A Certain Share of Low Cunning: A History of the Bow Street Runners, 1792-1839

Matthew White

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    That the term ‘Runner’ –which carries with it overtones of menial subservience – is still used so widely to describe the forces that operated from London’s famed Bow Street magistrate’s office says much about our present misunderstandings of this stout body of men. Much-maligned by contemporaries for their complicity with the criminal underworld, or otherwise disparaged for their pursuit of personal gain and prestige, the image of the patrols and officers that operated from that establishment remains a blend of corruption and blundering amateurishness; of a motley band of meddling ‘myrmidons’ who were viewed with suspicion by most Londoners and labelled ‘pigs’ by many others (p. 42). In this long overdue book (which is, surprisingly, the first authoritative volume on this fascinating
    subject) David Cox makes a dramatic revision to these ill-informed caricatures by offering instead a fresh portrait of the Principal Officers who operated from Bow Street. Through ameticulous examination of press reports, court cases, Home
    Office papers and autobiographies detailing their work, Cox has provided a farranging account of their complex dealings there, revealing along the way a rich description of relatively sophisticated police work, much of which has hitherto
    remained largely neglected by historians.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)188-190
    Number of pages4
    JournalUrban History
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - May 2011


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