The Whitehawk area
I was approaching the end of my Probationary period in early 1960 when I was posted to No. 25 Beat, which in actual fact was the Whitehawk estate. The beat also included Roedean, including the school area.
Whitehawk together with the Moulsecoomb estate were considered to be the two toughest areas to work on our Division.
This was quite unusual for a constable, still on probation to be posted to this area as it was generally deemed it should be worked by more experienced constables because of the type of beat that it was. I can recall that on hearing my posting, I was both excited and maybe a little sceptical. I knew exactly what I was going into, having worked the area on the odd shift. I knew that if I did well, then that would go very much in my favour, and if it didn’t, well, I am only a probationer. In my simple mind I felt I couldn’t really lose.
This beat necessitated the use of a bicycle and was a 24-hour beat that meant that the area was covered 24 hours a day. The adjoining beat was No. 8 beat, a 16-hour beat with the beat box situated at the bottom of Arundel Road in an exposed position on the seafront. The policeman working on 25 beat would also cover 8 beat when its own policeman was not on duty.
The beat box on 25 beat was situated between two police houses at the northern end of Findon Road. There was no rest on this beat as it was so busy, apart from the large area it had more than it’s fair share of yobs and troublemakers, a vast number of ‘F&U’ houses especially in the Roedean area. These properties had to be visited twice a night.
There were not too many shops on this beat and they were quite widely spread over the area, these too had to be visited twice during your tour of duty. The two most important shops were the Chemist and Post office at the Crossroads between Whitehawk Road and Roedean Road.
It depended which sergeant was on duty during the night shift but certain ones liked you to be at the crossroads just before midnight. This saved them riding their bicycle up to the police box, reading your route in the diary and then trying to find you. It was an obvious advantage to you, as you knew that would be the only time you would see the sergeant. During the long, dark winter months they didn’t come out to Whitehawk very often during the second half on the shift. When they did, they often told you to be at the No.8 police box on the seafront at a time they would be there. This police box was situated on Marine Parade and facing Arundel Road.
The Broadway café, in the Broadway, part of Whitehawk Road, was the café where many of the groups of youths would gather. We had strict instructions not to allow groups of youths on the pavement, as their presence was rather intimidating to passers by. Being in the main road, it was easy to give the attention as requested by our senior officers. The accepted leader of the group at this time was a lad nicknamed ‘Bimbo’ but I never knew the reason for that. I must have been very lucky, as I never had any problems with them regarding misbehaving in front of me or failing to go back into the café when asked. The group at times numbered 15 or more but usually numbered around 10. They were often very rowdy but only occasionally do I recall them being arrested for anything other than minor offences.
I didn’t look forward to being posted to this beat due to its reputation but after a couple of weeks or so I got to like the beat very much. I met a number of very nice people and found an incredibly number of places where I was welcomed to have a cup of tea. These people were all as a result of ‘police enquiries’ whether it was for an unpaid fine, a statement or perhaps something else.
There were always a mountain of complaints, usually about loutish behaviour and nuisance from kids. However, that was offset in the summer when on early turn you could make your way down to Marine Parade, lock your bicycle to the railings and take a walk along the undercliff breathing in the lovely, clean fresh air.
I was along there one bright and sunny morning about 6.45am. It was low tide, with the rocks exposed, the sun being reflected from the rock pools. I suppose I was dreaming of holidays when I was brought back to reality by someone shouting, ‘Officer, Officer’ I looked up and saw the local sweeper waving his arms and shouting, ‘here Officer, here quick,’ He was pointing towards the rocks excitedly, I hurried to the spot and looked in the direction he was pointing. There was something that looked like a human body in the rock pool. Together we went onto the rocks and I saw under the water and sticking out from a large rock, an arm. I hesitated for a second wondering the best cause of action. The body, if that’s what it was, was certainly dead now. I needed some help but in the meantime I decided to pull the body out from the pool. I pulled on the arm and it came away from the rest of the body. It had been there for some considerable time. We didn’t have personal radios and so I asked the road cleaner to go back to the box and ask for my sergeant to attend the scene and of course an ambulance. This was one morning that I had wished I hadn’t selected a walk along the undercliff for my first patrol. Had I not got involved then maybe the car crew would have got the call instead of me? However, it was on my beat and so there fore it was me who technically should deal with it.
