Career Prospects in the London Metropolitan Police in the Early Twentieth Century

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Abstract One of the strategies increasingly used by employers in the nineteenth century to make work more efficient was the promise of internal promotion, based on uniformity of treatment and selection by merit. The Metropolitan Police had pursued this strategy since the establishment of the force in 1829. Presentations of the promotion system were couched in challenging language, promising to reward all conscientious officers with a rise to a higher rank. Promotion brought with it increased pay, better work conditions, greater authority and prestige, and for some officers real social and economic mobility. This paper examines the principles underlying the promotion system in the Metropolitan Police, the terms in which they were formulated and their application. Of crucial importance are these questions: Who benefitted from the opportunity offered by the Metropolitan Police? What was the relationship between rhetoric and policy? What personal factors helped determine upward mobility? Did the police offer real equality of opportunity? A computer‐based analysis of the careers of all recruits to the Metropolitan Police at the turn of the century provides firm answers and suggests patterns of mobility outside the Metropolitan Police.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380-408
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Historical Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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