Henry Fielding – Chief Magistrate

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Henry Fielding – Chief Magistrate

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Henry Fielding – Chief Magistrate

The first serious attempt to tackle crime in London’s streets was the result of the work of two half-brothers, Henry and John Fielding.

In 1748 Henry Fielding was appointed Chief Magistrate at Bow Street in London.

Henry made a careful study of the causes of crime and he identified several problems:

Too many people were moving to London expecting an easy life; they were disappointed

People chose crime rather than hard work

Constables were mostly useless and he considered only 6 of the 80 in London worthy of a job

He started to keep records of crimes. He started a magazine called

The Covent-Garden Journal

to pass on information about crimes and criminals.


The Bow Street RunnersHenry Fielding established a new force of six law officers to act as full-time runners or thief-takers.He paid them a guinea a week each , together with a share of the reward money for each criminal successfully prosecuted. He trained these men in the proper duties of a constable until they were efficient and reliable. They were known at the beginning as ‘Mr Fielding’s people’ but later in the century they became known as the Bow Street Runners.To begin with the officers did not wear any uniform. They were able to blend in on the streets. The force was small but it was organised. Their motto was:‘Quick notice and sudden pursuit’When told of crimes, the Bow Street Runners were instantly ready to hunt down criminals.


After 3 years’ hard work at Bow Street, Henry Fielding’s health was failing. His half-brother, John Fielding, was appointed to assist him.John Fielding had been blinded in an accident when he was 19 but he was a very able magistrate. He served at Bow Street for 26 years. He was nick-named the Blind Beak and it was said that his hearing was so sharp he could recognise over 3,000 thieves by their voices alone.He refined the Bow Street runners into the first truly effective police force for the capital city. In 1763 he was granted £600 by the government to establish a Bow Street Horse patrol of 8 men. By 1764 they had virtually put an end to highway robbery on the main roads into London, so the patrol was disbanded.In 1786 he took charge of a weekly newspaper which he called The Public Hue and Cry. This continued the tradition of calling upon the public to help chase and catch criminals.

Sir John Fielding

He was knighted by the government for creating a paid force of police officers to protect individuals and keep the peace


The work of the Fielding brothers inspired others:

In 1792 the government passed the Middlesex Justices Act, which extended the Bow Street scheme by funding 7 other magistrates in the London area, each with 6 full-time constables to combat crime.

In 1798 the Thames River Police was et up to prevent thefts from ships and docks. In the first year they recovered £122,000 of stolen property from criminals.

By 1800 there were 68 Bow Street Runners

In 1805 a horse patrol of 54 officers was established. They were armed with swords, truncheons and pistols. They patrolled the main highways into London. They became known as ‘robin red-


’ because of their red waistcoats.

By 1829 London had 450 constables and 4,000 watchmen to look after a population of 1.5 million people.

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