Constabulary Duties

Finlay McKichan uncovers what life was like for police constabularies a century ago.

It was in 1880 that the policemen in The Pirates of Penzance first sang in doleful tones that 'a policeman's lot is not a happy one'. The full-time professional policeman was still, a century ago, something of a novelty in Britain and was very much in the public eye. He had trodden the streets of London since 1829 and had appeared gradually in counties and large towns in the first half of the nineteenth century, but not until 1857 was the appointment of such men compulsory in every town and county in the Kingdom. The policeman was still very much a talking point in the 1880s, as the traffic warden has become in the last twenty years. He was lampooned in Punch and became the subject of comment in every newspaper in the land. By no means everyone shared W. S. Gilbert's belief that his lot was a hard one. It was a common complaint among ratepayers that the policeman sauntered around with clean hands and a straight back at their expense, while other labouring men had to earn their wages by constant toil.

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