Be Sober Be Vigilant! AGM and Mounted Police in Victorian London

On Friday 25th January Chris Forester will be giving an illustrated talk entitled, “be Sober, Be Vigilant!  Mounted Police in Victorian London.

Chris Forester joined the Metropolitan Police in 1972 and in ‘75 found his metier in the Mounted Branch, remaining  with them for the next 28 years.  He ended his career on the training staff at Imber Court and while there he was responsible for setting up their museum. This was opened by Princess Alexandra and subsequently visited by the Queen, Princess Diana and other senior members of the Royal Family. He has developed a keen interest in Police history is an experienced lecturer and is a contributing member of the Metropolitan Police History Group.

The meeting will be in the Balsam Centre and will start with our AGM at 7pm. This will be brief and followed by refreshments and Chris Forester’s talk.


As promised we had a brief and business-like AGM. Chairman Dr Terry Stanford reported that we have had a good year with good turnout at our monthly talks and the agreement with the Library to give us the use of the former Visitor’s Information Room has meant we have been able to have new cupboards fitted and the room redecorated making it though small, smart and attractive. Our Treasurer Jiim Longley was able to report on the healthy state of our finances and the present committee, all of whom were ready to do so, were re-elected. to face what should be an important and interesting year as we open and begin to use this new facility.


Chis gave us a fascinating and amusing illustrated talk on the Mounted Branch of the Met and pointed out that its predecessor could claim to be the oldest Government funded Police in the world, starting in the 1760’s when the Bow Street Runners were a byword for corruption and incompetence. The first mounted police were there to dissuade carriages and horsemen being set upon by cutpurses as they entered London.

He went on to explain that the mounted police have been shown time and again to be extremely good at crime prevention making a very visible and mobile statement of a police presence on the streets. A dramatic recent examples of this was when they were patrolling around Heathrow when there was a terrorist threat. The incidence of crime in a notorious village they passed through on patrol dropped dramatically.

Chris was also very interesting in pointing out that their prime role was now as always the maintainance of public order at times of emergency, demonstrations and riots and when there are large crowds on the streets for sporting occasions. He noted that attacks upon the horses were extremly rare.  Rioters did not take out their anger and frustration on the horses as they would against either police on foot or police vehicles.  The result is that breaking up or dispersing crowds with a mounted force is much more peaceful than the alternatives as seen so vividly in Northern Ireland where water cannon , rubber bullets and large deployments of police on foot and in vehicles can stir up violent resentment.

He also had amusing anecdotes and tales of misunderstandings as well as stories of trips to visit schools and the fun of taking part in big ceremonial state and city occasions. In all he argued that while at first site a mounted force looks anachronistic, a careful apprailsal of their role and effectiveness gives us good reason for maintaining a mounted force – a force that today has more women in it than men.

Friday was a dark and stormy night complete with wind and sleet, yet a turnout of around forty showed how many were interested and ready to come out.