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We Are Not Amused V

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

Ldbth7 1 John Bellingham 1812 B
LDBTH7.1-John Bellingham (1812) b

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

To be continued…