Sir Robert Peel was twice Prime Minister, but it is arguably as Home Secretary that he has had the most lasting influence. In 1829 he established the Metropolitan Police, the force that still polices London – with the exception of the City of London – today.
And, two weeks after his death in 1850 following a fall from his horse, it was the City of London who met in the the Egyptian Hall of the Mansion House to discuss the establishment of a memorial to Peel. The erection of a statute, paid for by public subscription was decided upon, and one William Behnes won the competition to make it. In July 1855 his eleven foot high bronze statue of Peel, standing on a 12 feet high granite pedestal ousted the obelisk that stood there, took up a fixed point in the middle of the junction of Cheapside, Newgate Street and St Martin’s the Grand. From there, Sir Robert had a splendid view above all the traffic chaos he was instrumental in creating, down Cheapside, past St Mary le Bow, and towards the Bank of England.
Many things, not just the traffic, move slowly in the City, and it was only in 1934, precisely due to the road congestion it helped to cause, that the statue was taken down. The Court of Common Council agreed Sir Robert should be presented to the Metropolitan Police for display at the proposed new police college in north west London. So off he went to Hendon. But war intervened, the building of the college was delayed, and 1939 saw Sir Robert back in the City. This time he was destined to take up post in one of the outer recesses in the wall of the Bank of England, but this plan was also dashed when it was found his statute was just too big to fit. So this time off went Sir Robert into storage in Old Street, where in 1942 he managed to dodge the undignified suggestion that he should be melted down and the proceeds given to police charities.
1952, and the fate of Sir Robert was once again discussed. This time destiny took him to Postman’s Park, the churchyard of St Botolph’s, Aldgate, where he remained for twenty years. By then, the pre-war proposals for the Metropolitan Police Training Centre were coming to fruition. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Home Secretary made a formal request for Sir Robert’s statue. And so back he went to Hendon, after first stopping off at Basingstoke for a bit of a make-over at the Morris Singer Factory. His dignity regained, and having arrived at what was arguably his spiritual home, Sir Robert’s statue was unveiled with all due decorum by Her Majesty the Queen when, in 1974, she opened the Metropolitan Police Training Centre.