Working My Beat
At last the day dawned when I was posted to my own beat. This was for a 6-week period and I would share the beat with two other experienced policemen, who I hoped would assist me with my questions about the law, application and the general procedures.
I had been advised earlier that it was better to put my questions to the senior constables than to ask my Sergeant. The reasoning behind it was that if the questions were about something I should already have learned then the sergeant might deem you as ‘thick’ and that would warrant ‘extra attention.’ This would mean almost certainly that he would spend much more time with you and ask dozens of questions which might lead to extra learning and writing at home.
It was customary when making your way to your appointed beat from your home and returning that you wore full uniform. It was drummed into you that you were a policeman 24 hours a day, – even when you were asleep. Therefore when on the streets you wore uniform. (In later years you were allowed to go to work either in civilian clothes or as most constables did wore a civilian coat over their uniform.)
No. 7 beat
My first regular beat was No. 7 beat. This was considered the second best beat on the division. The beat box was situated on the seafront at the bottom of Bloomsbury Place and next to a public telephone box. Each beat had another police box whereby you could ring in to the operator from during your tour of duty. The other box for this beat was No. 9 beat box in Coalbrook Road. This beat posting made it quite a fair walk from my home in Dinapore Street. It wasn’t convenient to catch a bus and so it was a walk up Albion Hill through Queen’s park, down Freshfield Road and onto the seafront. I was very excited at having my very own beat and I was determined to show that I was more than capable to handle any problems that arose from the beat.
It was now early in September (1959) and my first shift was 2pm – 10pm, a shift that the majority of policemen disliked, funny enough though I didn’t. I was at the box very early, a little after 1.30pm. I had actually left home a little early as I didn’t know just how long the walk would take me, or if any members of the public would stop me and ask questions or worse have to deal with some sort of incident.
A sergeant and inspector on my tail
I hung up my coats and other parts of my uniform, this had been heavy to carry all that way but at least now I wouldn’t have to carry it any more until the end of the six-week period. I commenced to read the various orders, the diary and other beat notes that were pinned up. I checked on my ‘ringing in’ times and the point I had to make for that day writing all the information in my pocket book. I glanced back through my pocket book and realised that it was a little sparse of offences. I knew that I had to start ‘booking’ a few people otherwise I would have the sergeant and inspector on my tail. I continued to read all the various orders and other information applicable to this beat. I waited until 1.45 pm before I booked on, I didn’t want comments about me being at the box too early or being over keen although of course I was a bit on the keen side.
I rang in and asked, ‘who was the south section sergeant this afternoon’ and to my dismay was told, ‘Sergeant Spencer’, and the Inspector is Mr. Gooch’ I was happy with the Inspector, he wasn’t as a rule very strict but Sergeant Spencer was a different kettle of fish. He had been my sergeant on a number of occasions over the past few months and I wasn’t relishing the fact that he was now my ‘regular’ section sergeant.
I still attended the training school classes and by this time had got to know quite well the other young guys. During the years that followed I became very friendly with Joe Symons (Constable 133), Ron Betteridge (169), Mickey Rance (150), Harold Green (277), Reg Keys (346) Tom Dyer (232) and Tony Thomas (200)
I believe these numbers are correct but when more sergeants were promoted they were given the next consecutive number and that then meant that the constable holding that number was changed to a higher one.
All these officers had very similar qualities; they made very good and efficient policemen and exercised total fairness when dealing with the public. These were early days in our careers and all found the theory side of the job quite difficult, to me personally, the whole subject of the law seemed like a giant jigsaw puzzle and wondered if I would ever fill in all the pieces.
The early shift constable returned to the box after making his ‘point’ to report that everything was quiet on the beat. He said that he had enjoyed his walk along the seafront and there was ‘plenty of talent’ about. (Translated, that meant that there plenty of girls about wearing their summery clothes.)
