A Drunken Constable

Although the officers of the Victorian Metropolitan Police Force were expected to adhere to the highest standards of behaviour every so often a police constable appears in the newspapers of the age for having succumbed to temptation; and, in so doing, bringing the uniform he wore, not to mention the force he served,  into extreme disrepute.

Cases such as the Constable Brady case, and the Miss Cass case, certainly served to show the officers of the Capital’s Police force in a distinctly unflattering light; whilst the handling of the  Bloody Sunday melee, of November 13th, 1887, had led to a huge amount of criticism of the police in general, and of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren, in particular.


A common reason for individual police officer being reprimanded by their superiors, and being dismissed from the force, was the offence of being drunk on duty.

Indeed, for a constable, patrolling the streets of London in the early hours of the morning, the temptation of becoming “acquainted” with the public houses on their beat, or giving in to the temptation of accepting an alcoholic beverage that was being offered to them by some well-meaning – or, on occasion, ill-meaning – local citizen sometimes proved too much of a temptation to resist.

A group of constables enjoying a drink.
Constables Drinking In A Police Recreation Room. From Judy Magazine, June 17th, 1868.


One such case was reported in The Morning Post, in its edition of Saturday 30th of May, 1874.

The article is of interest for several reasons.

Firstly, the constable’s superior officer was Chief Inspector Thomas Arnold, who would go on to play a prominent role in the investigation into the Jack the Ripper crimes fourteen years later as Superintendent Arnold.

Secondly, there is the fact that Arnold seems to have counselled leniency towards the offending officer.

Indeed, he seems to have almost absolved his underling of any blame for the offence, and even went so far as to suggest that the person who gave him the alcohol was more at fault!

The article read:-


“Archibald Small, a police constable, 253 B, was charged on remand on a warrant with a violation of duty as a constable in being drunk on his beat at St. Margaret’s, Westminster.

It appeared that the defendant went on duty at ten o’clock on Wednesday evening, and at a quarter to one the next morning he was seen sober on his beat by Sergeant Pearce, 24 B, and shortly after one of the sergeants missed him; nothing more was heard of him till the landlady of No. 12, Charlotte-street, sent for the police, and it appeared that at one o’clock, or a little after, one of her lodgers and the constable were drinking downstairs; they were quiet, but at half-past three she was awakened and found they were drunk; she requested the defendant to leave, but he did not do so, and she caused the sergeant to be fetched.


Sergeant Pearce told the defendant to accompany him to the station and he did so, but, at the door, he ran away, and after some difficulty, during which he was very violent, he was conveyed to the station.


Defendant said he was very sorry; he had had some champagne and brandy, and it overcame him; he would inevitably lose his situation and had a young wife and child.


In reply to the magistrates, Chief-Inspector Arnold said that the defendant had been four and a half years in the police, and there were three reports against him for drunkenness, but at the same time he had been commended twice as well as being recommended by the commissioner.

He was a good constable, and his only fault was taking too much to drink.

Defendant’s landlord gave him an excellent character.


Mr. Arnold considered the conduct of the person who gave him the drink and took him off his beat disgraceful and discreditable in the highest degree.

He had exposed him to temptation which would result in his character as a constable being ruined, and rendering him liable to a very severe penalty and certain dismissal; and, morally speaking, he was worse than the constable, although the law might not be able to touch him.


With regard to the defendant, he had had opportunities of seeing his demeanour in the witness box, and found that he had always given his evidence candidly and fairly, and had conducted himself well as a constable, but on the present occasion his conduct had been very bad indeed; he had not only neglected his beat for a great length of time and gone into a house, but he had got so drunk that he was perfectly incompetent to perform his duty as a constable.

Giving him the benefit of his having been rewarded in the police, he should fine him £4. or one month [in prison].

The fine was paid.”