175-year-old British police recruiting handbill gives one pause


British Conservative statesman Sir Robert Peel, Second Baronet (1788-1850), is responsible for the modern concept of the police force, according to Wikipedia. The terms “bobbies” in England and “Peelers” in Northern Ireland are derived from his names.

As home secretary in 1822, he introduced important reforms of British criminal law. He started the Metropolitan Police Force via the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829.

“He reformed criminal law, reducing the number of crimes punishable by death, and simplified it by repealing a large number of criminal statutes and consolidating their provisions into what are known as Peel’s Acts,” Wikipedia noted. While reforming the jail system, he introduced payment for jailers and education for inmates.


A British Bobby, circa 1839.

When Walla Wallan Lisa Anderson-Thornton opened her Oregon State Police Retired State Troopers Association bulletin, she came across a vintage police officer application directly connected to Peel.

“I want you for Peel’s Police c1839,” the handbill states.

Bearing in mind this was 175 years ago, these are the rates per week offered to candidates ages 23-40 years old: 17 shillings for a constable; £1.1 shilling for a sergeant; £3.10s for a superintendent; and £13.19s for a chief constable.

They would be required to work eight-, 10- or 12-hour shifts seven days per week.

“Every encouragement will be given to officers to grow beards as shaving is regarded as unhealthy. However, beards must not exceed two inches in length.”

Uniforms were required on and off duty “to prevent accusations of spying on the public whilst in ordinary clothes. A duty band will be worn to indicate whether or not you are on duty.”

The police couldn’t vote in elections, gossip with the public, walk or speak with comrades other than to exchange a word, then pass on, and while on duty were especially to “avoid conversations with female servants or other women.”

They would be expected to walk about 20 miles per shift without meal breaks, but would not be accorded rest days and would receive just one unpaid, weeklong holiday per year.

However, “the top hat may be used to hold a snack. You must inform the Superintendent before you associate, eat or drink with civilians. You are NOT allowed to sit down in public houses at any time.”

Candidates were recommended to bathe before “attending for medical examination and interview to join the police.”

And finally, “You must expect a hostile reception from all sections of the public and be prepared to be assaulted, stoned or stabbed in the course of your duties.”

According to paigntononline.com, Peel’s first 1,000 police began patrolling London streets on Sept. 29, 1829, wearing blue tailcoats and top hats. “The uniform was carefully selected to make the ‘Peelers’ look more like ordinary citizens, rather that a red-coated soldier with a helmet.”

They carried a pair of handcuffs, a wooden rattle to raise the alarm and a wooden club in a long pocket in the tail of their coat.

Strict rules stated they must be 6 feet tall (or as near as possible) and have no history of wrongdoings.

They became the model for the creation of all the provincial forces; first in London boroughs, then into counties and towns, after the County Police Act was passed in 1839.

“One early problem was the poor pay didn’t attract the best candidates.

“Of the first 3,247 men recruited in the first six months, no fewer than 1,644 (51 percent) were dismissed, the most common cause being for drunkenness. Of the first 2,800 new policemen, only 600 kept their jobs. The first policeman, given the number 1, was sacked after only four hours. (He was legless).”

Lisa, who retired in 2005 as a senior trooper, said “the Oregon State Police was not established until 1931, but Oregon became a state in 1859. So Oregon had a quite of bit of catching up to do.”

Lisa was on a rescue dive team and processed meth labs as a clandestine laboratory site safety officer, but mainly worked in the traffic division.


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