If you are an avid reader you would know that when Scotland Yard has been called in there is a sense of awe and excitement. However, this much-talked-and-written about organisation is just another Metropolitan Police Service. Why then, are they special?
If you have read the all time classic Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne or Arthur Conan Doyle’s Study in Scarlet or met Agatha Christie’s creation Inspector Japp you will be familiar with New Scotland Yard. For fans of James Bond there was Assistant Commissioner Sir Ronald Vallance from the Yard. Charles Dickens’ created Inspector Bucket in Bleak House and Wilkie Collins had Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone. Why did writers bring in these detectives from the Scotland Yard when they had brilliant sleuths like Sherlock Holmes and Hercules Poirot? Most often, the detectives from the Yard were perfect foils for the intelligence and deductive reasoning powers of the private detective. While the Yard was pedantic and plodding, the private investigators were intelligent and had a different line of thought and reasoning. But all the same Scotland Yard did lend itself to being fictionalised.
The mystery and excitement of Scotland Yard has been further captured in a board game with the same name. This game has a team of players, as police and they work with one another to track down a player who controls a criminal around a board that represents the streets of London.
It’s the Met
So, what with stories and games Scotland Yard is a familiar enough place. However, what do you know about it? Is it in Scotland? Is it in a yard? If it is New Scotland Yard, what about the old one?
Scotland Yard, is a metonym for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service, which is the territorial police force in London. It is interesting to hear the story of its name.
The Metropolitan Police headquarters was located at 4, Whitehall Place, which had a rear entrance on a street called Great Scotland Yard. This entrance became the public entrance to the police station and soon the Police Headquarters was being referred to as Scotland Yard.
In 1890, the Police HQ had to move out of Scotland Yard and it became New Scotland Yard. Since 1967 it has been located in Victoria. In 2012, it announced that the building may be sold and the headquarters shifted to a smaller site in Whitehall.
Sir Robert Peel was the brain behind the forming of Scotland Yard. Hence the nickname “bobbies”, for policeman.
The new police put paid to the old system of watchmen. By 1839, these men had replaced the Bow Street Patrols, who enforced the decisions of magistrates, and the River Police, who worked to prevent crime along the Thames.
When the Met sent out its first plainclothes police agents in 1842, the public felt uncomfortable with these “spies” on the streets. But with time public opinion changed with the way they performed in several important cases and also the charisma of several of its detectives.
The original Scotland Yard was at the house of Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne at 4, Whitehall Place. The courtyard — the Great Scotland Yard, was originally the site of a medieval palace which housed Scottish royalty on their visits to London.
One very impressive inspector was Charles Frederick Field. He was a friend of Charles Dickens, who occasionally accompanied constables on their night rounds. Dickens wrote a short essay about Field, “On Duty With Inspector Field”, and used him as a model for the charming Inspector Bucket in Bleak House.
The senior management team, who oversee the service and the crime database, are at New Scotland Yard at 10, Broadway, close to St. James’s Park station. This uses a national computer system developed for major crime enquiries by all British forces, called Home Office Large Major Enquiry System, more commonly referred to by its acronym HOLMES (recognising the detective Sherlock Holmes). Interestingly, the training programme is called “Elementary”, after Holmes’ well-known, yet apocryphal, phrase “elementary, my dear Watson”.
Sir Robert Peel, Home Secretary, implemented the Metropolitan Police Act, which was passed by Parliament in 1829. It was Peel, with the help of Eugéne-Francois Vidocq, who selected the original site at Whitehall. By 1887, the HQ had spread its tendrils and it now occupied 3,5, 21 and 22 Whitehall Place and a couple more places. It became necessary to move. So a new HQ was built on the Victoria Embankment overlooking the Thames.
Cases to ponder
One interesting incident that came up at the time when they were shifting to Victoria was the discovery of “Whitehall Mary”. In 1888, during the construction of the new building, workers discovered the dismembered torso of a woman. This case was never solved.
All of us have heard of Jack the Ripper and his mad killing spree which lasted from 1888 to 1891 in London’s East End. He was named the Ripper because of a letter that had been sent to Scotland Yard by, the investigators believe, the murderer.
Scotland Yard narrowed down their suspects to four people who lived around the area. They took into consideration the manner in which the victims had been mutilated to arrive at this conclusion. However, they never did discover the identity of the Ripper.