Stories from the book, 'The Police in Lewes.' Part 21

WPC 16 Sonya Hatchett, Aylesbury around 1961.
WPC 9 Beryl Dickens 1965
Revell 1:43 MGB GT-East Sussex Police Car
Hazel and Kate
Traffic Duty Woman Police Sergeant Irene Jones, Aylesbury 1953

Regarding the women police stationed at Lewes, they played a large and very important part of policing within the town. As always there are certain policewomen who can probably do a better job than some of their male colleagues. I knew a police woman at Brighton who could throw a ‘4-penny one’ as good as any policeman could. I would sooner have worked with her than quite a number of policemen.

‘lady officers’

According to Police Routine Orders, Sheila Hurst appears to have been the first policewoman to have worked in Lewes after the Second World War. She was posted there in 1955. It is thought that a policewoman, Beryl Amos was in all probability working in Lewes before Sheila. However, the records are inconclusive on this point.

Joy Walker was posted to Lewes on the 5th February1962; there was also Pam Knight being among a number of policewomen who were posted in during the 1960’s. At this time the main duties of the Policewomen were missing person enquiries and all indecency offences. However, when not engaged in these offences then they would undertake patrolling duties although that was not really the order of the day. As the years passed by the establishment was increased to two women police officers, this was when WPC Kate Piper arrived.

One recruit intake had a large number of ‘lady officers’ included and on their return from the training School had a day or so in between their postings and it was decided by person/s in high authority that they should all go and spend the intervening time attached to Lewes Police Station. Lewes had never before so many ‘lady police officers, it seemed the town was just policed by Policewomen as they all patrolled different parts of the town. The residents has never seen anything like it since that time.

It is true to say that overall the ladies definitely fitted well at Lewes; however, there was one ‘fly in the ointment.’ There was a sergeant, only one and he made no attempt to hide his feelings about policewomen at Lewes Police station. He was meticulous in his dealings with them and without fail, he always address them as ‘young lady’ Bob Barley always told everyone that he had three ‘pet hates’, these were dogs, gypsies and policewomen. Then after a second or two he would add ‘Though not necessarily in that order.’

Another arrival during the 1960’s was Diana Smith, she was a very pleasant young lady, and you couldn’t help liking her because of her disposition. However, she was christened ‘Fred’ by Frank Deeprose. He always reckoned that it was much simpler to call her that then to spend an 8-hour duty with Fred Smith’s presence. It certainly caused less friction at home!

The wives

(There was a lot of friction at times with officer’s wives when they knew their husband’s had spent 8 hours at night with a policewoman in the police car with them.  At one time there was a deputation of the wives who called on the superintendent not to put their husbands with a policewoman in a patrol car at night. I know that happened once at Brighton.) Diana was very well liked at Lewes and she later went on to marry Denis Care, who was a senior officer on another division. (When he was at Brighton he was my dart’s partner. A very good player he was too.)

There was one little story that had filtered back to the Police station, strangely via a member of the public about a rather unfortunate policewoman. Obviously there are no names mentioned here.

This policewoman was sent out on an enquiry, she hadn’t been at Lewes but a few days and so you could make excuses for her. Anyway, this enquiry was at a house at ‘The Lynchetts’ in Malling Street. At the end of this enquiry, the policewoman was about to leave and she politely said to the occupant ‘Could you please tell me how I get back to the Police Station’. I am sure she wasn’t the only Police officer who ever asked that question of a member of the public. It really took some courage to ask that question anyway.

A ‘Raspberry Split’ MGB GT sports car.

Joy Smith nee Christian and Hazel Lane nee Waters, though not on the Lewes Police sub-strength, worked from Lewes Police Station as the very first lady crew in the country to work together as a regular team. They had been especially chosen by the Chief Constable, George Terry. They attended the Kent Driving School in Maidstone, noted for being one of the very best driving schools in this country, in fact possibly the very best. The Driving School produced some of the finest police car drivers in the country. Having both completed the course with fabulous results they returned to Lewes. George Terry took great delight in showing them off to both the media and the public in a ‘Raspberry Split,’ these traffic cars were so called as they were painted red and white. You couldn’t miss them a police traffic cars. Both of these girls were great and extremely competent police drivers. Because they were ‘different’ they spent time on each of the 8 traffic zones. This gave the Force great administrative problems with the various court appearances etc. The two girls with their traffic car also did a lot of publicity ‘gigs.’ It was eventually decided that they would be allocated to one particular zone, thus three months later and shortly after the amalgamation in 1968, the two girls were posted to Traffic zone 6, (T6.) and worked out of Lewes Police Station in their ‘Raspberry Split MGB GT sports car.

In order to conform to the practice of the traffic division of having ‘white tops’ to their head gear, the two girls painted the top of their standard issue ladies hats with white paint. Being white, the hats needed to be frequently painted with emulsion paint and the more coats of paint the hats had, the heavier they became, fortunately ‘purpose built’ hats were issued to them after a while. Then of course, the need for keep painting these hats became totally unnecessary.

The MGB whilst being a pretty fast and smart vehicle, it was not really suitable for traffic work as the space available for traffic cones, used at accidents, signs and the other equipment that was needed was insufficient. In fact even the spare wheel had to be left out of the car in order to make way for the equipment already mentioned. Then because of the weight of all the necessary equipment that was carried on board, the rear part of the vehicle was rather low slung and was very close to the ground; as a result the exhaust was quite frequently damaged.

The ACC’s button.

There was an instance when the spaciousness of the MGB was illustrated; was when by a journey was undertaken by Assistant Chief Constable Jimmy Leader. He needed to be taken to West Sussex by Joy Christian. Jimmy was a heavily built man and found it a very tight squeeze to even get into the car, in fact it wasn’t happy with this at all. So much so that the next day he telephoned to ask whether a button, which had burst from his overcoat, had been found in the car. It hadn’t been found but Joy spent an awful long time stripping out the vehicle searching for the ACC’s button. No trace of it was ever found.

Joy lived at number 1a, St. Anne’s Crescent along with Kate Piper from the Lewes Police Station. This accommodation was, in fact quite spacious and so it made a good venue for a number of parties at the weekends. These were always really enjoyed by everyone who attended them. By the time that everyone had gathered the flat didn’t look large enough then.

The chase

The living room of ‘1a,’ gave a very good view of the Prison Cross Roads and Hazel recalls one evening being there when a vehicle which had previously been circulated as a stolen one in the area. At the end of their 6pm-2am shift Joy and |Hazel had retired to St. Anne’s Crescent to relax. Sometime later, Hazel was still in uniform, happened to be looking out of the window with a glass in her hand when, heck she saw the stolen vehicle being driven past the Prison Cross Roads, she couldn’t believe it. She ran out to where her Volkswagen ‘Beetle’ was parked and took up the chase. Meanwhile Joy phoned the police to tell them what was going on and to ask for some back-up for Hazel. Hazel then managed to stop the stolen vehicle and as the ‘back-up’ arrived she arrested the two car-thieves. They were taken back to the Lewes police Station and placed in the cells. What a job and what a brave lady too. As a result of her actions she was summoned to Police Headquarters where the Chief Constable awarded her a commendation, and rightly so too.

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