Attacks On London Police

Sir Edmund Yeamans Walcott Henderson (1821 – 1896) was the Metropolitan Police Commissioner from 1869 to 1886.

On his appointment to the post, he instantly won over the rank and file officers of the force by abolishing many of the petty regulations that had been imposed by his predecessors.

For example, it was under his tenure that constables were allowed to grow facial hair for the first time, and they were also allowed to vote, something they had been forbidden to do, owing to regulations which forbade policemen to become involved in any sort of political activity.

On the streets, he enabled the spreading of constables more widely, by instigating a fixed point system; he improved the literacy of his men by introducing Schoolmaster Sergeants, and he increased the number of Detectives on the force to more than two hundred men.

A portrait of Sir Edmund Henderson.
Sir Edmund Henderson, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, 1869 to 1886.


Unfortunately, owing to his mishandling of the Trafalgar Square riot , in February 1886, he was forced to tender his resignation, at which point he was replaced as Commissioner by Sir Charles Warren.

However, the reforms he introduced were popular with his men; and the force during his tenure certainly attracted complimentary comments from some pretty influential people on the world stage, as is demonstrated by the following article, which appeared in The Southern Reporter on Thursday 30th August, 1877.

Interestingly, the article, which is mentioning Henderson’s Commissioner’s report on the policing of London in 1876, also provides details of the difficult, not to say dangerous, job that many of the Metropolitan Police officers were tasked with doing, as they tried to maintain order on the streets of the Victorian Metropolis.

The article read:-


“We are given to grumble that the police are too frequently out of sight; but just now noone can deny that they are occupying a conspicuous position in the public eye.

Indeed, however distasteful, the subject of “Bobbies” may be said just now to be in everyone’s mouth, Colonel Henderson’s report will, therefore, be read with unwonted interest.


It appears that considerably fewer men have been dismissed from the force during the past year than usual.

Unless, however, public suspicion is very pleasantly disappointed, it may be anticipated that the expulsions of the now current year will more than restore the average.


The Shah of Persia was evidently impressed with the dignity of the police during his visit to this country, and in his published notes he remarks that great authority is committed to these officers.

“Anyone,” he says, who acts disrespectfully towards them is deemed worthy of death.”


I do not know what jocular aristocrat or what bored interpreter imposed upon the worthy Oriental’s credulity by this single summary of the penalties ensuing upon such as make a mock of the police.

But the roughs of London evidently have very different ideas concerning the sanctity of their person.


Nearly three thousand cases have occurred during the year in which the London police have been seriously assaulted.

That is to say, every night on the average about eight policemen received injuries in the execution of their duties.

And if these injuries were continued and equally distributed, each member of the force would be wounded once in every three years.”