The ambulance, then the sergeant, followed by the Inspector, soon joined me and between us we managed to remove the remainder of the body. I believe it was identified some weeks later from dental records. I can still see this incident in my mind. Some accidents, deaths and other incidents never leave your mind. I can remember one of the older policemen telling me soon after I joined that this would happen, ‘take it to the grave son, you will,’ were his words.
Many years after I dealt with the incidents they are still fresh in my mind especially when I refer back to them, the old policeman was right.
One night I had cycled out to Roedean to check out a couple of ‘F&U’ (Furnished and Unoccupied) properties. It was one of those nights when it wasn’t fit to have your cat out. It was raining, not hard, but the stuff that wets you right through and chilling you to the bone. The wind was whistling through the trees and moving them in an eerie fashion. As was usual when I went to the rear of these properties I took the opportunity to light up and have a cigarette. I walked through the side gate of this particular property and in the dim light saw that the fence was a few feet from a brick patio on my left hand side. It wasn’t the practice to put your torch on straight away and I was just about to light my torch when a cat I had disturbed jumped from the fence across to the patio and caught my shoulder as it did so. I immediately stood still, frozen to the spot. My heart must have missed a thousand beats as my neck went prickly. I dropped my cigarette and my torch and I was just so frightened, I really thought my life was about to end.
However, I soon regained myself, picked up my torch and lit it straight away, flashing it everywhere, I couldn’t care less at this stage if there was a burglar there or not, that was the least of my worries. How I cursed that cat, I think I would have brained it had I caught it. I went around the back and shone my torch on the doors and windows, tried the patio door to make sure it was secured and then sat down on the steps. I lit up another cigarette and sat there smoking and trying to calm down. I then lit up another and when I had finished that I went back to the front to resume my patrol and move onto the next property on the list for me to check. This time I wasn’t so cautious, I lit the torch before I went through the gate and flashed it everywhere; I was taking no more chances. That property was also in order and I then made my way to the police pillar on Marine Drive at the junction with Roedean Road. That was number 39 pillar that just contained a telephone for police and public use. The time then was close to midnight, I was wet, tired and still in shock. This was the first night I had checked this property and the people were away on holiday for two weeks, which meant that I would not only check it again on this night but twice a night for the next two weeks. I never forgot that house and every time I went past it, the memories came flooding back, – all this over a cat, how pathetic are some of our big, brave Brighton policemen.
Problems on the beat
My six weeks stint on this beat was fast coming to an end and I had made many friends. It was becoming more noticeable that the group of youths mentioned earlier was becoming much larger, more offensive and at times more violent. One of the officers who worked the beat on odd occasions was badly assaulted, having his nose broken. More and more complaints were being received regarding hooliganism, intimidation and threats from the local gangs.
The senior officers had a conference and decided that they should act quickly and decisively and my two colleagues and I were pulled off the beat and replaced by bigger and more experienced officers. Those Constables selected were Tony Bishop, who was brought up in Whitehawk and could be tough when required, ‘Brummie’ Roberts, likewise and finally ‘Big George’ George Ickeringill, recognised as the strongest constable in the force, a guy you didn’t mess about with.
Within a week or so the estate was getting back to normal. The numbers of complaints were reduced and it became a much more relaxed area.
‘Big George’ started his week of nights on a Monday; he was a very popular guy, and known by many of the residents. It was very easy to get into a habit when working a beat on a regular basis. George was no exception, every night just before midnight he would call at a small café in Whitehawk Road opposite the ‘bus garage for a chat and a cup of tea.