I left the box sharp on time and walked along the seafront, keeping close to the kerb as I had been taught. I stopped at various road junctions, with head held high and pretending that I knew everything. One of the more difficult things to master on the beat was getting the distance and timing right. How long would it take me to walk around the route I had written in the diary, only experience would teach me that. I walked back to the box and rang in. The operator would then pass on messages or tell you to ring the Operations Room if there was a call on your beat. There was nothing for me and so I set about writing in my next route that I was going to take, I marked myself to patrol up Bloomsbury Place, then along St. George’s Road to Bedford Street and to return back along the seafront.
A quiet smoke
I was a smoker at this time and one of the forbidden rules was that you could only smoke in the police box during your 45 minute meal break, not while you rang in and wrote out the patrol route. I had noticed that just about everyone did smoke while attending to these tasks. I did just that, a ‘rolled’ cigarette would last three visits to the box. I used to smoke about a third of the cigarette and then stub it out and put the remaining two thirds back in my cigarette tin. While I was having this quick smoke, I would open the window and leave the door open. Before I left the box, I would get a handful of papers and swish them to and fro in order to remove the smoke. I had a cigarette on this occasion as it had been indicated that Sergeant Spencer wouldn’t get to my beat before about 3.30pm.
I commenced my patrol and made my way up to St.Georges Road, a narrow but very busy road. It had a number of small shops on either side, where people then used to stop on the yellow lines to visit the shops. There was a note on the board in the box about this problem and called for ‘extra attention’ to be given. I was absolutely amazed when I reached this road; it was full of vehicles, both sides of the road. I suddenly thought, ‘Gosh! what will happen if the Sergeant should now arrive? I set about finding the drivers and getting them to move. I went from one end to the other and eventually managed o get them clear. I stood at the bottom of College Place and positively beamed at my achievement, it was now I wanted the sergeant to arrive and see what a wonderful job I had done. I stayed there for a few more minutes before I continued my patrol and walked westwards towards Bristol Road and then back to the box. I walked along Marine Parade and as I neared the box I saw a bicycle propped up against the side of the box and the door open. I knew immediately that it was the sergeant and I wasn’t looking forward to the meeting. I knocked on the open door on arrival and said the immortal words, ‘No. 7 beat all correct, Sergeant.’
He was sitting on the stool and looked at me as if I had come from another Planet. ‘What’ he stormed, ‘What, I have just been doing your work up there,’ pointing towards St. George’s Road, I have spent the last 20 minutes chasing cars away that were parked everywhere, even on the pavements.’ I started to give my explanation, when he continued, ‘this is your beat, not mine, and it is your job to see to the parking right through the centre and everywhere else on your beat, look, you even have a note pinned up on the board in front of you. Did you read it?’ I could see that he wasn’t interested in the fact that I had cleared the area and we both knew that as soon as your back was turned the area was once again full of vehicles.
He next asked for my pocket book, turning back the pages slowly, I knew he was going to say something about it. ‘Pc Rowland,’ he said, ‘this is pretty disgraceful, isn’t it.’ ‘Yes sergeant’ I said. He continued, “you haven’t had many jobs have you, do you walk around with your eyes closed, everywhere you look there are offences, why aren’t you reporting them? I feebly replied, ‘I don’t know sergeant’ Well, I think you are lazy, I shall be keeping an eye on you.’
He then said, “I will give you a booking in Marine Parade at, glancing at his watch, now,’ indicating a time. He got on his bicycle and rode away. I was in shock and immediately thought, blimey, he is a lot worse than I had first thought and I have got the next six weeks of this.
I did manage to book a couple of motorists, attend to a domestic dispute in a flat in College Road. I also gave very good attention to the busy road where the sergeant had told me off. In the evening I was called to a rowdy group of young lads in Madeira Drive and that was about the sum total of the day’s incidents. I made my point at the correct time and went back to the box. I was talking to the night constable who was relieving me and related the story about Sergeant Spencer. ‘Don’t worry about him,’ he said, ‘he is a very good sergeant but he always chases probationers, but he is really ok’ I left the box not convinced. I thought about Sergeant Spencer all the way home.
