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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914

Everyday Life

Law and Order

By Alistair L Goldsmith

Govan Police Force By the 1830s the Glasgow Police covered Calton, Gorbals and Anderston as well as the city itself. As well as maintaining law and order, their responsibilities included ensuring the streets were cleaned. In 1846 responsibility for the police passed from a separate police commission to the town council. From 233 officers in 1833, the force grew to 523 in 1848, and to 1,996 by 1914. Between the 1830s and the 1890s the proportion of the police who were from the Highlands increased, but contrary to popular folklore at no time consisted of much more than a third of the force.

Alexander McCall Levels of crime rose from the start of the 19th century, peaking in the third quarter and gradually falling. Arguments continue as to the reasons for this since criminal statistics are notoriously difficult to analyse and compare and were often collected in a haphazard way. A system of criminal investigation began in 1819 with the appointment of the first detective officer, but it was not until 1848 that a detective department within the police force was established. Forensic investigation became increasingly sophisticated throughout the period with the use of photography from 1860 and fingerprinting from 1904.

City Views Murders were rare with many years having none recorded. A rise in offences against property, burglary and theft was often blamed on economic depression, but there is little evidence to show such a link. In the mid-19th century in particular, much effort was devoted to moral policing against drunkenness and prostitution. Juvenile crime also caused panics from time to time and, by the 1860s, Glasgow had four reformatories and four industrial schools for the delinquent young. The first probation officers, including one woman, were introduced in 1905.

May Day 1913 During the period the police had to learn to cope with ever-larger crowds gathered either for pleasure or demonstration. Political gatherings in the 1830s and 1840s passed peacefully, but the police were quickly withdrawn from the riot that broke out in 1848 among unemployed weavers and the restoration of order was left to the military. An attempt to arrest Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragette, in St Andrew's Halls in 1914 also ended disastrously and resulted in much brutality against the women in the audience. At other times sectarian conflict led to serious melees, but after 1848 incidents resulting in serious breakdown in public order were few.

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