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We Are Not Amused V

20 May 2014

Guest blogger Dr Nick Hervey continues to examine the role of the police in Victorian-era royal protection.

The ease with which Jones and Cotton had entered Buckingham Palace prompted a keener awareness of the need for strict security, and gave Prince Albert an excuse to reform the disorganised management of the Royal Household. In the late 1830s there were three groups directly involved in Palace security. Sentinels were provided by whichever regiment was responsible for guard duty, the Palace had its own liveried porters and the local police provided a regular corps of constables, supervised by a duty Inspector. These men came from ‘A’ Division’s Station House in Gardener's Lane, and were known as the Palace Police Force. However it was not until after John Francis's attempt on the Queen's life in 1842, that The Times reported the Commissioners of Police were enforcing stringent precautions to prevent further intruders. At 10pm when the liveried porters went off duty at the Lodges, they were relieved by night porters. Also a strong party of constables from ‘A’ Division was always to be on duty in the Palace at night, patrolling the corridors, colonnades etc., and one plain clothes man was placed at the tradesmens’ entrance in Pimlico to monitor ingress and egress at the gate.1

This increase in security prevented all subsequent intruders from actually entering the Palace, apart from Alfred Robinson in 1843.2However this success owed as much to external, as it did to internal, developments. In 1840 after Edward Oxford discharged two loaded pistols at the Queen in Green Park, the Police decided to have a man permanently placed in the Royal Parks when Victoria took her carriage rides. Until this time virtually anyone in the park, could approach the monarch during these regular public appearances, and indeed after Oxford's attempt The Sun reported that ‘every horseman in the Park then accompanied’ the Queen on her return journey to the Palace in what rapidly turned into, ‘a glorious cavalcade’.3 Clearly, then, there were sufficient people in the park for an assassin to go quite unnoticed. Before this, in 1838 and 1839, Captain Goode and Henry Hayward had both been able to approach the Queen, one using obscene language, and the other grabbing the bridle of her horse, before being apprehended.4 After 1840 the Police increasingly pre-empted possible violent incidents in the vicinity of the Palace, by arresting people who were acting in a disturbed manner. However the price paid for Victoria's increased safety was a less accessible monarch.5

Royal security, and indeed the safety of other important public figures, extended well beyond the patrolling of royal buildings. The police monitored the activities of a number of people who were thought to constitute a potential threat. In 1841, for example, they kept track of six men who had all either written offensive letters to the Queen, or visited places which she frequented. One, a Mr Peters, seems to have put a stop to his contact following Victoria’s marriage, and another was evidently felt to be less of a risk after his father, who lived in Edinburgh, took responsibility for him. With a third, Mr Holmes, the Police made inquiries and having discovered that he frequented the American Coffee House in Worship Street, they kept watch on him there.6

A system such as this, had it been in place at the beginning of the century, might have saved the life of Spencer Perceval, the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated. His muderer, John Bellingham, had made numerous approaches to people in Government to redress a set of wrongs he felt he had been exposed to whilst a merchant in Russia, but he had been studiously ignored and seen as a harmless nuisance.7

 LDBTH7.1-John Bellingham (1812) b

To be continued…


1 Prince Albert’s reforms were carried out in 1846. Before this there was a very confusing division of responsibilities within Royal Palaces between the Lord Steward, Lord Chamberlain and the Master of the Horse who were political appointees and therefore changed with succeeding governments. Some areas of the Palace i.e. the kitchens, sculleries and pantries were not easily identifiable as any one person’s responsibility, and there were frequent demarcation disputes between the different departments. Often there was no-one to greet the Queen’s guests and show them to their apartments. For information about the Police within the Palace see The Times, 24 Jun 1842, p.6.

2 MEPOL2/44 Case No.35, Alfred Robinson was a 30 year old saddler from Watford. He had already been in prison for writing indecent letters to different ladies of distinction, and was found to be clearly insane. He was admitted to Hanwell on 30 Jun 1843 and on 9 Aug was transferred to Bedford County Asylum (see London Metropolitan Archives, Middlesex County Asylum Archives, Hanwell Records, H11/HLL/B3/2 Admission Registers, Admission No.1260. Also H11/HLL/B9/1, Discharge Book, discharge from signed on 24 Jul 1843). Shortly afterwards, Palace security was tightened. Francis Jefferson was picked up outside the Palace with a knife saying he wanted to protect the Queen. He was admitted to St Martin’s Workhouse, Castle Street, and discharged to relatives six days later (Westminster Record Office, Castle Street Workhouse Admission and Discharge Register 1837-48, X20/375 and 376). On 18 Mar 1843 John Edward Freak, a 28 year old sea captain from Dunbar, Scotland tried to force his way into the Palace. He was sent to ward F in St Martin’s and was subsequently committed to Hanwell where he stayed until 27 Sep 1843 when he was discharged cured (see St Martin’s Records, X20/375 and 376. Also Hanwell Records, H11/HLL/B3/2 Admission No.1241). Other Palaces remained less secure though. Both Windsor Castle and St James’s continued to be penetrated. See MEPOL2/44, cases No.40 W J Kilburn and No. 60 E S D Brooks.

3 MEPOL3/17 File on Edward Oxford for letter concerning the Police decision. The Sun Evening Edition, 11 Jun 1840.

4 Goode was sent to Fort Clarence, Chatham, the Military Asylum after his case was tried at Queen’s Bench. Hayward stayed in Bethlem until his death in 1889.

5 For example MEPOL2/44, cases No.24 Charles Mann, 25 Francis Jefferson, 29 George Poole, 32 Jouhn Cousins, 41 William Lardner, 42 Bethesda Clarke, 47 John Adam Milbeck, 48 Robert Wilson, 49 John Frith.

6 MEPOL2/44, Cases 18-23. The other three were Leigh Nessen, Frederick Bull and Jonathan Childe. Dr Duncan, who sat on the Board which heard Childe’s case, was also the owner of Farnham House, a private asylum in Dublin.

7 For details of Spencer Perceval’s assassination, see, Linklater A, Why Spencer Perceval had to Die: the Assassination of a British Prime Minister (Bloomsbury, 2012).

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