The following day, I returned to the beat and was soon on patrol. I quickly made my way up to St.Georges Road; I found out that this road was always referred to as ‘The Centre’ The episode the previous day with Sergeant Spencer had certainly taught me something. There were as usual a line of cars stretching along the road and I soon set about having them moved. I had been told by one of the friendlier policemen that one of the quickest ways of getting cars moved and with the least effort was to stand next to one of the cars and take your pocket book out of the pocket of your tunic jacket. Make a big thing about it, glance down at the car number plate and pretend to write the number down in the book. The drivers suddenly appear from out of the shops, apologising most profusely and the problem is soon removed. I thought I would give it a try. I stood on the street corner for a short while and nothing happened, no drivers appeared and so I went to a car that was roughly in the middle of the line and took out my book. I held it prominently in my hand and made a big thing about looking at the car’s number plate and then pretending to write it down in my book. I have never seen car drivers appear so quickly, apologising and driving away. I believe out of a dozen or more cars I only had to attend to two of them, the whole length of the road was completely clear. I thought, now is the time I would like the sergeant to come, but that rarely happened.
I did see Sergeant Spencer later that afternoon; he looked at my pocket book, signed it, gave me a booking and cycled off towards Black Rock. He didn’t say much to me but at least I didn’t get a telling off. I later had a visit from the duty inspector and after attending to a few simple enquiries the shift ended.
The following week I was on the early shift, this meant starting at 6am but being at the box 15 minutes before. This was something new for me I had never had to get up so early, on a regular basis, to go to work. I set my alarm and got up without too much trouble. I was to enjoy the early shift throughout my career, and even after that at various other jobs.
I patrolled my beat, walking along the seafront, thinking, I am getting paid to do this while holidaymakers have to pay for the privilege.
On every Thursday afternoon the Force had a ‘Pay Parade’ that was conducted at both the Wellington Road and Town Hall Police Stations. This was the way in which your wages were paid. Whether or not you were on duty you had to attend.
There would be an officer sitting behind a desk and you had to smartly march up and salute, stating your police number, mine being 127, he would then hand you an envelope containing your wages, in cash. I can recall that on one occasion I called out my number and was given my envelope, a little thicker than normal. I was off duty and was going shopping, at the shops, I opened the envelope to find quite a lot more money then I would normally have received. I thought I had been paid overtime or some expenses that I had forgotten about. I was overjoyed with this amount of money.
When I later arrived at home and looked more closely at the wage envelope I found that the number on it was 217 and not 127. I had been given Pc David Redhead’s wages by mistake. He later told me that he had quite a shock when he had a smaller amount of money than usual. It was soon sorted out.
The following week I started my ‘night’ week that was a shift from 10pm – 6am. I was never sure how I would cope working right through the night but now I was about to find out. I had bought myself a decent torch that had a strong beam.
There were certain allowances that were paid on top of the basic wage, such as typewriter allowance, this being paid if you used your own typewriter but most constables wrote their reports by hand, including myself. Another allowance was ‘battery’ allowance and money was paid to offset the cost of your torch batteries. Cycle allowance was another of those strange allowances; this was paid when you used your own cycle on the named beats instead of borrowing one from the Police station at the Town Hall.
Working the night shift was quite different to working on the day’s shifts. On nights the beat constable had to check every shop door on his beat, twice during his shift. Once before his allotted break; which was 1.15 – 2am and then once after.
Then there were ‘F and U’s (Furnished and unoccupied premises) these were premises where the occupier was away either on holiday or on business. These householders contacted the police and then an entry would be made in a book kept at the beat box and the night constable would then check these premises twice during the night.
I finished the first night’s duty and wearily made my way home. I had my breakfast and went to bed about 7.30am I was soon asleep and then soon awake, – just after 11am and that would be the pattern throughout the week. In fact that would be the pattern throughout my career, having very little sleep during the day.
This lack of sleep made me quite ‘touchy’ towards the end of the week. My children used to say, after I had snapped at them, “Watch out the old man is on nights again”
Close to the police box, in Marine Parade was a nice hotel owned by Dora Bryan. The lounge was in the front of the building and on the ground floor. She employed a night porter who invited the beat constable in for a cup of tea around 4am. This of course was very welcome, especially on a cold or wet night. The position of the lounge allowed me to watch the box for two reasons, one to see when the sergeant arrived and the second reason being the blue flashing light that was activated if you were required.
