It would be first to assume that the controversy being experienced at St Paul's Cathedral in London is a unique issue at such a high profile religious establishment. However, St Paul's was the subject of a letter to the first two Commissioners, Rowan and Mayne. On 26th March 1838, that is 173 years ago, John Hume wrote to ask whether the Commissioners thought that the working classes should have free access to Westminster Abby and St Paul’s cathedral. It seems that his fears centred around the poor behaviour of the working classes, especially in relation to public protest against the police.
The reply from Rowan gives an indication that he thought that the police were becoming accepted within communities and he did not see any issue with allowing the working classes to both cathedrals. The respective content of his letter is shown below.
“The Commissioners feel persuaded that considerable improvement has taken place, within the last few years, in the conduct of people on public occasions, and with reference to their behaviour where a more free admission has been granted to places of public resort, the Commissioners would beg to instance the Regent’s Park, the Garden of St James’s Park, where there is a large and valuable collection of acquatic birds, and the British Museum, to all of which very great numbers of all classes were admitted without detriment. To a considerable degree such would naturally be the consequence of the increased confidence shewn in the people by their free admission to these places… The Commissioners have also of late years great general improvement in the conduct of the people at the several fairs in the neighbourhood of the Metropolis; there has been comparatively little drunkenness or disorder, and every indication of good feeling evinced towards the police.”
I wonder whether the current Commissioner would be able to answer in a similar fashion if, considering the recent disturbances in the Metropolis and the occupation of St Paul’s, he was to be asked the same question.
Source : British Police and the Democratic Ideal. Reith, 1943: 218