Journal Article

Policing Chartism, 1839–1848: The Role of the ‘Specials’ Reconsidered

RE Swift

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXII, issue 497, pages 669-699
Published in print June 2007 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online June 2007 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cem092
Policing Chartism, 1839–1848: The Role of the ‘Specials’ Reconsidered

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Among the many monographs, journal articles and theses devoted to the study of Chartism, one is hard-pressed to find a single study of the role of the Special Constabulary in the policing of the movement. Indeed, in examining confrontations between the Chartist crowd and the forces of order, historians have tended to concentrate overwhelmingly on the role of the ‘New Police’ and the military rather than on the thousands of ‘specials’ who were frequently enrolled to assist them. Likewise, historians of early-Victorian provincial police reform have also neglected the special constable. Against this background, this article seeks to examine more closely the nature and role of the ‘specials’ in the policing of Chartism in the Metropolis and the provinces between 1839 and 1848, with particular reference to their composition, recruitment, deployment and efficiency. The essential argument presented here is that, despite their limitations, the ‘specials’ performed an important role within the massed ranks of the forces of order in their efforts to counter the politics of the mass platform and, in a wider context, their deployment for purposes of crowd control had some significant implications in regard to the development and efficiency of provincial police forces during the early Victorian period.

Journal Article.  14789 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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