A few weeks later I was on 6 beat, which was considered the best and favourite beat of just about all of the constables. I was working the night shift and there was what was generally termed a ‘tea stop’ on this beat. It was on the end of the Palace Pier as there was a night watchman there and was very pleased to have the beat constable stop for a cuppa and a chat. This again was at 4am and was held in the right hand kiosk at the pier head when facing the pier.
On this particular night, it had been raining on and off all night, one of those miserable nights that you dreamed of, firmly believing that they wouldn’t occur when you were on the night shift. It was normal for the body to be at its lowest ebb around 3am, this was a well-known fact and I didn’t believe it until I actually worked these shifts. I was walking on the south side of Madeira Drive and had to check the small boats lying overturned on the beach. These were often used by people sleeping rough and it was our job to check such people as a number of criminals on the run had been caught this way. I had checked a number of boats without success and had returned to the pavement. I continued walking westwards towards the Palace pier when I saw a dark coloured car, without lights; drive around the aquarium and into Madeira Drive and then stop.
Still on probation
Still being on probation I was anxious to impress. I watched this car and made my way across the wide pavement to get into a position to raise my hand to stop it. I had no idea about the occupants but I was determined to stop it and report the driver. I was very keen at this stage but equally very green. The car instead of continuing along the road suddenly turned across the road and mounted the pavement.
I was a little worried at this but I knew that I could report the driver for yet another offence. Mind, I hadn’t come across this scenario at the training school and now I had to decide quite how to tackle it. Who were the occupants in the car, were they yobs, out for a bit of fun, or was their something more sinister about them.
The car then stopped about 50 yards away from me, facing towards me. My thoughts were now racing, what was I about to face? I wasn’t too scared, more puzzled, it was a bit like a film, suspense on what was about to happen.
Whatever the situation, I was still determined to have a go at stopping it. Then, all of a sudden the car lurched forward, gathering speed by the second and putting all of its lights on and blinding me for a second. At this time I had moved back across the pavement near to the railings and I decided that I had to get out of the way, and quickly. The driver had aimed this car at me. I leapt over the railings onto the beach about six feet below, landing in a pile headfirst. I heard the car screech to a halt and looking up I heard the sound of laughter and two men appeared by the railings, laughing and pointing to me. They were Pc’s Geoff Green and Gordon Bartlett; they were the G. P. (General Purpose) car crew. “You all right son?” one of them called. “Yes” I blurted out. “Just having a little laugh, new aren’t you?” I had hurt my ankle but I didn’t intend to mention it. I made my way back up to the pavement, a little shaky but none the worse for wear.
They drove off, still laughing and I made my way along to the Palace Pier for a well-deserved cup of tea. I was to learn as the years passed that many tricks and jokes were played by officers on other officers. This included one day when an officer woke at home, he looked out of his window to find his front garden set out as a café with tables and chairs displayed in an orderly fashion.
Well, I had now been initiated into the Brighton Police Force. In years to come it would be my turn to do the initiations.
These tea stops were not really allowed although the Sergeants and Inspectors knew that they went on, they had partaken of them long before I joined the Police Force and of course they knew where to find you if you were wanted.
I recall one day, working on 9 Beat and being on the day shift, 10am-6pm, when it was a pretty miserable day. I had had no calls to any incidents, any parking problems or disputes. I had called at a couple of houses in order to either take or arrange statements but without success. The day shift had really dragged, I had sat in the box and ate my sandwiches and drank my flask of tea around 1pm and then pretended to read the local ‘Orders and Information’s’ so that I could stay in the box a little longer, this way I had been in the Box for just on an hour instead of the allotted 45 minutes. About 3.30 pm after my prescribed ring in to the Police Station I made my way up Sutherland Road to Canning Street where I had some friends from my ‘Sainsbury’s’ days. I knocked on the door and was met with the greeting, ‘the kettle is on.’ I went in and got settled in an armchair. The tea arrived with some cream biscuits. We got into conversation and I suppose I had been there for about 15 minutes when my friend said, ‘I think your Sergeant is looking for you.’ She could see through the window as she was sat facing it. I jumped about 3 feet in the air in a bit of a panic, my mind whizzing about trying to think of a good excuse. I said to my friend, go and have a look and tell me when he has gone from the street. She gave me the all clear and I shot out of the house and went the opposite way, hurrying along the street. My problem was twofold, one I knew I shouldn’t have been in the house drinking tea and the other one was that the sergeant was my ‘friend’ Mr. Spencer. I needed this but then I only had myself to blame. I knew others did it but then they were able to make up good excuses, having more experience than me and had these good and reliable excuses already, just for occasions like this one… I had by now decided that my excuse was that I saw some kids misbehaving in an adjoining street and I had gone off my route to sort them out.
