Stories from the book, 'The Police in Lewes.' Part 1
This is a collection of stories gleaned from a number of police officers who spent some or all of their police careers working the streets of Lewes and the rural areas around Lewes.
In the days when they had horse racing at Lewes, a good story emerges told by Jim Smith: – The race course lies just behind Lewes Prison, and these days there is no horse racing in Lewes and hasn’t been for a number of years
During race days, as at many race courses throughout Britain traffic gets very heavy and it was no different at Lewes. Prior to and immediately after the racing the traffic was very heavy,
Manuel traffic control was required at Library Corner traffic lights as they just could not cope with the volume of traffic.
On one race day Jim Small was directing traffic with these lights turned off when all of a sudden he felt a tug on his trousers. On looking down he saw a little boy who said, ’Please sir, a man has just jumped into the river,’ while at the same time he pointed to the Cliffe Bridge. Jim then turned the traffic lights back on and hurried along to the bridge with the boy. Looking over the south side he saw a man in the river – at the bridge the river is tidal, but at this time the tide was out. The water barely covered the man’s ankles.
Jim then hurried to Beck’s garage which ran along the side the river bridge, leaned out of the window which overlooked the river and shouted to the man, ‘hey you! Come on out of there!’ The ‘paddler’ did what he was told, which surprised Jim and he then returned to Library Corner traffic Lights. In the meantime the ‘paddler’ was returned to the mental Institute where he had previously absconded from. Jim now had to try and sort out the traffic mess which by then really was in a mess.
The earliest date when horse racing was held at the racecourse is unknown, there are no records about that time. The earlies date I can find was sometime in 1714. (This date is mentioned in the unpublished diary of Thomas Marchant of Hurstpierpoint.)
There was certainly horse racing at the Lewes course in 1727 and it is possible it is this date when regular horse racing was held there. The meetings that were held there in 1765 took place in August. The larges prize in those days for the ‘special Kings Plate’ race was 100 guineas, certainly an awful lot of money.
The course was situated exactly one mile west of the Lewes town centre and is situated 500 feet above sea level, the track has thick turf on the chalk base. The course itself was in the shape of a horse shoe. The first part of the course has a strong incline which is then followed by the next 6 furlongs becomes quite level, then it runs slightly downhill and the last 100 yards becomes an incline as the horses pass the stand to the finish.
The first race stand was built in 1772 and last until 1842 when sadly it burnt down. A new one was built two years later and then enlarged in 1893.
The Prince of Wales, later King George IV seldom missed a Lewes race meeting, saying that he thought the course was the best in England. By then the Prince had his own racing stables’
In 1955 the last of the unique two-day meetings took place. These race meetings were held on Monday and Tuesday, Friday and Saturday and again on the following Monday and Wednesday. When these race days were cancelled probably led to the decline of the race course. Eventually the race days were confined to just 5 days on a Monday and just one meeting on a Saturday.
He strange quirk about the Lewes course was that they had no running water, there was also no mains electricity or gas. These shortcomings also led to the demise of the Lewes course.
The last race meeting at Lewes took place on the 14th September 1964 and it then closed forever.
On another Lewes race day was a story well remembered by Phil Lloyd. It was an occasion at Lewes Races when Phil was on duty there. At this time he was standing with Francis Whitewood who was responsible for the racecourse supervision. Vehicles at these meetings often parked on the far side of the racecourse and this actually involved actually crossing the course.
For safety reasons, from five minutes before each race, the vehicles were stopped crossing the course until the race was finished. The method of carrying out this closure for just a few minutes was to suspend a rope across the side of the course. This rope was held by a police officer and on this particular day Phil was given this onerous task to do. Francis saw what was happening and with his official ‘rolling’ gait quickly went to Phil and saying in his rustic booming voice, ‘you can’t do that – you have not got enough service in yet!
Some of the smaller building contractors in Lewes quite often had work in connection with the police buildings in Lewes. As a result, Ted, who ran a small building and decorating company? He was quite well known and very much liked, always a cheery sort of chap. One contract that he obtained was for the external redecoration of police Headquarters. One observer noted that on the first day’s operations at the garage block, all the guttering and drain pipes had been ‘black glossed’ right down to the last joint in each case – below which only grey undercoating was visible. The painter must have used very quick drying undercoating paint to have quickly managed two coats to the building; that is except for the last remaining foot or so of these down pipes!! On the same contract the painters were seen to be pouring green paint down from the ridge of the squash court roof and using an old broom to ‘paint’ the material onto the corrugated iron roofing. When quietly asked what the advantage was in painting it in such an unorthodox manner, the contractor replied that he had forgotten to include the squash court in his calculations, and that was the only way that he could make any sort of profit.
Ted was very well known to the west street Police. He liked beer and often late on a Saturday night he would appear at the enquiry door and perform one of his’ party pieces’ for the station officer and anyone else who was about at that time. One of his many tricks involved him placing an opened box of matches, on end on the floor, in a corner of the office. He then stood on his head with his feet on the wall, then slowly lowering himself until he was able to get his mouth round the matchbox in his mouth. Then bounding back onto his feet, he would laugh and say, ‘Ok! I have just done it and I am drunk, now let’s see you do it. There was an imprint of Ted’s shoes some eight feet up the enquiry office wall which remained there for a long time. Ted was also a very accomplished musician and played the clarinet extremely well. His second party piece was to come into the Enquiry office, then lay on his back on the counter and play Acker Bilk’s song, ‘Stranger on the shore.’ Then when he couldn’t get onto the counter Ted would lay on the office floor and on these occasions he would call the song ’stranger on the Floor.’
(I was in the film ‘Stranger on the Shore’ when they were filming it at the Aquarium. I, with another policeman had to walk across the top of the Aquarium steps and we were paid £1 each as ourselves in full uniform.)
As the time past it was realised that Ted’s binge drinking was getting slowly worse as Easter approached each year. On making enquiries of his friends and work mates it then transpired that at Easter time in 1940 when he was in the Amy in France, he was resting up in an orchard with the rest of his platoon. His unit was retreating towards Dunkirk and the soldiers were all exhausted. During that night they were suddenly attacked by the Germans with mortar bombs. At the end of this attack the whole unit had been wiped out except for Ted; all his mates were dead. Ted found great difficulty in accepting that situation, sometimes saying ‘why did they spare me, poor devils’ even after more than 30 years, he still couldn’t understand the situation.
This story excused an awful lot of what poor Ted went through that spring time back in 1940.
Written and researched by David Rowland in October 2015.