Joanne Klein

The Life of a “Bobby”: The History of the English Police Constable

Unlike policemen portrayed in detective fiction, the daily life of English police constables was rarely glamorous. Their work was routine, repetitive, and occasionally farcical, punctuated by emergencies and rescues. This talk uses information from extensive police records to recreate the experiences of ordinary English policemen from 1900-1939, a time when constables still walked their beats looking out for lawbreaking and citizens in distress. Over these four decades, their lives changed, with motor vehicles, telephones and police boxes undermining the traditional beats. Yet despite their humble positions, the “bobbies” defined policing at its most basic level, enforcing the law on their own terms in ways that may have surprised government lawmakers.