I made my way back to the box and as I turned the corner of Coalbrook Road I saw the tell tale cycle propped against the Police Box. I gingerly entered the box and the Sergeant said nothing. This wasn’t what I had expected; perhaps he wasn’t looking for me after all, my fear started to fade. I said, “9 beat all correct Sargeant.” “Is it?” he retorted “How would you know, you haven’t been on it. I followed your route that you wrote in the diary but couldn’t find you, where were you?” I said, “I was off my route as some kids were being troublesome in Rochester Street and I went there to sort it out.” He retorted, “Oh, you got their details did you?” “No, I didn’t, they ran away.”
I knew darn well that he didn’t believe me. He then said, “You obviously chased them as you have a couple of buttons undone on your coat?”
In my haste to leave the house in Canning Street I had forgotten to do up all my coat buttons. He then said, “Son, when you have a cup of tea somewhere in future, don’t do it when the Sergeant is due.” He then left the box, mounted his cycle and rode away.
We had a few more bust-ups over the next few weeks. On one occasion I submitted a traffic accident report, which I felt I had dealt with quite well, I had taken my own statements and compiled the report entirely on my own. I was feeling quite pleased with my report and submitted it through to the Sergeant’s office at Wellington Road.
I reported for duty the following day and in the folder I found my report addressed back to me. When there were problems with a report the sergeant would attach a note saying what was needed or what had to be changed. On my report was attached a note with the words, ‘Rewrite’ and signed by Sergeant Spencer but with no other comments or remarks. Later during my tour of duty I sat down and wrote it out again, but I didn’t know why I had to do it. I again submitted it back to Wellington Road. The next day there it was again, with ‘Rewrite’ on it in Sergeant Spencer’s handwriting. I thought, well, I am not writing this out again. I had found out that he was my section sergeant today and so I waited for him to come round. He duly arrived and I said the usual silly words that the beat was ok. He asked, “Any problems?”
I then said that I wasn’t very happy about my report bouncing back and forth, rewriting it and I don’t know why. He said, “Well, I thought you would see why, all the spelling mistakes that is why.” The conversation ended up in a right old row and on that note we parted. I was pretty mad about all this and at the same time realising that I was still on probation and that probably my attitude may well have gone down against me.
Sergeant George Spencer had a balding head, at times a very ruddy complexion and had been a policeman for many years, fast approaching his retirement. He was in a choir; in Patcham I believe and loved his singing. He had a nickname, being known as ‘Bacon Bonce’ but not said in a nasty way or to his face
About 6pm that day, he phoned me at the box to tell me to be at the box at a certain time as he was coming out to see me. I thought, oh dear this is it; I am probably in trouble now especially adding up the various incidents during the past few weeks. He duly arrived at the appointed time and I watched him from the box as he cycled along Marine Parade towards me.
He got off the cycle and came into the box. He said, “Right son, putting his arm around my shoulder, what’s the matter, let’s sit down and sort it out, shall we?” I told him what I thought and he listened intently and he explained the situation of the Probationer and that it was imperative to get things right, straight from the start. He went to say that he wanted to help all probationers.
He left me to my thoughts as I wandered around my beat until time to go off duty and home.
After this incident Sergeant Horace George Spencer was the model sergeant to me, treating me like his son and helped me to learn a lot about report writing, my reports generally going to him to check and submit. He retired from the Police Force in 1962 and to me he was a sad miss.
