Metropolitan History
The prevention of crime in late eighteenth-century Bristol: policing, the public, and the city
Matthew Neale (IHR)
29 February 2012


This is a guest post by James Wilkinson, one of IHR Digital’s summer interns from the University of Leicester.

The focus of this talk by Mathew Neale is on the prevention of crime, and policing in the late eighteenth century city, using Bristol as an example case study.

He begins by addressing the semantic issues of using such a broad term as policing, when there was no unified, government supported force in this time period. There was at the time a more broad range of officers and lawmen which had varying roles and areas of operation, some example being the night-watchmen, private watchmen and the Major’s marshal.

Neale explains that of these, possibly the most important prevention force was the night watch in Bristol. There scale of operation covered the whole city in different zones of operation, and focussed on the prevention of unlawful activity in the night, when it was most common. There was a varying distribution of watchmen across the city with greater concentrations in the centre of the city as opposed to the outskirts.

Neale points to the significance of the night watch by displaying how the behaviour of thieves changed when they were around. For example thieves were concealing items that were stolen overnight because they saw the night watch as a significant threat and one that should be avoided.

Neale also explains the techniques of law enforcement when attempting to find criminals or prevent crime. He asserts that appearance and timing could be the sole reason for arrest.

 To listen to this podcast click here.