Glasgow depended upon her burghers and a few town officers to keep watch and ward in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since at least 1664, each head of household was required to attend in turn, or arrange a substitute, to perform guard duty. The system was primitive, amateur and dependent largely upon the willingness of citizens to carry out their ancient obligations. Watching and warding were the guard’s principal functions; the suppression of serious unrest remained the preserve of the military in cases where such paternal measures had proved unsuccessful in alleviating social tension.
The system functioned relatively successfully until the late 18th century. However, population growth, a perceived rise in lawlessness, and a growing reluctance of the burgess class to perform its communal duties increasingly jeopardised law and order arrangements. Subsequent demands for a more professional system resulted in the introduction of an Inspector of Police and a small number of officers in 1779. The experiment was of considerable historical significance in that it was one of the first times the term ‘police’ was used on mainland Britain in something approaching its modern form. It lasted only for two years due to the reluctance of inhabitants to fund a system of police over which they had no control. Nonetheless, it heralded a period of police innovation in the city, culminating in the introduction of the Glasgow Police Act in 1800 which established mainland Britain’s first police force.
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