© British Library Board
'I didn’t get much hurt,' says an anonymous police constable in the article accompanying this illustration. 'I lost my helmet and my lantern and got my shins kicked – but then we’re used to that'. He describes intervening in a fight between brothers in Pearl Street in Wapping, East London. 'No sooner did the other brother see both my hands busy than he came straight for me with a knife. I let go my right hand and got at my truncheon and fetched him one with it right on his head'.
The Metropolitan Police Force of London was established in 1829 after a 17-year-debate on how best to control and protect the growing urban population. In the time the debate took to conclude, various social problems such as overcrowding and petty crime only grew in frequency and severity. The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 undertook to combine into one service the various parish-by-parish forces that had operated until then. It also undertook to professionalise policing and pay constables a wage (rather than relying on unpaid volunteers). Within 18 months, the new police force had 3,200 members patrolling London in their distinctive blue uniforms. As this illustration and its accompanying text show, the police were not always popular – being held by many among the working class to be little short of a civilian army controlled by local government.