Police Constable 118 William Sansom

Facade of the Market Buildings, c. 1970s: An arched gateway which had led to market buildings built in 1900-1901 by the borough engineer Francis May in red brick and terracotta design in three sections. Each building had an iron roof and arched glass, selling fruit, vegetables and flowers. They closed in 1938 when the Circus Street Municipal Market opened, and was demolished. This archway and Market Street disappeared in the development of Bartholomew Square which opened in 1987
Circus Street in those days had a very different look from its appearance today. Then it was a very mean slum street of a few old houses, with Circus Street Schools at the corner of Carlton Hill.
Duncan Mcneil The regency Society
A Brighton trolleybus in Elm Grove

Bill joined Brighton Borough police Force in the early 1950’s. He became one of the Police Force’s characters.

Bill was not only very clever but extremely strong. He could easily tear a telephone book in half as well as bend and break 6’’ nails. And then straighten them again. Quite incredible.

He was brought up in South Africa and India. He was able to speak a number of Indian dialects and was used as an interpreter at the Police Station on many occasions. 

He worked a beat which covered the fruit and Vegetable market in Circus Street and everybody who worked in the market knew him. He was very well liked. He was in those days a very good ‘Public Relations Officer’ long before it was really known. We all marvelled at his strength, he never bragged about it and was quite a shy and retiring sort of chap. He was forever being asked to demonstrate his feats of strength.

For every nail you can break I will give you a box of plants

One day he was passing the market when one of the stall holders, who Bill knew well, called him over. The stall holder knew that Bill was a very good and keen gardner.  He would often buy his plants from the stall holder and always received a good discount. On this occasion there were a number of market workers hanging around. One of these workers was trying to show off his strength by bending a 6’’ nail in half. He wasn’t being very successful. Bill took the nail from him wrapped it in a piece of cloth and promptly bent it in half and then broke it… The workers were amazed at the feat. The stall holder said to Bill, “For every nail you can break I will give you a box of plants, of your choice for your garden.” That was just the sort of challenge Bill liked. He said someone go and get me some nails. Someone went off and came back with a dozen 6’’ nails and handed them to the stall holder. Bill made sure the stall holder would keep his word, and wrapped each nail in his piece of cloth.*

Needless to say he broke every one of the nails. Everyone present was very impressed and gave Bill a loud round of applause. True to his word the stall holder told Bill to choose a dozen boxes of plants and then told Bill he too was very impressed and then told Bill he would deliver the plants for him to his home.

Home comforts

Bill was known mainly for his skill at getting just about anything he wanted either for free or for very little payment but mainly for nothing. He did all his green grocery from the market which was something the rest of us very rarely managed to do. There was never anyone like Bill for that. A year or so after the nail breaking episode he was [posted to another beat, in fact to Beat number 15 which was the Lewes road area stretching up to the Junction of Elm Grove and Queen’s Park Road. The beat then went down one of the streets to Hartington  Road and down to Lewes Road and all the streets in between. It was obviously a very hilly beat. The police box from where the policemen worked from was situated at the bottom of Elm Grove. It used to be an old smelly box but one day a new one was built in its place, a brand new modern box. Bill was very pleased but noted that it lacked a few ‘home comforts’. One day he called in a local second hand furniture shop in Lewes Road and explained the situation to the shop keeper. Bill persuaded him to ‘donate’ a few items for the police box. As a result the ‘box’ was carpeted and an arm chair added. This was followed with a coffee table and an ornament to place on it. Bill even managed to scrounge some curtains for the windows.

Bill then donated a pot plant for the window sill to brighten it all up. He left strict instructions on how to look after the plant. This was now a luxury police box and a succession of governors came to look at it. even the Chief Superintendent came and not one of them told Bill to remove it. It was by far the best one in town.

‘Naughty magazines’ were added at a later date; even these were free. Every Police Box had a selection of these types of magazines.

Pride and Joy

Another of Bill’s hobbies was his ‘mini-car’ His real ‘Pride and Joy’ The car was a red 850cc 1964 model and it was exceptional, in absolutely pristine condition. You could eat your dinner off the engine where it was so clean. He lavished such love and affection on it, it was just unbelievable but it paid dividends for him. It was said that even after working a late shift (2-10pm) he was cleaning it by the aid of the street lamp. He used to enter the car in the ‘Concourse D’elegance’ on the seafront at Brighton and won every time he did.

One year he went to Blackpool and entered their competion. He was pitted against an immaculate 1932 Rolls Royce. Bill gave himself little chance against this vehicle, it was beautiful. The Rolls Royce owner was also used to winning. You can imagine Bill’s delight when it was announced that his mini was the winner. Bill always said Blackpool was his greatest win ever. Every car Bill ever owned was kept in immaculate condition.

One day I bought a Morris 2200 from a work colleague who in turn bought it from Bill. It was in pretty good condition still when I bought it. (These cars were called ‘land Crabs’ because they stuck to the road like glue, a wonderful car.

I once asked Bill about his first ever arrest, always a proud thing to do as a young green policeman. He thought for a moment and then replied’ that was when I was in London  Road in 1952. I was called to a public house in Cheapside. The landlord had been threatened with a knife by two young guys.’ He paused and said’ I questioned them and they denied the offence but I found the knife. I then arrested them’ Bill then found there were no vehicles available at that time to take him and his prisoners to the police station. There was only one thing I could do and that was to march them along London road to the Police Box in Francis  Street which I did.

It so happened that these two young men were soldiers and they appeared in court the following morning. They were both sentenced to 3 months in prison. In court one of them said ho appreciative they were at Bill’s kindness towards them, the other one nodded in agreement. What a guy Bill was. I had great respect for him. He retired from the police in 1984 and he was treated to a great send off. A  street in Kept Town where he was then working held a street party for him. He was the only policeman ever to get that honour. Sadly he died a few years ago. His funeral was held at Patcham and the church was packed as you would expect.


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David Rowland has just launched his 15th and final book, “The Spirit of Winsome Winn II”, all about the B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed at Patcham after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Germany.


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