Abstract of Cox, D., “‘A Certain Share of Low Cunning’ – The Provincial Use and Activities of Bow Street ‘Runners’ 1792-1839”.
In recent years there has been very little analysis or discussion of either the explicit or implicit purposes of the Bow Street ‘runners’, especially with regard to their activities outside London. This article is a very concise synthesis of my current PhD research at Lancaster University, providing a brief insight into what is currently an under-researched aspect of policing and criminal justice history.
The article gives a brief background to the formation of the Bow Street ‘Runners’ in the mid-eighteenth century, together with an introduction to the way in which they functioned throughout the provinces, discussing the types and location of crimes which they investigated or sought to prevent. It also contains a brief bibliographical discussion concerning those few works that have featured the activities of the ‘runners’, together with an account of the sources utilized in my research.
The Bow Street ‘runners’, throughout the period of their existence have often been regarded as nothing more than glorified and completely corrupt ‘thief-takers’. The article argues that this view is an uninformed and simplistic one and suggests that many of their activities (especially in the provinces) were far-removed from the popular prevailing image of them as mere thief-takers, and that a detailed study of their activities and utilization can help provide a wider understanding with regard to the creation of a ‘modern’ police force.