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Wednesday 11 April 2018

Policing Georgian London and the Bow Street Runners - guest post by Julie Tetel Andresen

I am delighted to welcome author Julie Tetel Andresen to the Regency History blog today with a guest post on policing Georgian London and the Bow Street Runners.

Bow Street from The Microcosm of London Vol 1 by R Ackermann and WH Pyne (1808)
Bow Street from The Microcosm of London Vol 1 by R Ackermann and WH Pyne (1808)
Number 4 Bow Street

In the early 1750s, magistrate and novelist Sir Henry Fielding persuaded the government to provide funds to hire men who would have the capacity to track down the highwaymen and footpads who were terrorizing the roads in and around London. He lived at Number 4 Bow Street, Covent Garden. A few months after receiving the funds, Henry Fielding died, leaving the Bow Street residence to John Fielding, his younger half-brother. Although John had been blind since the age of nineteen, he turned out to be the most imaginative magistrate of the eighteenth century, and created a force of policemen who were popularly called Bow Street Runners.

Since the thirteenth century, London had unpaid night watchmen. However, a troubling spike in crime occurred in the late seventeenth century, likely caused by the demobilization of armed forces after William III won the war for the throne in 1689. In response to this increase in violence, two things had come about by the middle of the eighteenth century: first, the lighting of the streets had been improved; and, second, the night watchmen had become a paid force. They had established beats at set times, called out the time throughout the night, and made an arrest if they happened upon a crime. However, they were not expected to search out offenders.

Parish Constables

The parish constables were largely private citizens who served for part of a year as their civic duty. They were expected to clear the streets of vagrants and prostitutes, and they could arrest petty criminals if, like the night watchmen, they happened upon them. They were also supposed to keep crowds under control on days of celebration or when crowds assembled for unlawful purposes. The constables were under no obligation to do anything beyond the boundaries of their jurisdiction, and they were not expected to investigate crimes or find criminals.


Occasionally a magistrate would take an interest in a particular case and follow through on it. However, it was mostly left to the victim to find the perpetrator or to pay someone to do so. In the early eighteenth century, one could hire a private ‘thief-taker’, as they were called. The men Sir John Fielding hired became the first professional public thief-takers, although the term they came to be known by, namely Runners, was surely derogatory since it associated them with the bailiffs who arrested debtors or escorted men to jail.

Sir John Fielding and the Bow Street Runners

Sir John Fielding by Nathaniel Hone  Oil on canvas (1762) NPG 3834 (1)
Sir John Fielding by Nathaniel Hone
Oil on canvas (1762) NPG 3834 (1)
The Runners, whom Sir John often recruited from the ranks of ex-constables, helped victims at no cost, followed investigations wherever they went, and had the authority to arrest the criminals anywhere. By bringing to justice those guilty of highway robbery and murder, and by increasing the geographical range of pursuit, the Runners formed the very beginnings of a national police force.

Since 1748, Sir Henry Fielding had made his house on Bow Street the centre of his work. When Sir John took over in 1754, he made it a centre for information gathering, which went beyond the clerical requirements of ordinary magistrates at the time. He hired extra staff to collect information about crimes and criminals and believed informers should be paid. He also used advertising as fundamental to his policing strategy. For crimes of theft, he sent information to appear in the next day’s newspapers and had handbills printed and distributed to pawnbrokers and other likely places, under the belief that rapid dispersal of information was necessary if goods were going to be found and the thieves arrested. The office seemed to have been open for business for long hours most days of the week, and people came to assume they could go to Bow Street at any time of the day, and well into the evening, to see a magistrate (or at least someone who could take and perhaps act on their complaint).

On occasion, a Runner might take an alleged criminal to the Brown Bear, a pub across the street from the office, which served as a temporary lock-up and a place where suspects could be interrogated before being taken before the magistrate. Conveniently, Sir John often ate at the Brown Bear, and so was on hand if fresh business came up during his meal.

