tray, and on Saturday night he threads the mazy stalls of the nearest market, his love growing at the sight of the savoury things it is wont to feed upon.
Thanks to the fabulous site VICTORIAN LONDON, owned by author and archivist Lee Jackson.
The police force of London was never in the public eye quite so glaringly as it was during the investigation of the notorious Jack The Ripper reign of terror. From that first accepted series of killings – serial murders – has emerged a timeless fascination with the people who investigated and failed to bring to justice the bloody killer.
In the two books of my Devane Mysteries, I have once again used these gruesome killings as a kind of eternal haunting of my hero, Police Inspector Michael Devane. Devane is haunted, clairvoyant and an opium addict in a time when such things were common but rarely talked about openly. If you would like to read the books, please visit Liquid Silver Books for excerpts and purchase links: Book One: OUT OF HELL Book Two: AN UNSPOKEN BETRAYAL