A blog from our Archive Assistant, Sarah Williams.
The latest display from the Parliamentary Archives celebrates the history of policing in Parliament and focuses on the career of one Victorian policeman in particular, Inspector Eleazor Denning. If you are visiting the Palace of Westminster in the next few months, have a look at the display which is situated in the Norman Porch.
The Metropolitan Police was founded by Sir Robert Peel in 1829. The newly created force was established in Westminster at 4 Whitehall Place and two Commissioners of Police, Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, were given the task of organising some three thousand Constables. The new constabulary replaced the Bow Street foot patrols commonly called the ‘Bow Street Runners’ and took over the duties of the night watchmen, Parish Constables and eventually the River Police.
In 1846 when the 17 year old Eleazor Denning moved from Dorset to London and joined the force, Parliament was policed by ‘A’ Division which covered a seven-mile radius from Charing Cross and included Westminster, Whitehall and the Royal Palaces and Parks. It was originally the largest in size of the inner divisions and a great proportion of its men were employed on special duties at the Houses of Parliament, the Royal Palaces, in and around Downing Street and Whitehall and in Hyde Park.
Within its boundaries many public events, ceremonial occasions, meetings and processions took place. As a police officer in ‘A’ Division, Eleazor Denning would surely have been present at many of these. Denning joined the Metropolitan Police as Constable and rose to the rank of Inspector. He worked as Inspector of Police at the National Gallery and in 1863 he gave evidence at the trial of a man, described as an author and of ‘no home’, who was charged with wilfully damaging one of Turner’s paintings. Denning also performed special duties on Epsom Derby Day.
In 1864 Denning was appointed to take charge of the police arrangements in the House of Commons. He carefully completed a daily logbook of occurrences and this provides an insight into the life and responsibilities of a police officer on duty, and the broad range of events that occurred in Parliament in the late 19th century.
It was a period of political volatility and Denning was responsible for ensuring the safety of the House. He was widely praised for his courageous conduct. He dealt with protesters, suspended MPs and various incidents involving explosives. He wrote reports about lost umbrellas, local earthquakes, visits from Chinese circus performers and staff outings on steam boats down the River Thames.
Denning was respected by all Parliamentarians and this was demonstrated by the presentation to him in 1883 of two albums containing the photographs of Queen Victoria and all Members of the House of Commons. Following the dynamite attacks on the Palace in 1885, he was appointed Chief Inspector of the Palace of Westminster. He retired in 1888 at the age of 69.
To learn more about the history of police in Parliament please come to our free talk on the 16th April. You can book here.