The Brown Bear from Chronicles of Bow Street   Police-Office by Percy Fitzgerald (1888)
The Brown Bear from Chronicles of Bow Street 
Police-Office by Percy Fitzgerald (1888)
The effectiveness of the Runners can be illustrated with an example. In 1767, John Griffiths and three other men were returning to London by coach when a gang of armed men stopped them and demanded their money. One of the men in the coach jumped out in an effort to escape and was knocked down and badly beaten. Griffiths refused to give up his purse and was shot dead. The other two did not resist. Within hours of the incident, seven Runners went in search of the robbers, gathering information from pubs and a variety of informers. Two days later, the Runners arrested five men, four of whom were convicted. Three days later, the fifth man who had killed Griffiths, was hanged.

Covent Garden, home to Bow Street, was notorious for its bawdy houses, unlicensed alehouses, and gambling houses – precisely the kind of businesses that drew men into crime. Although at first Sir John did not think regulating morality was part of his job as magistrate, he eventually turned his and his Runners’ attention into policing immoral behaviours involving hard alcohol, gambling, and prostitution. Sir John drew censure when his moral policing widened to include popular dancing.

Beer Street and Gin Alley by William Hogarth (1751) via Wikimedia Commons
Beer Street and Gin Alley by William Hogarth (1751) via Wikimedia Commons
This policing activity came at a price. Sir John’s office expenses for the year 1767 came to nearly £600 and paid for: investigations and arrests, patrolling, maintenance of ‘pursuit horses’, rewards to shopkeepers, support of witnesses, payments to informers, salary of the ‘register clerk’, maintenance of the criminal records, transport of prisoners, coach hire, printing and distributing of handbills, advertisements, correspondence with country magistrates, office expenses and, finally, Runners’ arrest of prostitutes, gamblers, and beggars.

In 1829, Sir Robert Peel created the Metropolitan Police, and Bow Street disbanded in 1839. The first professional detective department was formed in 1842.

Cox, David, A Certain Share of Low Cunning: A History of the Bow Street Runners, 1792 – 1839 (Willen Publishing, 2010)
Beattie, JM, The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750 – 1840 (Oxford University Press, 2012)

About the author: Julie Tetel Andresen has written more than twenty-five romance novels, one of her most recent being John Carter’s Conundrum, a Georgian-era novella whose hero, John Carter, is a Bow Street Runner. Visit Julie's website here where you can download John Carter’s Conundrum for free.

1. This image is being shared under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Wednesday 4 April 2018

The Asylum for female orphans in Regency London

The Dining Room at the Asylum  from Ackermann's The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
The Dining Room at the Asylum
from Ackermann's The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
What was the Asylum?

The Asylum was a refuge for female orphans established by Sir John Fielding, a philanthropic magistrate, in 1758, and incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1800. 

Its aim was to house and educate orphaned girls. Orphans were the responsibility of the parish where their parents had resided. If this parish or settlement could not be established, they theoretically became the responsibility of the parish in which they lived. In the case of orphans of soldiers, sailors and other indigent persons, the settlement of their parents could often not be found, and the orphans could be left destitute and far away from any relations. The charity aimed to relieve this suffering and protect young girls who might otherwise be drawn into prostitution.

The Asylum for Female Orphans 1823 from The History   and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth by T Allen (1827)
The Asylum for Female Orphans 1823 from The History
 and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth by T Allen (1827)
Where was the Asylum?

The Asylum was situated south of the River Thames in St George’s Fields, Lambeth, 'directly opposite the road which leads from Westminster Bridge to Vauxhall.'1

The charity took out a lease on the premises of the Hercules Inn from the Corporation of the City of London in 1754 at a rent of £8 10s a year. When the lease expired in around 1823, they bought the freehold for about £16,000 and demolished the old building, with the exception of the chapel and the residences for the officers and matron. They replaced it with a neat, low building with wings on the design of Mr Lloyd.

The New Asylum for Female Orphans 1826 from The History   and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth by T Allen (1827)
The New Asylum for Female Orphans 1826 from The History
 and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth by T Allen (1827)
How was it run?

Her Majesty Queen Charlotte was the patroness of the Asylum and Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, was President. The charity was governed by a committee of 19 gentlemen, elected annually, who met at the Asylum every Thursday at 11 o’clock in the morning.

