This book is a bit dated, having been written in the early 1950s, but it’s one of only two I could conveniently get that addressed the early years of policing in London. As far as readability goes, it’s on the dull side of the middle of the road; not too much of a slog, but not a shining example of nonfiction entertainment, either. (Which is a pity, because I expect this history would bear a much livelier retelling.)
Its virtue, though, is that it begins by summarizing the systems that preceded the Metropolitan Police — and not just the Bow Street Runners. Chapter 1 covers 1050 to 1600, talking about sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, watchmen, constables, etc. Then there’s a chapter about corruption among magistrates, that led to the Fieldings and Bow Street, then some very useful information about the Runners if (like me) you’re thinking about writing a short story in that period; then it dives into the politics of founding and developing a police force in London.
It still isn’t what I really need, which is a book that will give me details about how the Special Irish Branch went about dealing with Fenian conspirators in the 1880s. But I’ve e-mailed the Metropolitan Police Archives to see if I can get help there, and in the meantime, this at least gives me some background to work from.