Oxford Street Crossing.
Many of us new Police Constables although married had yet to have a family and at the beginning of 1959 I was one of those in this position.
The Force was very helpful to young Constables when their wives were in hospital having had a baby. In this period new mothers having had their babies at The General Hospital in Elm Grove were confined to a stay of two weeks, longer if there were any complications. The visiting hours were comparatively short compared to modern day. The visiting hours were for just two hours, 6-8pm. Life on the beat made it very difficult to be able to visit your wife and new baby and so should you wish there were certain duties that the duty Inspector would put you on; one of these being the Oxford Street crossing.
The Oxford Street crossing.
This crossing was in London Road at the junction with Oxford Street and was a pedestrian crossing manned by two policemen from 9am – 6pm. This was due to the amount of traffic and shoppers, as London Road was then a very popular shopping area with plenty of well-known shops. You were often the butt of jokes from your colleagues if your name appeared on the duty sheet for duty on Oxford Street.
However, this allowed you to make your hospital visits for the complete two hours. On the odd occasion you managed to worm your way into the hospital baby ward by saying that your duty clashed with visiting hours and a nice sister would allow you in for a few minutes.
In February 1959, when my first son was born I found myself working the Oxford Street crossing, I have never really known if I enjoyed the experience or not. Standing in the middle of London Road for two hours at a time and waving my arms about like a demented windmill, breathing in the bus and car fumes and disappearing in a massive crowd of pedestrians as they crossed both ways en mass. This was on top of being out in all weathers but particularly in the winter time. Quite often children would put sweets in your hand or the pocket of the large white coat that you had to wear. These white coats appeared to be all one size and rarely fitted and in the summer time wearing this coat together with your white helmet, people could be excused if they thought you were an early ‘snowman.’
Newspapers and magazines were other items that found their way into your coat pockets by some of the pedestrians who crossed the road at this crossing. Many of us also had the one thing that we dreaded and that was with your hand outstretched and concentrating on the traffic, some bright spark would place an ice cream in your outstretched hand and bid you good morning or afternoon, smiling as they continued their journey. There were many occasions when you would point and stop an oncoming bus to enable the people to cross. Then as you stood aside allowing the bus to continue, the driver would give his pedal an extra squeeze and pump out a massive cloud of diesel fumes that were terribly choking. When this happened, you made a mental note of the time and on his next run along London Road, you would stop him again, this time holding him up for as long as you could, sometimes waiting for a pedestrian to run partway down Oxford Street or along London Road. When you let the bus go, you then held your breath, literary, so as not to take in the fumes and to see if he would do it again.
You shared this crossing with your colleague and when not on the crossing you would patrol London Road to help keep the traffic moving. Once your wife was out of hospital then if someone else was in that position then you would move off and they would take your place. This would happen to me one more time, in February 1963 when my second son was born. By this time I was becoming an ‘old hand’ and knew a few dodges and enjoyed the Crossing duty a little more.
In later years those working on the London Road beat and the Oxford Street Crossing constables were given special dispensation to go to the Police Station at Wellington Road to have a cooked meal. The beat box for both of these duties was in Francis Street near to one of the entrances to The Open Market, an extremely popular place for cheaper shopping. Constables going to the police station for their cooked meal had to book in to the operator and inform them that they were leaving their beat and going for their meal break of 45 minutes. They would then hurry across to the Police station hoping to goodness that they were not stopped and asked questions. They then had their meal break and hurried back to the beat box and inform the operator that you were back on your beat. The time allowed was exactly one hour.
The times that you rang in would be recorded and later checked by the sergeant to ensure that no one was away longer than the hour. It was all a bit of a rush, I used to take a few minutes less than 45 minutes to ensure that I was back on time, keeping my head down so that I didn’t invite anyone to stop me. I must admit though that this wasn’t always the case, I used to ‘forget’ to ring in when I was leaving my beat and so there was no start time. This was however, something you could only do on the odd occasion, and otherwise you would soon be rumbled by a sharp eyed sergeant.
Pc Bill Sansom
I believe that the exponent of the ‘Crossing’ was Pc Bill Sansom, one of the Police Force’s true characters and one of the strongest policemen in the Force. His name appeared possibly more times than anyone on the crossing duty sheet, not only did he enjoy this particular duty and was very good at it, but his wife gave birth to several children, hence one of the reasons he was on there. There is no doubt that Bill was a perfectionist as well as a strong man and was one of the nicest guys around. He had already been in the Force for a number of years but was still rather gullible when people tried to carry out a joke on him.
I remember on one occasion a well-known Chief Inspector on our Division had given him a right telling off for something. Bill felt really aggrieved about this and continually complained to us about it. It was suggested that he should forget about it but he couldn’t or maybe wouldn’t.
The story that circulated among us on ‘B’ Division was that one day Bill came in with a doll, a pin sticking out of its back. The next day we heard that the Chief Inspector had gone off duty, with a bad back, – coincidence?
Bill was one of those people where stories and myths abounded, many of them being made up. On this occasion the story about Bill and a doll was simply not true. The real story is told about this incident in the chapter about the Police characters.
He had been brought up in India and as a result was able to speak a number of dialects, something only an expert could master. There were a number of times during Bill’s service when he was called upon to act as an interpreter at the Police Station.
I recall that he bought a Leyland mini and he entered the Concour’s d’eligance on Madeira Drive one year. He had spent months and months cleaning and polishing this vehicle, it was magnificent. The engine gleamed and the various nuts and bolts had been picked out in different colours, with not a spot spilt. He won his class in this event. Many years later BMC offered him a considerable sum of money for it but he turned it down. He moved to a new house and after a short while his garden was immaculate, not a weed dare grow in his garden. He sifted his garden soil, sometime by the aid of a street lamp, in order that it wouldn’t contain any stones.
Over the years he demonstrated his strength by bending 6-inch nails in half and if that wasn’t hard enough he would then bend them back again. Telephone books were never any trouble, as he would tear several of these one after another.
He was classed as the biggest ‘Mumper’ (able to obtain anything at very little cost) and if there were anything wanted, he would normally be able to help you find it.
A new Police Box was built at the bottom of Elm Grove and he was working regularly on that beat. The box was fitted with the normal equipment but it was thought that an armchair and some carpet wouldn’t go a miss. Words were passed around and a decision was taken. A few days later the box had carpet on the floor, a comfortable armchair, a few other bits and pieces and a pot plant, with instructions on how to look after it. Bill was a very keen gardener; the box had surely been transformed giving it a complete ‘makeover.’
He was always a very good sport and certainly suffered his share of wigging from several quarters. He was a very popular policeman, liked by just about everyone.
On his last day in the Force, he was working then, his normal beat in Kemp Town where he was very popular with the residents. He was always helping out in some way or other and if he found a drunk on his beat, he would sooner find out who he was and get him home in preference to arresting them. Some supervisory members of the Force didn’t take too kindly to this action on occasions, thinking it was because of laziness but Bill was all for doing people a good turn, no matter who they were.
Wherever Bill worked he soon became very popular. He worked the Lewes Road area for a considerable time but one day he was posted to Kemp Town. He wasn’t very happy over this but the residents and local businessmen were even less happy. They got up a petition and sent it to the senior officers at John Street but to no avail. It had been decided that Bill had to move.
The same thing happened at Kemp Town, he had been serving there for some long time and then came his retirement. The residents there decided to award Bill with a street party complete with a police band.
Bill is the only policeman in the history of Brighton policing to have been given a street party. In all he served for 33 years mainly working the beats throughout Brighton, joining the Brighton Borough Force in 1951.
When Bill left the Force it meant yet another character had gone.