On this particular night he leaned his cycle against the shop wall and went inside. He had done this on many occasions and thought nothing more about it. The ‘bus drivers used the café at the end of their shift while waiting for a minibus to take them home and George had got to know most of them.
He was in the café as usual on this particular Friday night, when one of the drivers came in and said, ’No ‘bike tonight then George?’ ‘Outside’ he replied, ‘it isn’t’ the driver replied. George went outside and sure enough the cycle was missing. He wasn’t worried about the cycle too much; it was a double crossbar Police cycle and quite distinctive. However, an excuse had to be quickly found as the Inspector would want answers and soon. He made a few enquiries from the drivers as they appeared but without success. He informed the duty sergeant and inspector, saying that he had been called to the café as a result of a complaint. It was highly unlikely that the sergeant or inspector would believe the story but at the same time they would not argue the point.
He completed the tour of duty without the pedal cycle and went home. The following night, when he reported for duty he was informed that the pedal cycle had been found in the tennis courts in East Brighton Park and had been returned to the Police Station. He started to make some enquiries in an effort to find the culprits. He had his own punishment in mind for them when he found out who they were. He was determined to find them sometime. They had made a fool out of George and it was his intension to make sure that it never happened again.
Tracking down the thieves
The following week he was working the late shift (2-10) and every day he called on people who he thought might be able to help him identify the persons responsible. Eventually the enquiries paid off and he was given three names of local youths who were responsible. He then found their addresses, one living in a street away from the main road and before the week had finished George had caught up with him during the darkest part of the evening and meted out ‘Ickeringill advice.’
This youth also confirmed the details of the other two youths involved. It would be another couple of weeks or so before George caught up with them but the two were also served with the proverbial ‘Ickeringill Advice.’ There would be no more ‘taking of police pedal cycles,’ especially George’s.
I suppose, in a way, George was a hero to many of the constables who marvelled at his strength and his general attitude towards his job, secretly wishing they were like him. I don’t think anything frightened him, or if it did he never showed it.
He was a breeder of bloodhounds, in fact one of the top breeders in this country. He lived in North Woodingdean with his family and many dogs. He used to tell senior officers that breeding bloodhounds was his job, the police was his hobby.
One day a Japanese man came over to see George in an effort to buy one of George’s stud dogs. He offered him £1,000 for the dog but George refused the offer although at that time that amount of money was an absolute fortune.
On another occasion when the gangs of roaming youths was at its height, George had reason to speak with the leader of one of the gangs, advising him in strong tones.
At this time they were standing in Whitehawk Road outside the Whitehawk pub. ‘Bimbo,’ the gang leader, not wanting to lose face in front of his mates, made certain remarks to George. One short sharp push from George and the youth found himself flat on his back having fallen over the small pub wall. This really infuriated the youth who was cursing George as he got to his feet. He was so mad that for some unknown reason he challenged George to a fight over the park. This really wasn’t a very smart move by him. George never wanting to duck a fight duly met him over the park a few minutes later. It was best described like a scene from a film, the youths formed a circle and the fight began. It didn’t last for very long, George suffered a torn shirt after a few minutes, and the youth received one or two superficial injuries and the loss of some of his blood and the fight soon stopped. What he did lose though was his dignity in front of his mates. George had little trouble after that although the trouble in general didn’t end, there was a great improvement overall. Very little trouble when the youths knew ‘Big George’ was on duty.
I returned to the beat some while later and although the trouble still continued it was kept at an agreeable level. We strived to improve the situation all the time and I believe we did quite a fair job.
I have already mentioned about the sergeants who always rode a police pedal cycle when visiting us on our beats. The Inspector had the use of a car and so you never knew when he would turn up. I recall one evening when I was on night shift I was at the Whitehawk crossroads just before midnight as another problem had arisen. The last bus back to Whitehawk from Brighton town centre was having trouble with the local yobs. The bus company terminated the service at the crossroads instead of outside the bus garage in Whitehawk Road. The beat man from 8 beat, the sergeant and me would meet the last bus in to lessen the chance of any trouble, the GP car often followed the bus through from Brighton and so was in attendance as well. With this show of force the trouble soon ended.