The Asylum received an income from stocks and consols and was supported by annual subscriptions amounting to about £500 a year and by collections taken at the chapel doors each Sunday amounting to some £2,000 a year more.2

A gentleman could become an annual guardian of the charity by subscribing at least three guineas a year. Alternatively, he could become a perpetual guardian by a donation of thirty guineas or more, or by being the first named executor on a legacy of £100 or more. A guardian could recommend a girl for admission when a vacancy arose.

According to Allen in The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth (1827): 'Ladies subscribing certain specified sums are entitled to vote by proxy.'3

The charity employed various staff to run the asylum and chapel. In 1827, their annual salaries were as follows:
Chaplain and secretary £200
Alternate morning preachers £100 each
Evening preacher £126
Organist £63
Writing master £50
Apothecary (including supply of medicine) £70
Messenger £52
Matron £60
Assistant matron £20
First school-mistress £40
Two assistant mistresses £15 15s each
Nurse £20
Chapel clerk £21
Four chapel keepers £12 each4
Life in the Asylum

Girls were admitted between the ages of nine and twelve, housed and educated, and then apprenticed as a domestic servant or into a trade from the age of about fifteen.

The Microcosm of London described the education of the girls:
Carefully instructed in the principles of religion; in reading, writing, needlework, and household business, they are trained to habits of industry and regularity, by which means there is a supply of diligent and sober domestics for the use of that public, which, by its contributions, has so nobly acquired a right to their services.5
The girls were required
... to make and mend their own linen; make shirts, shifts, and table-linen; to do all kinds of plain needle-work, and to perform the business of the house and kitchen; to which latter twelve are appointed weekly, according to their age and abilities, to assist the cook, to wash, iron, and get up all the linen. They are likewise taught to read the Bible, write a legible hand, and understand the first four rules in arithmetic.6
The girls helped support the Asylum with their work:
All kinds of plain needle-work are taken in at the Asylum, and performed by the children at certain rates, which are regulated by the committee.7
Visits by gentlewomen

According to The Microcosm of London, the guardians
... earnestly solicit the ladies, who are particularly qualified for that purpose, frequently to visit the charity, inspect the management of the house, and particularly the employment of the children; also to see that they are properly instructed in housewifery, so as to be qualified for useful domestic servants; and from time to time communicate to the committee, by letter or otherwise, such observations as they shall deem proper to make.8
The chapel
A very neat chapel is included in the plan, in which some respectable minister officiates as preacher on Sundays. The girls also sing, accompanied by a good organ.

A number of the nobility and gentry frequent this place of worship, and at the same time become contributors to a noble charity, which preserves from probable destruction a great number of indigent female orphans, and makes them at the same time a comfort to their remaining relations, and a benefit to the community.9
What happened to the girls?

When the girls were about fifteen years of age, they were apprenticed:
They are to be bound apprentices for seven years, at the age of fifteen, or sooner, as domestic servants to reputable families in Great Britain.10
When a girl was old enough to be apprenticed, the guardian who presented her was asked if he had a placement for her in mind. If this was not the case, the girl could be sent to any respectable person who applied for an apprentice, once the committee had approved their character.

If a girl completed her apprenticeship and their master or mistress vouched for their good behaviour, she was given five guineas by the committee.

If the committee deemed that the girl was unfit for domestic service, they could apprentice her into any trade they thought proper. The maximum they would pay to secure this apprenticeship was £10.

The success of the Asylum

According to The Microcosm of London:
Two hundred deserted females are daily sheltered and protected from vice and want, supplied with food and raiment, and taught what-ever can render them useful in their situation, or comfortable and happy in themselves.11

Headshot of Rachel Knowles author with sea in background(2021)
Rachel Knowles writes clean/Christian Regency era romance and historical non-fiction. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

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(1) From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809).
(2) These amounts are taken from Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth (1827).
(3) From Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth (1827).
(4) Ibid.
(5) From Ackermann, Rudolph and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 1 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904).
(6) Ibid.
(7) Ibid.
(8) Ibid.
(9) Allen op cit.
(10) Ackermann op cit.
(11) Ibid.

Sources used include:
Ackermann, Rudolph and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 1 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth (1827)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809)