(I had the pleasure of talking to him in July 2000, shortly after his 89th birthday, a little older but with just the same voice; he really was a wonderful guy. Sadly he has since passed away. Although we appeared not to get on at first he really was a wonderful policeman and great guy)
I recall another incident when I was working on 6 beat, this covers the seafront area, St. James Street and the south side of Edward Street plus all the streets in between.
I had booked on duty in time for the night shift at 10pm. The weather was appalling, windy and with heavy rain; certainly not a night to be out. When I booked on, as was normal I asked who the inspector was on nights. Inspector Bourne, I was informed. Now I wasn’t a great fan of Inspector Bourne, a man of few words and who could be a bit strict. I didn’t think he processed a sense of humour either.
Oh, crime, is that something you know about then?
There was an officer working on St James Street, a fixed beat from 6pm until 2am. This officer was Pc Tom Dyer, a lovely fun guy. About 10.30pm we were both standing chatting in the doorway of the Sainsbury shop that was on the corner of Dorset Gardens. We were both wearing our capes and I was smoking a cigarette. Wearing the cape it was possible to hide your cigarette beneath it, even walking along the street. We had been there about 5 minutes when a black police car pulled up opposite where we were. It was the Inspector. We both looked at each other and uttered a few words, knowing that we were in trouble by both being together.
At this time the rain was really pouring down hard. Pc Dyer and we both went out to the car stopping on the driver’s side and saluting smartly. Inspector Bourne wound down the window about two inches said to Pc Dyer, “I’ll book you St. James Street.” He said nothing to me but sat in the car looking straight ahead. I stood there getting wetter and wetter and after what seemed ages he said to me, “Is that cigarette burning your fingers yet Rowland, you had better put it out.” “Yes Sir,” I replied.
He then said, “Why were you and Pc Dyer together?” I stumbled over my words, not knowing what to say and then blurted out, “we had just met and we were talking about crime, Sir” Now if I really thought that Inspector Bourne was going to believe that, then I was a fool. He said, “Oh, crime, is that something you know about then?”
I then realised that he didn’t believe me, as he then said “I would call it ‘idling and gossiping, wouldn’t you?” “Yes Sir,” I said. By this time I was soaking, the rain running down the back of my neck. He then said, “I’ll see you Dorset Gardens.”
He then wound up his window the two inches and drove off up St James Street.
The following evening both Pc Tom Dyer and I were on duty again on the same beats. I said to Tom, I’ll see you in Sainsbury doorway about 10.30pm.
I said that the inspectors changed their route every other night and so won’t get around to us until after midnight. The night again was quite unpleasant, raining but not as bad as the previous night. I was wearing my cape and as soon as I got to the Sainsbury doorway, I lit my cigarette. We both stood chatting when all of a sudden
A black police car drew up. It was Inspector Bourne again. He hadn’t changed his route and had caught us again together in the doorway. We both knew we were for it this time. I immediately dropped my cigarette and trod on it. We both walked sheepishly to the car and saluted. Inspector Bourne wound down the window a couple of inches and really tore us off a strip, warning me in particular that I was still a probationer, and warned us both of the consequences should he ever catch us again.
He booked us and left, we parted with each of us walking down St. James Street on the opposite sides of the road. Never did we meet in that doorway again. We had been caught fair and square.
Inspector Eric Bourne went on to have a good police career, rising through the ranks until he became a Chief Superintendent and the Divisional Commander of Brighton. I got to know him a little better then due to my Federation involvements and found him to be a gentleman with a wonderful sense of humour.
I invited him to my retirement ‘do’ at John Street and reminded him of the incidents in St. James Street al those years ago but he said he couldn’t remember.
I never saw much of him after I retired as he seemed to not be involved with anything ‘police’ after that. He became the head policeman of all the Brighton Parks for the park-keepers as well as the general security of Parks and Gardens in general.
He didn’t attend any NARPO meetings or the social side of things.
www.amazon.co.uk/ David – Rowland
Welcome to the Finsbury Publishing
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.