Detection in England from Bow Street to the Met

English Legal History

Detectives have had a special niche in popular culture for many years. Beginning in the nineteenth century with the works of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins and followed later in the century by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, detectives captured the nineteenth-century imagination. Today, crime novels, although still popular, have been supplanted by serialized crime dramas like the CSI and Law & Order franchises, and more recently by the revived Sherlock series and Luther. But where does this fascination with detection come from? Some have argued that the Victorians (and it certainly didn’t stop with them) had a keen enthusiasm for the macabre, whether it be executions, murders or other salacious tales of malice.[1] But it was not only the crimes that made headlines, it was the men who investigated them: professional detectives.

Formal detection in England began in mid-eighteenth century London with the Bow Street Runners. Begun by…

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