Red-breasts

Bow Street runners, who wore a scarlet waistcoat.

“The Bow Street runners ceased out of the land soon after the introduction of the new police. I remember them very well as standing about the door of the office in Bow Street. They had no other uniform than a blue dress-coat, brass buttons ... and a bright red cloth waistcoat ... The slang name for them was `Red-breasts.”' —Dickens: Letters, vol. ii. p. 178.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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