Rowan, Sir Charles, KCB (ca. 1782-1852), and Mayne, Sir Richard, KCB (1796-1868).

The two founding commissioners of the Metropolitan Police were deliberately chosen for their differences. Sir Charles Rowan was a military man born in Ulster who had been wounded at Waterloo in 1815, for which service he was created Companion of the Bath. Sir Richard Mayne, born in Dublin and fourteen years Rowan’s junior, was a lawyer who had been called to the bar and was practicing on the Northern Circuit. Home Secretary Robert Peel’s (1778-1850) design was to unite a military man ”of great energy, great activity both of body and mind” with ”a sensible lawyer” and give them the freedom to fashion a professionalized, permanent police force for the capital (Critchley 1977, 88). Others deliberated and refused before Rowan and Mayne accepted the appointments in 1829; Mayne, at thirty-three, becoming the force’s youngest commissioner to this day. Both would make the Police of the Metropolis their life’s work, and both would see elevation to the status of Knights Commander of the Bath for this service before their deaths.

Rowan and Mayne were first introduced by Peel on July 6, 1829, and were entrusted with making his vision a reality. The establishment of a permanent police force in London presented Peel and the commissioners with substantial political challenges, however. Widespread suspicion among political elites that the establishment of a professional police force would amount to the introduction of tyranny to England presented a serious ideological obstacle. The idea had been proposed and dismissed twice before as recently as 1818 and 1822. The spectacle of espionage and oppression under the auspices of police in France and Prussia were alarming enough to cause the House of Commons to accept in 1818 that such a proposal would ”of necessity be odious and repulsive” (Tobias 1975, 98). As The Standard would protest shortly after the force’s establishment, ”The thing is not—never was English” (Elmsley 1983, 59).

Peel’s great achievement was to describe a model of policing that did not appear incompatible with the unspoken principles of English liberty. At the same time, the establishment of the police formed an important component of a broader plan to overhaul the ”bloody code.” The Metropolitan Police were but one component of Peel’s commitment to a preventive, rather than a harshly punitive, solution to crime. ”I want to teach people,” he would write, ”that liberty does not consist in having your house robbed by organized gangs of thieves, and in leaving the principal streets of London in the nightly possession of drunken women and vagabonds” (Tobias 1975, 100).

The 1829 Police Act, which created the positions of the two commissioners, did not specify how the force was to be organized. That task fell directly on the shoulders of the two men. As Mayne himself would remark before a parliamentary committee in 1834, ”[e]verything that has been done since the commencement has originated with the Commissioners; the whole of the organization has been made by them alone” (Critchley 1977, 89).

The operation was performed with astonishing speed. By the end of July, they had been allocated office space at 4 Whitehall Place, backing onto Great Scotland Yard, where they would form a headquarters. Men were recruited, equipment purchased, and a detailed General Instruction topic drafted that included a description of the intended organizational structure of the force and the legal status and responsibilities of the constable. On August 29 Rowan and Mayne were sworn in as magistrates, and on September 16 they personally swore in their fledgling force of 1,011 men.

Each man was required to be more than five feet seven inches tall, strong, in good health, and under age thirty-five, though it appears some were older. Strict rules of behavior, designed in part to distinguish this new force from the notoriously corrupt and patchy provision provided by nightwatchmen and others, applied to constables whether on or off duty. Swift and summary dismissals for drunkenness or absenteeism would help to ensure that by the time the force was two years old no fewer than half of its recruits had been discharged. A new uniform, carefully designed to appear civilian and nonmilitary in nature, was issued to each man every year, and wages were a guinea a week.

The organizational scheme for the new police was Rowan’s creation. Applying his military experience to the task of establishing a highly visible patrol presence on the streets of the capital, he conceived a system of “beats” to which constables could be assigned and which they would patrol at regular intervals. Though military nomenclature was in the main avoided, the seven-square-mile area under the force’s purview was parceled into “divisions,” to each of which was allocated a “company” of men, headed by a “superintendent.” Standard-issue wooden rattles ensured constables could call for help at a moment’s notice.

The high standards of accountability and behavior to which constables were subject were stressed in Rowan and Mayne’s instructions. A constable was “not to interfere idly or unnecessarily in order to make a display of his authority.” Rather, he would act “with decision and boldness” only when required, and in doing so “may expect to receive the fullest support in the proper exercise of his authority” (Critchley 1977,91).

If traditional English liberties and due process of law were not enough to govern the constables’ discretion, Mayne’s legal perspective added prudential reasons for circumspection. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, he stressed, English constables could be held personally liable for acts committed in their respective public capacities. If suspected of corruption, they did not have the luxury of immunity against being hauled before a court in either civil or criminal actions.

The new force, dubbed “Peel’s private army” and ”Bobbies” by detractors, evolved in an uncertain political atmosphere. Criticism continued well beyond the early days and was inevitably at its strongest when the police faced large-scale public order challenges. Mayne had his resignation refused at least twice late in his career following particularly visible blunders surrounding the 1866 Hyde Park riot and the Clerkenwell bombing the subsequent year.

The original emphasis on public visibility, with its appearance both of moral transparency and of effective deterrence, however, were never lost, and helped to ensure the Metropolitan Police’s survival beyond its modest beginnings. Rowan retired in 1850 and died in 1852 at his home in Park Lane. By the time of Mayne’s death in 1868 he was the sole commissioner at the head of a force of almost eight thousand men, whose geographical remit had increased tenfold. In addition, the capital had become a model for policing that had been adopted by counties across the entire country. Had it not been for Peel’s decision to combine military know-how with legal continence, this vision of policing in a liberal democracy may never quite have been born.

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