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Policing and Detection

While law enforcement had existed across regions of Britain long before the 19th century, Robert Peel's 1829 Police Act established the Metropolitan Police force in London. In this seminar we will explore the establishment and development of centralised police and law enforcement throughout the 19th century.

Optional introductory material:

PODCAST: 'British police history: everything you wanted to know', BBC History Extra Podcast (22nd August 2021).

Essential Seminar Preparation:

Primary sources:

Secondary sources:

  • J. McMullen, ‘The New Improved Monied Police: Reform, Crime Control, and the Commodification of Policing in London’, British Journal of Criminology, 36 (1996), pp. 85-108
  • D. Philips, ‘A New Engine of Power and Authority: The Institutionalisation of Law Enforcement in England, 1750-1830’, in V. A. C. Gattrell, B. Lenman and G. Parker (eds), Crime and the Law: the Social History of Crime in Western Europe since 1500

Seminar preparation questions:

  • How different were the 'new' police after 1829?
  • Were the police largely there to prevent crime or to detect it? How effective were they?
  • What were the differences between the urban and rural police?

Further reading:


  • Making of the Modern Police, Volume 1. The 'idea' of policing, edited by Francis Dodsworth
  • Making of the Modern Police, Volume 2. Reforming the police in the nineteenth century, edited by Robert M. Morris
  • Making of the Modern Police, Volume 3. Policing the poor, edited by Paul Lawrence
  • Making of the Modern Police, Volume 4. Policing entertainment
  • Making of the Modern Police, Volume 5. Policing the public order and politics
  • Making of the Modern Police, Volume 6. The development of detective policing
  • 'The Police and the Thieves', Quarterly Review, Jun (1856) - especially pp. 172-6
  • Instructions for the Guidance of the Surrey Constabulary (1862)
  • Dublin Castle Records, 1798-1921 (National Archives)


  • Stephen Banks, Informal Justice in England and Wales, 1760-1914
  • David G. Barrie and Susan Broomhall (eds.), A History of Police and Masculinities, 1700-2010 (London: Routledge, 2012).
  • Lucy Bland, 'Purifying the World: Feminist Vigilantes in Victorian England', Women's History Review, 1992
  • Mike Brogden, 'The Emergence of the Police - The Colonial Dimension', British Journal of Criminology (1987), pp. 4-14.
  • Ian Channing, The Police and the Expansion of Public Order Law in Britain, 1829-2014 (London: Routledge, 2015).
  • P. Cohen, ‘Policing the Working-Class City’, in Bob Fine, Capitalism and the Rule of Law: From Deviancy Theory to Marxism
  • Clive Emsley, Crime and Society in England, chapter 9
  • Clive Emsley, The English Police: A Political and Social History 2nd edn (London: Routledge, 2014).
  • Emelyne Godfrey, 'Urban Heroes versus Folk Devils: Civilian Self Defence in London', Crime, History & Society, 14 (2010)
  • W. J. Lowe and E. I. Malcolm, 'The Domestication of the Royal Irish Constabulary, 1836-1922', The New Police in the Nineteenth Century (London: Routledge, 2011).
  • Haia Shpayer-Makov, 'From Menace to Celebrity: the English Police Detective and the Press, 1842-1914', Historical Research, 83 (2010)
  • Haia Shpayer-Makov, The Ascent of the Detective
  • J. McMullen, ‘Social Surveillance and the Rise of the Police Machine’, Theoretical Criminology, 2 (1998), pp. 93-117
  • Ruth Paley, ‘An Imperfect, Inadequate and Wretched System? Policing London before Peel’, Criminal Justice History, 10 (1989), pp. 95–130.
  • David Philips and Robert Storch, Policing provincial England, 1829-56
  • Carolyn Steedman, Policing the Victorian Community: the Formation of English Provincial Police Forces, 1856-80
  • R. Storch, ‘The Policeman as Domestic Missionary: Urban Discipline and Popular Culture in Northern England, 1850-1880’, Journal of Social History, 4 (1976)
  • Roger Swift, 'Urban policing in early Victorian England', History, 1988
  • David Taylor, Policing the Victorian Town
  • Chris A. Williams, ‘Policing the Populace: The road to professionalisation’, in David Nash and Anne-Marie Kilday (eds), Histories of Crime: Britain 1600-2000
  • Lucia Zedner, ‘Policing Before and After the Police: The Historical Antecedents of Contemporary Crime Control’, British Journal of Criminology, 46 (2006), pp. 78-96