How The London Police Work

To understand the police investigation into the Jack the Ripper crimes, it is essential to first understand how the Metropolitan Police of 1888 worked.

Thankfully, newspapers were quite intrigued by the police, and numerous articles were published that gave their readers some idea of the operational structure of the police force, as well as the sort of challenges that the officers faced on an almost daily basis.

The following article appeared in The Western Daily Press on Tuesday, 24 December, 1889, and – despite the fact it actually gave more information on how the criminals of London worked – it does give us an opportunity to gain some understanding into the inner working of and the challenges faced by those tasked with keeping London’s criminal underworld in check.


“Mr Tempest Clarkson (aided by a journalist, Mr. Richardson), in a book entitled “Police,” throws a good deal of light upon the burglar, the pickpocket, receiver, and other interesting criminals.

The following are some extracts from his book:-


There is at Scotland Yard a regular machinery for assisting the police. For instance, there is the “Information,” as it is called in London. The earliest edition is also termed the “Morning State.”

An “Information” is a list of persons whose apprehension is sought, together with the crimes that they have committed. Details are given of the property lost and found, persons missing and recovered, and animals which have strayed. The lists are compiled and printed at Great Scotland Yard, and are issued to every station in the Metropolitan and City Police districts four times a day.

The pawnbrokers’ list is also printed. To every pawnbroker and established secondhand goods dealer in the Metropolitan Police district is issued daily a list of all articles stolen or lost.


All burglaries, with few exceptions, have been “put up.” Weeks, and frequently months, have been spent before the “attack” has been made.

“If we had no receivers we should have no thieves.” These coadjutors of thieves are nearly always aware that a large robbery is being contemplated. To him are quickly handed the diamonds, plate, watches, and other valuables; he incurs a large amount of risk, and amply compensates himself by the terms on which he deals with the original thief.

It has been calculated that a burglar sells for £300 jewellery which had cost ten times that amount.

Once in his hands, the jewels are taken from their settings, which are melted down, the stones being reset.


Watch-stealers may either be “snatchers” or “hookers.”

“Snatchers”, who usually work in gangs of three or four, are the men who make a snatch for the watch and then bolt, leaving their confederates to impede chase.

The “hooker” has accomplices to warn him of the approach of a “tec.” His thefts are usually committed in a church where there is a fashionable crowd. If in a theatre, one man gets into conversation with the intended victim, another “covers” him, and the third keeps a “look-out,”

The hooker, having secured hold of the watch, detaches it from the chain, termed “a slang,” and passes it to his colleague, who hands it to the third man.

A silver watch is called a “white clock” and a gold one a “red clock.”

Common thieves, called among the criminal classes “gunners” and “grasshoppers,” sneak about, watching their opportunities to get up the “dancers” (stairs), and to “dig themselves away” –  namely, hide themselves under the mattress of a disused bed, or in the “cloud” (attic), until all is quiet.

Then they go carefully to work in “smelling” –  that is, examining the rooms while the inmates are asleep.

If the “Peter” (cash-box) can be found, that is at once appropriated, as also are the man’s strides (trousers) and anything else that can easily be removed.


“It is anything but pleasant,” says one police officer, “to be an officer in charge of cells when there is a number of drunken prisoners confined.

It is a Babel of sounds.

Some men swearing, singing, dancing, knocking, or making noisy appeals for liberty; while others are in fits, some are suffering from the effects of delirium tremens, whilst others are snoring, fast asleep, like pigs.

Sometimes the cell windows are instantly smashed and any damage done that the drunken mind can suggest.

Worn out by racket and noise, one by one the prisoners yield to the influence of sleep, or the doctor may have to inject morphia to compose the nerves of the sufferer from delirium tremens.”