Police reform: A study of the Dover New Police (1830-1860)

King, Paul Anthony (2020). Police reform: A study of the Dover New Police (1830-1860). Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author.


This dissertation looks specifically at how reform affected the Dover New Police from 1830 to 1860. In particular, it looks at the complexity of national policy and centralisation in conjunction with local government priorities and how these affected the New Police in their activities and their relationship with the inhabitants of Dover. Further, it evaluates the ‘state monopolisation thesis’ and David Churchill’s calls for a reassessment of this era, questioning if the state ever assumed control over the governance of crime. Sources from Watch Committee minutes, Municipal records, parliamentary prison and judicial reports, Constabulary Inspector reports and local newspapers articles are used to gauge an in depth understanding of these issues.

The New Police’s arrival coincided with fears of rising crime but also anxieties concerning social stability and hierarchy. The study finds that reform did not equate to an efficient police force suppressing crime. Dover’s police-public relations were complex and are not defined by periodization. The lower classes felt targeted, yet, hostility was minimal. Dover police found their authority in policing by consent based on restraint, morals and common sense. Dover’s inhabitants, particularly the middle class, accepted and used the police as the apparatus of justice. Dover’s police were used for town ‘improvement’ which in turn secured order and hierarchy for the elite. Concurrently, unrealistic expectations of police leading to numerous premature departures inhibited any ability to enforce a policeman-state or be Dover’s ‘domestic missionary’.

However, further State reform pushing for centralisation to create a nationalised efficient force, encroached on propertied men fiscally and on local autonomy. Centralisation efforts were denied by Dover’s municipal authorities, until the County and Boroughs Act 1856. A combination of increasing population, crime and monetary incentives from the Home Office secured Dover’s cooperation in 1860. Dover’s Corporation maintained autonomy over the police, however, the state’s monetary and inspectorate influence laid the foundations for further centralisation later and created a quasi-professional police force.

Further, upon re-evaluating the ‘state monopolisation thesis’, it was recognised that the New Police became the main policing agency in Dover. However, a security market supplying locks and safes to employment of watchmen were incorporated by the public. The detection of crime, tracing suspects and recovering property was often initiated by the victim rather than the police. Yet, the public refrained from confrontations and arrests leaving these engagements to police. Primarily though, police expansion through reform had occurred without side-lining public participation. Further, police pluracy through church and social institutions such as the workhouse, schools and relief committees contributed to a mixed economy in policing. Such examples of policing pluracy, unsettles established narratives of total monopolization of the justice system by the police and exposes a more nuisanced reality of policing governance.

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