Hungerford Stairs, c.1822
1830 was the first full year that the Metropolitan Police patrolled the streets of the capital. They received a mixed reception and often concentrated on the sorts of offences that were easy to clear up, as this made it easier to justify the ratepayers’ expense in paying for them. This involved policing street crime (pickpockets, shoplifters, robberies) as well as moving on traders, vagrants and beggars, drunks and gamblers, and keeping an eye on licensed premises (pubs and beer shops for example) to ensure they were were training out of hours or illegally.
Sometimes they took proactive action, watching public houses and even donning plain clothes to catch out unsuspecting landlords; on other occasions they relied on tips off from the public or informers, or simply reacted to complaints.
In May 1830 a Thames waterman had lost his apprentice. The lad had gone out and not come back but the master had a pretty good idea where to look. He made his way over, at three in the morning, to the Cannon public house, by Hungerford Stairs. There he found his apprentices and another boy ‘playing at cards, and in a state of intoxication’.
He collared them, dragged them home and, on the next day, brought them before Mr Minshull the Police magistrate at Bow Street.
The waterman said that the Cannon was notorious for being open all night but when he’d companied to the landlord there about allowing the two apprentices to drink and gamble he’d got short shrift.
The landlord said he ‘did not care a d____ who came to his house so long as they spent plenty of money‘.
The magistrate told the boys the off and warned them to behave in the future, and then discharged them into the care of the two watermen they were apprenticed too. If they hadn’t been disciplined already they could expect a thrashing when they got home. As for the landlord well Mr Minshull was determined he wouldn’t escape the law and so he instructed the New Police to investigate. It was against the terms of the Police Act for the landlord to suffer ‘card playing and other prohibited games’ in his house and he could expect the ‘heaviest penalty’ if prosecuted.
Following this the superintendent of police appeared to request and receive permission to prosecute seven similar establishments for breaches of their licenses. They could all expect large fines and regular visits from the police.
Not surprisingly then the relationship between the police and the landlords of the city got off to a bad start from the New Police’s inception and didn’t improve much thereafter. Some police could be bribed to turn a blind eye, others probably thought there were bigger fish to fry and found pubs a useful source of information. Others were incorruptible. Either way, pubs were ‘easy pickings’ for a new police force determined to prove its value to the community it served.
[From The Morning Post, Wednesday, May 05, 1830]