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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 PS/BOW
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1724-2004
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 116.43 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Bow Street Magistrates Court


Administrative/Biographical history:

In 1740 Thomas de Veil established a private residence and magistrate's office at number 4 Bow Street. De Veil lived in the house whilst practicing his magisterial duties from the ground floor. This was to become the first of London's police stations and in time the most important of the capital's magistrates' courts. In 1747 the novelist Henry Fielding took over the house becoming a magistrate for the City of Westminster in 1748. In 1749 Fielding gathered together eight reliable constables whose role was, in part, designed to combat the increasing problems caused by gin consumption in the Covent Garden area. Due to their scarlet waistcoats the group were originally nicknamed 'Robin Redbreasts' but would come to be known as the 'Bow Street Runners'.

Henry Fielding was succeeded in 1754 by his blind half brother Sir John Fielding. Known as the 'Blind Beak of Bow Street'; Sir John can be credited with refining Henry's patrol into the first full-time, salaried and effective police force. Whilst serving as magistrates both Fielding men worked to reform the corrupt and ineffectual magistracy system.

In 1829 Bow Street became the site of the station house of the newly formed Metropolitan Police. This first accommodated F Division (Covent Garden) and later E Division (Holborn). In 1869 the two divisions were temporarily merged.

Bow Street magistrates have historically assumed a significant degree of legal independence which set them apart from other London magistrates. With the 1839 Metropolitan Police Act they came to be defined as Stipendiary Magistrates like the others. In 1876 a site on the eastern side of Bow Street was leased for an annual rent of 100 to the Commissions of HM Works and Public Buildings by the Duke of Bedford. Work began in 1878 and by 1881 the purpose-built Bow Street Police Court and Station had been established. Stonework above the building's door states 1879 indicating the year by which it was hoped work would be finished.

Bow Street has held committal proceedings for some of the capital's most high profile cases. As the office of the Chief Magistrate, court officers had expertise in particular legal proceedings, such as extradition. Bow Street Magistrates' court also had special responsibilities under Section 11 of the Adoption of Children (Regulation) Act 1939. This made provision for the granting of licences to allow the adoption of British children to be taken abroad to live. It was superseded by Section 40 of the Adoption Act 1950. Applicants were required to be British citizens. Licenses did not apply in the case of adoption by a relative or legal guardian, regardless of their nationality. The licensing authority for England was the Chief Magistrate, or any of the other Bow Street Magistrates and the administrative process was managed by the Chief Clerk.

The Court was put up for sale in 2004 and in July 2005 an agreement was reached with the Irish property developer Gerry Barrett. The court closed its doors for the last time on 14 July 2006. Bow's caseload was transferred to Horseferry Road Magistrates' Court, now renamed Westminster Magistrates' Court.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of Bow Street Magistrates Court, 1724-2004, including court registers; domestic proceedings registers; gaoler's records; applications for warrants; club licensing; matrimonial case registers; extradition registers; registers of applications for adoption abroad, adoption abroad procedural and case files; papers relating to magistrates' salaries; files of the Chief Clerk; Poor Box financial accounts, bequests and correspondence; papers relating to trust funds and bequests; Committee files and office administration.

Court registers record the date of the hearing, the name of the informant or complainant (often the police), the name of the defendant, a brief note of the offence and the decision of the magistrate.
Matrimonal cases: A married woman under the provisions of the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act 1895 and subsequent Acts could go to a magistrates' court and apply for orders which in certain circumstances would enable her to separate from her husband, have custody of any children and receive maintenance from him.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

In sections:
Court Registers: General Matters (PS/BOW/A);
Court Registers: Particular Matters (PS/BOW/B);
Extradition Registers (PS/BOW/C);
Chief Clerk's Files (PS/BOW/D);
Poor Box (PS/BOW/E);
Trust Funds (PS/BOW/F);
Office Files (PS/BOW/G).

Conditions governing access:

These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 1998.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to these records rests with the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Received in multiple accessions in 1984, 1990, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
November 2009 to April 2014

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