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Sir Robert Peel founded the London police force

Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, Law, London on Monday, 30 April 2012

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This edited article about Sir Robert Peel originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 697 published on 24 May 1975.

A Peeler, picture, image, illustration

One of Robert Peel’s thief taker’s, known as peelers, by Peter Jackson

The Man who was to become the founder of the London police force was born in 1788, the grandson of a wealthy Lancashire cotton manufacturer.

Robert Peel was sent to Harrow School and Oxford University, where he showed a brilliant aptitude for both Latin, Greek and mathematics.

In 1809, Peel became a member of parliament and soon made a name for himself as an able and hardworking politician.

At the age of 24, he became Secretary for Ireland, a most responsible position at that time, for the country was in a very bad state of affairs. Peel would not support Catholic emancipation, which aimed at giving Irish Catholics the same rights as Protestants, and this made him unpopular in Ireland.

But Peel did better as Home Secretary in the Tory governments of Lord Liverpool and the Duke of Wellington.

In 1829 he founded the London Police Force and it is from Peel’s Christian name that policemen received their nickname of ‘bobbies’, although they were first known as ‘Peelers’.

Peel reformed the criminal law by reducing the number of crimes for which people could be hanged. He also sought to improve the conditions in the prisons.

It was during this time that he changed his policy about Ireland, and made a speech in the Commons in favour of Catholic emancipation. This made him unpopular in England, and also helped to break up the Tory party.

Peel built up a new party from the Tories which became the Conservative party and still exists today. He was Prime Minister for a short time in 1834, and may have been so again in 1839 if he had not upset Queen Victoria by suggesting that she gave up some of her ladies-in-waiting who belonged to the Whig party. This the queen refused to do.

When Peel became the Prime Minister again in 1841, he improved Britain’s financial affairs and repealed (cancelled) the Corn Laws which were preventing thousands of poor people from buying bread because of the high price of corn. This angered many Conservatives.

After the return of the Whigs to power in 1847, Peel gave them much support until his death on July 2nd, 1850, three days after falling from his horse on Constitution Hill in London.

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