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Part 1: Issues for 1866-1878, 1882-1897 and 1899-1900 from the Cambridgeshire Police Archive

Editorial Introduction by Les Waters, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Div. HQ, Cambridge

The Police Gazette of today originates from the work of Henry and John Fielding in the 18th Century.

Henry Fielding set up his office in Bow Street as a Justice of the Peace for Westminster and Justice for Middlesex in 1748. Within a relatively short time as he started to develop his ideas Henry Fielding realized the potential benefits to law enforcement of a) Public Advertising and b) Communications with other Justices elsewhere in the country.

In 1752 in his own publication, the Covent Garden Journal, Henry Fielding regularly advertised the activities of his court at Bow Street inviting the victims of Crime to contact him with their complaints. When he ceased publishing the Covent Garden Journal, similar advertisements appeared regularly in one of the most popular newspapers of the day, the Public Advertiser.

Henry’s half brother, John Fielding, became a Magistrate for Westminster in 1751. Henry’s health started to fade during 1753 and by April 1754 John Fielding had taken over Henry Fielding’s work at Bow Street. The following is the detail of an advertisement which regularly appeared in the Public Advertiser from October 17th, 1754 and which set the scene for the foundation of the Police Gazette.

“Whereas many thieves and robbers daily escape justice for want of immediate pursuit, it is therefore recommended to all streets, or whose shops or houses shall be broken open, that they give immediate notice thereof, together with as accurate description of the offenders as possible, to JOHN FIELDING, Esq; at his house in Bow Street, Covent Garden: By which means, joined to an advertisement, containing an account of the things lost (which is also taken in there) thieves and robbers will seldom escape; as most of the principal pawnbrokers taking this paper, and by the intelligence they get from it assist daily in discovering and apprehending rogues. And if they would send a special message on these occasions, Mr Fielding would not only pay that messenger for his trouble, but would immediately despatch a set of brave fellows in pursuit, who have been long engaged for such purposes, and are always ready to set out to any part of this town or Kingdom, on a quarter of an hours notice.

It is hoped that the late success of this plan will make all persons for the future industrious to give the earliest notice possible of all robberies and robbers whatever.”

Sir John Fielding’s Plan

In his “Plan of Police” Sir John Fielding (as he then was) during the period 1761-1763 proposed:

“that a paper he established by law in which everything relative to the discovery of the offenders should be advertised and that all persons be bound to take notice of whatever is advertised therein; and if they have purchased or taken into pawn any stolen goods therein described to give information thereof to one of the commissioners, otherwise to be liable to be prosecuted as the receiver of them: and that all persons who knowingly harbour or assist the offenders to escape should be liable to a penalty to belevied by any two of the said Commissioners and, if a publican, to forfeit his licence for three year.”

John Fielding’s “Plan of Police” was not adopted but nevertheless he continued to exploit the medium of advertising for the purpose of justice. In 1771 John Fielding was involved in one notorious case which demonstrated the value of advertising. A robbery and murder had taken place in the Kings Road, Chelsea and a gang of several Jews were suspected of the crime. The crime aroused strong public feelings at that time and John Fielding was in charge of the enquiry and promptly issued and circulated a handbill seeking information to trace the offenders and setting out the rewards available to an informant. After this circulation and advertisements in the London Gazette, one member of the gang turned King’s Evidence and gave Fielding a description of the remaining offenders. Fielding then promptly circulated the description of the remainder of the gang to Post Office Officials of Custom and Excise throughout the country distributing great numbers of printed advertisements to be prominently displayed. This action obviously fuelled anti-semitic prejudices of the time and suspicious looking Jews were arrested in a number of towns. However the desired result was also achieved and four principal members of the gang were arrested in Birmingham and brought back to London by “Mr. Fielding’s people.” Subsequently six of the gang were tried at the Old Bailey and four were condemned to death and executed in front of the crowd “greater than at an execution within the memory of man”.

The Quarterly and Weekly Pursuit

Sir John Fielding was by this time intent on the publication of the Police advertising periodical and used the success of the Chelsea outrage to attempt to persuade the government to set up such a publication. His efforts met with little immediate success and so it appears that he commenced a limited publication on his own account. In circular to Mayors and Chief Magistrates in 1772 and 1773, Sir John stated that it was his intention to circulate throughout the country each quarter details of felons who fled from the Metropolis. It was his hope that these would be republished in each locality and copies given to Constables and copies displayed in prominent public places. Sir John also proposed sending a newspaper gratis every week to the Mayors and Chief Magistrates containing advertisements relating to offences and containing advertisements relating to offences and offenders Persons connected with law enforcement were invited to ensue that details of offences were properly transmitted to Bow Street. These publications were known as the Quarterly Pursuit and the Weekly Pursuit.

These publications met with some success and in 1773 Sir John was urging Lord Suffolk to put his plan on a proper footing with public funds in the order of 400 per year. Ultimately this had the desired effect and on 26th August 1773, Sir John Fielding wrote of an audience that day with Lord North who advised him that the general preventive plan had been represented to His Majesty “who had been graciously pleased to afford it his loyal countenance”.