One night we had some trouble with the yobs, which at first refused to leave the bus and we had them off and as the bus was about to drive off, the yobs said they would get the driver as he left the bus garage having finished work. The bus driver happened to be my uncle, Jack Archer. I knew he would have no truck with them as he could well look after himself. He was an ex-guardsman, tall and with a good build.
The yobs ran up the road after the bus and I wasn’t sure whether or not they meant it. I was in time to see my uncle leaving the garage, walking down the slope towards the pavement. There were five of these yobs who all went in together, I didn’t really see what happened, but quickly one went down, followed by another and after a shout from a third, they ran off, the two who went down ruefully rubbed their chins got up and followed after their mates. There were no complaints from anyone and that was the end of that incident.
Some while later again working nights on the beat I cycled out to Roedean Girls School, there had been some complaints from the school that a few of the girls had witnessed a ‘Peeping Tom’ around the school after dark. They were a bit concerned and asked for our help. I have to say that if there was one type of offence that we had no time for it was a ‘Peeping Tom.’ On this night I patrolled the grounds and as I did so I found a dead rabbit by the roadside, it had been struck by a car and wasn’t in too bad a state. I left the grounds and continued with my normal patrol, gradually making my way back to the Police box for my 45-minute break.
About 4am I went back to Roedean School and again saw the dead rabbit, I had brought a bag with me and put the rabbit in it and cycled back to the box and left it on the floor.
At 6am having finished my shift I picked up the rabbit and took it home. We skinned and dressed it and it made a lovely rabbit stew for the family.
A little bit of heaven
In the police box there was the statutory small electric fire, which you were only allowed to have on when you were officially in the box. That was when you were writing reports or having your refreshment break. I had left the fire on inadvertently after leaving the box but in the main I followed procedures. However, I used to cheat, as the time approached the 45-minute break. I used to have my route passing the box about 15 minutes before my break, pop in and switch the fire on and complete my route as written in the diary. Then by the time I got back to the box for my break it was nice and warm.
One night it was very cold, there had been frequent snow flurries and Whitehawk always seemed to drop those extra degrees, especially on nights. I had got frozen and as usual I had put the fire on prior to starting my break. As well as a desk stool in the box there was also a deckchair and there was nothing better on a cold night to stretch out in the deckchair to eat your sandwiches and drink your flask of tea or coffee. There were usually a selection of magazines, including a few from the ‘top shelf’ and so for your 45-minute break you were in heaven.
Asleep on the job
On this particular occasion, I was not only very cold, I was very tired and so with my sandwiches eaten and getting comfortable in the deckchair I committed the cardinal sin of falling asleep.
Sometime later I awoke with a start wondering where the heck I was. It was one of those times when it took you a while to get accustomed to your surroundings; I just couldn’t get it together. It turned out that I had been awoken by the smell of burning and there were slight wisps of smoke ascending in the box. I gave a good sniff and it was unmistakeable, something was on fire, – it was my trousers, the bottom of which had been too near the electric fire and was badly scorched and had burned away, making the ends go into a jagged sort of pattern. I was glad I was wearing cycle clips as I could cover it up a bit. The smell of burning was very pungent, and filled the Police box. The smell was so awful that I had to get rid of it by opening the box door although it was a freezing night. I was very lucky on this night, as not only did I nearly catch fire but also I was 20 minutes over my mealtime. I easily got away with that as usually on nights and after your meal break you had to do ‘box duties.’ This duty entailed the cleaning of the box, simply a quick sweep of the box, run a duster over the desk and shelves and in general tidy it up. There was an allowance of a fifteen minutes allotted for this task and on a cold or wet night this time was very acceptable.
Over the next few years I would again work the area known as ’25 Beat;’ and later still, while being a Police car driver I would attend many calls to the area.
Those were the days – well at times they were.
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