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What You Didn’t Know About Scotland Yard

British History | June 24, 2019

Scotland Yard Motorcycle Patrols in 1955. Source: (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

The name Scotland Yard has become almost synonymous with detective work and police force, thanks to Hollywood movies and television shows. But how much do we really know about Scotland Yard? Did you know that it isn’t in Scotland at all? And there isn’t a yard? Did you know it is home to the Bobbies? And that the Jack the Ripper case is its most famous unsolved case

Scotland Yard is home to the Metropolitan Police Force of London. Source: (abc.net.au)

It’s in London, Not Scotland

Scotland Yard is the name of the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Force of London, but the name of the building, over time, came to represent the police force itself. One of the organizers of the police force back in the 1830s was a gentleman named Richard Mayne. Mayne lived at 4 Whitehall Place, a private home that opened into a large courtyard. This courtyard was called the Great Scotland Yard because it sat on the site of a former medieval palace that was used by Scottish royalty. Hence, the name Scotland Yard. Just before the turn of the 1900s, the police force moved into a new building, located on the Victoria Embankment. This new building was appropriately named New Scotland Yard. 

London's Bobbies. Source: (pinterest.com)

Robert Peel and His Bobbies

The Metropolitan Police Force of London was formed in 1829 by an act of Parliament. The act was proposed by Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary of Parliament. He suggested that the city needed a unified police force to replace the watchman system that was currently in place. Because he advocated so hard for a metropolitan police force, Londoners referred to the police officers as “Bobby’s boys”, which soon became just “Bobbies.” 

Scotland Yard police protect high ranking individuals. Source: (smithsonianmag.com)

The Police, FBI, and Secret Service Rolled into One

The responsibility of Scotland Yard extends much further than just patrolling the city. The members of Scotland Yard also provide security for important people, such as visiting dignitaries. They also do undercover detective work. The first plainclothes bobbies started in 1842 and integrated themselves into the community so they could watch for criminal activity. At first, Londoners balked at plainclothes officers spying on their every move, but when Scotland Yard cracked several key cases, the public learned the value of undercover cops. 

Jack the Ripper preyed on London's prostitutes. Source: (spectator.com.uk)

Scotland Yard’s Most Infamous Cold Case

Eleven heinous murders that took place in the seedier side of London between 1888 and 1981 have been attributed to Jack the Ripper, the alias for a vicious serial killer who hunted and slaughtered prostitutes. Scotland Yard was on the case and were able to uncover some important clues. They established a pattern to the killer’s movements but were never able to find and arrest the culprit. This remains one of Scotland Yard’s most infamous cold cases. 

Frederick Porter Wensley, on of Scotland Yard's greatest detectives. Source: (spitalfieldslife.com)

Scotland Yard’s “Blodie Belgium” Case

One of Scotland Yard’s most sensational early murder cases was solved by its charismatic detective, Frederick Porter Wensley, nicknamed “the weasel.” Wensley was assigned to the murder case of Emilienne Gerard, a 32-year French woman. Her body was discovered by street sweepers in November of 1917, along with a note that was signed the “Blodie Belgium”. Wensley was curious about the misspelling of “bloody.” When he questioned Gerard’s boyfriend, Louis Voisin, he noted some discrepancies in his testimony. So, on a hunch, Wensley handed the Voisin a piece of paper and a pen and asked him to write down a few phrases. One of the phrases was “bloody Belgium”. Voisin used the same misspelling on his paper, thus convicting himself. 

Scotland Yard often sought out help from the fictional Sherlock Holmes in the novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Source: (smithsonianmag.com)

Sherlock Holmes and Scotland Yard

The Bobbies of Scotland Yard have appeared in numerous works of literature, including the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Sir Arthur Conon Doyle. These novels, however, don’t always paint Scotland Yard in a positive light. The detectives at Scotland Yard often have to ask Sherlock Holmes for his assistance in solving a case, and the bobbies appear as clumsy, inept cops. Still, Scotland Yard has given a nod to the fictional detective by naming its national intelligence system the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System, or HOLMES. 

The duties of Scotland Yard have grown to include stopping terrorists and cyber attacks. Source: (telegraph.co.uk)

That’s a Lot of Cops

More than 30,000 police officers are employed at Scotland Yard today. They work to protect the more than 7 million Londoners in their jurisdiction and to enforce the laws of the land. In recent years, the detectives at Scotland Yard have tracked down terrorists who have threatened attacks on the city. 

Tags: british history | scotland yard

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.