The Public Hue and Cry and Police Gazette

Six years after Sir John Fielding’s death in 1786 his successor, Sir Samson Wright, converted the weekly pursuit into a more newspaper like affair and changed the title to Public Hue and Cry. By 1795 the title had changed again to The Hue and Cry and Police Gazette by this time the periodical was published every Saturday and was publicly available at the price of 3d.

The Gazette is mentioned in the evidence given to the Committee appointed to enquire into the state of the Police of the Metropolis which reported of 1st July, 1816. The then Chief Magistrate at Bow Street, Sir Nathaniel Conant stated that the Gazette was set to all Magistrates in the kingdom who desired it and to the Clerk of the Peace of the Counties and Mayors and functionaries of the great towns. The Gazette was under the control of an Editor appointed by the Secretary of State. The Editor at that time was John Stafford, the Chief Clerk at Bow Street. Sir Nathaniel Conant revealed that the Editor had considerable discretion as to the contents of the Gazette which included the acceptance of paid private advertisements. The receipts from this income went towards the printing charges and the Editor received £70 per year as salary for this function. The Gazette was sent free to those official recipients listed above.

The Police Gazette

In 1828 the name of the periodical was shortened to The Police Gazette. On 20th March, 1835 a return was placed before the House of Commons showing the costs in each of the previous five years of printing and circulating The Police Gazette, John Stafford remained the Editor receiving an allowance at that time of £100 per annum. The following table shows the cost in each year for printing and circulating The Gazette and the numbers printed and circulated.

Cost (£)
Numbers Printed

The return shows that The Gazette was then circulated to the Mayors and Principal Officers of every city and town in the Kingdom, to Justices of the Peace in Petty Sessions assembled or their clerks, Keepers of Jails and Houses of Correction, the Metropolitan Police, the War Office, Horse Patrol, Police Offices, the Commanding Officers of each Regiment and to several military depots in Great British and Ireland. There was obviously even at this time some confusion over the title of the publication as the return to the House of Commons includes the footnote that The Police Gazette and The Hue and Cry are one and the same publication. The return to the House of Commons suggests that circulation was by this time restricted to official agencies of law enforcement. This may not have been strictly the case as an item from Cambridge Chronicle of the 2nd September 1836 relating to a robbery at Mildenhall in Suffolk commences: “Information was on Monday published in the government Hue and Cry of the following robbery ….”

The Gazette continued to be issued by the Chief Clerk at Bow Street long after the establishment of the Metropolitan Police. The Criminal Record Office at Scotland Yard was established in 1880 following from the Commissioner’s records kept in accordance with the Prevention of Crimes Act 1871. In 1883 the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police took over responsibility for the production of The Police Gazette and from this time some illustrations started to appear in the text. By the 1890’s occasional illustrated circulars supplemented The Police Gazette and from these sprang various supplements to The Gazette in the 20th Century. By 1914, the Gazette was being issued on a daily rather than a weekly basis.

By 1936 the Commissioner was able to report that The Police Gazette was edited in the Criminal Record Office and Information received in the morning appears in print the same day and is in the hands of the Forces the same evening or by first post the next morning. The Commissioner stated that the Criminal Record Office were prepared to supply gratis to all forces sufficient copies to enable every police station or constable’s cottage used as a station to receive one. By this time there were six supplements to the Gazette. These were:-

Supplement A - Issued fortnightly – details of active travelling criminals;

Supplement B - Issued weekly – convicts on licence, etc

Supplement C - Aliens wanted for crime and alien offences;

Supplement D - Absentees/deserters;

Supplement E - (Commenced 1933) photographs of Active criminals not sufficiently important to be included in Supplement A.

Supplement F - Deaths and re-convictions of criminals previously circulated.

Since 1772, this periodical has contained detailed information relating to crime, criminals and police officers throughout England and Wales. It contains a wealth of information of interest to police and local historians and is a virtually untapped source. No one record office, library of museum contains a complete run of this periodical. The Committee of the Police History Society recognises the value of the Gazette and is pleased to support this microform edition which will eventually make available a near complete run of the journal to 1900.

Les Waters
Cambridgeshire Constabulary
Divisional Police Headquarters
Parkside, Cambridge


LESLIE-MELVILLE, R 'The Life and Work of Sir John Fielding'

RADZINOWICZ, Leon 'History of English Criminal Law', Volume 3

WILLCOCKS, M P 'A Trueborn Englishman'

BABINGTON, Antony 'A House in Bow Street'

JENSEN, G E 'The Covent Garden Journal'

LEE, W L Melville 'A History of Police in England'

CRITCHLEY, T A 'A History of Police in England & Wales'

Sir John Fielding’s 'Plan of Police' 1761-1763

COMMISSIONER OF THE METROPOLITAN POLICE. Report of the Committee appointed to enquire into the state of the Police of the Metropolis 1861.

METROPOLITAN POLICE 'Catching Thieves on Paper'

PRINGLE, Patrick 'Henry and Sir John Fielding'

DILNOT, George 'Scotland Yard'

Cambridge Chronicle 2nd September

1836 Blue Book 1835 XXXVII Page 663 re. Return to House of Commons on Police Gazette.



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