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Scotland Yard refers to the physical headquarters of London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) or the “Met” of the British capital. The MPS serves the greater London area, yet excludes the City of London, which is patrolled by the City of London Police. The name Scotland Yard originated from the MPS’s original headquarters that was located at 4 Whitehall Place, which had a rear public entrance from a street called Great Scotland Yard. The street’s name was inspired by a medieval palace that accommodated Scottish royalty during their visits to London. Subsequently, the MPS and the street became synonymous, just as Wall Street is to New York’s financial market.

Prior to the establishment of the Metropolitan Police in 1829, London had an unsophisticated system of policing that attempted to secure civil order through appointed representatives called “tythings,” which was essentially a citizen-based system of self-policing through individuals and groups of people referred to as parish constables. They worked in cooperation with local Justices to maintain order and ensure laws were upheld. The system was widely established until economic changes came as a result of the industrial revolution, as well as social disorder that led to a considerable increase in crime and violence, and it failed entirely.

The intolerable conditions led to the establishment of the “New Police” through the passing of Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act in 1829, which was a political compromise intended to build a formally-organized and bureaucratic police force in England, which applied only to London. After the act was passed by Parliament, Sir Robert Peel, Home Secretary, along with Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, organized the Metropolitan Police by appointing a full force, including superintendents, commissioners, constables, inspectors and sergeants. London’s police were primarily responsible for the prevention and detection of crime. However, they were also watchmen in charge of being aware of fires, lighting street lamplights and calling out the time. Although London’s crime rates decreased, reports suggested those of nearby areas increased in areas the police weren’t authorized to go.

By 1839, the structure and system of London’s law enforcement was absorbed by the Metropolitan Police Force and in 1887, expanded into several neighboring locations, thereby becoming Great Scotland Yard. The Met grew from 1,000 officers to approximately 13,000 in 1890 and relocated to a building on the Victoria Embankment, and the new headquarters was given the name “New Scotland Yard.”

Scotland Yard became infamous over the years for several high-profile landmark cases involving mystery, violence and murder. During construction of New Scotland Yard, workers discovered a female’s dismembered torso and the unsolved case became known as the “Whitehall Mystery,” which was related to the particular building in which the body was found. An anonymous letter was sent on May 30, 1884, threatening to bomb government-owned buildings in London, in addition to Scotland Yard. That night, explosive devices were detonated outside Scotland Yard, Nelson’s Column and a club, which was previously the home of Sir Watkin Wynn. On November 13, 1887, Britain’s “Bloody Sunday” took place during which 2,000 police officers disrupted a Social Democratic Federation meeting in Trafalgar Square that led to more than 100 casualties.

In what nearly paralyzed the citizens of London’s East End in fear, Jack the Ripper began his murderous rampage between 1888 and 1891. Jack the Ripper was a self-proclaimed serial killer allegedly responsible for 11 attacks on prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London, in which five were murdered by slitting their throats after luring them with promises to pay for their services. During investigations by Scotland Yard’s police officers and Inspector Frederick Abberline’s attempt at performing anthropometry, which uses specific facial features to identify criminals, more than 160 people were accused of the murders. The MPS received several letters from individuals claiming to be the serial killer, while two contained detailed information regarding the crimes and were signed “Jack the Ripper.” However, by 1892, leads ended and the murders stopped, so the case was officially closed.

Due to advancements of modern technology and additional increases in the size of the MPS, New Scotland Yard was moved in 1967 to its present and more modern site, called the Norman Shaw building, located at 10 Broadway and near the Houses of Parliament. During the 2000s, New Scotland Yard added concrete barriers and walls outside ground-level windows and the building’s entrance, in addition to a covered walkway as security measures against car bombings and increased threats of terrorism.

Today, Scotland Yard employs more than 30,000 police officers who work to enforce British laws, while patrolling 620 square miles to protect more than 7 million citizens. The MPS uses a national intelligence system for major crime inquiries by all police forces in the United Kingdom, called the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System (HOLMES). The acronym pays homage to the familiar fictitious detective, Sherlock Holmes.

  • History of the Metropolitan Police: The Friends of the Metropolitan Police Historical Collection has a comprehensive resource of information for the history of Scotland Yard and includes a historical timeline, the history of British policing, and historical archives.
  • “Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police”: A chapter from the book, Old and New London originally published in 1878, which is a detailed account of London’s Scotland Yard.
  • The National Archives: A free downloadable podcast describing the formation of London’s MPS, how crime was managed before its inception and how to trace ancestral MPS family members.
  • More History from Police Archives: A thorough collection of teaching resources from MPS archives, which includes six study modules illustrating the origins of the Metropolitan Police, how and why it was formed, opposition to Scotland Yard and photographs of official MPS documents from the 1800s.
  • “History of Scotland Yard”: A PDF document written by a graduate student from Millersville University, which describes London’s police before and after Scotland Yard’s establishment in 1829.
  • Scotland Yard: A PDF document titled, “Scotland Yard: Beginnings and Principles of British Thought” that explores the historical, cultural and societal significance of Scotland Yard and London’s policing system.
  • Policing in London: An online collection of procedural documents from the Old Bailey, London’s criminal court from 1674 to 1913, which describes policing in London, as well as the Metropolitan Police in 1829 at the time Scotland Yard was established.
  • The Maintenance of Law and Order before 1829: A site organized by Japan’s Nagoya University that explains London’s policing structure before the establishment of Scotland Yard, as well as the legislation used in passing Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act in 1829.
  • Stories from Scotland Yard: An index of crime, investigation, scandal and murder stories from Scotland Yard. The website also includes a map from 1837 that shows the boundaries of the MPS in 1837, in addition to historical resources and the ranking structure of London’s police force.
  • New Scotland Yard: The official site of New Scotland Yard dedicated to preserving the symbol’s heritage, as well as launching new campaigns that will create increased recognition and commercialization worldwide as a symbol of British policing.
  • New Scotland Yard: A press release from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) titled “New Scotland Yard and the Greater Manchester Police Department Visit FBI New York Office,” which describes anti-terrorism cooperative initiatives undertaken between U.S. Special Agents of the FBI and New Scotland Yard in 2009.
  • Jack the Ripper: A 36-page online PDF book titled, Jack the Ripper and the London Press published by Yale University Press, which depicts Jack the Ripper’s murderous rampage on London and Scotland Yard’s attempts to investigate his crimes.

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