The face of British policing in 1800

Old soldiers didn’t die in Georgian London – they became Charlies. Allegedly these early police were named after the flamboyant monarch Charles II. Though they cut a rather more pathetic figure. Shabby old veterans given something to do and hardly up to the job of tackling your average London criminal.

A right Charlie - unlikely to be much use in a true crime situation

A right Charlie – unlikely to be much use in a true crime situation

These were watchmen who were supposed to protect Londoners against criminals on the dangerous streets. Only they weren’t very effective. This was before the modern police force was formed by Sir Robert Peel and Charlies gave way to Bobbies. The Charlie was more often than not a bit of an old codger with a rattle, a lantern and a long white pole they struck on the ground to mark the hours.

They had meeting points round the city and small watch-boxes. But their abilities were held in such low regard that the well-off would either take their valuables with them if they had to travel out of town or park their silverware with the bank. Others would carry a “robber’s purse” which was given up to their assailant to avoid being injured or worse in a struggle.

I’ve read one theory that the Charlies got their name in the reign of Charles II – I’m open to any information you have to support or rebut this.

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