Stories from the book, 'The Police in Lewes.' Part 9
John Dibley rose through the various ranks, working very hard from a humble Police Constable who stated his police work in Lewes from the late 1949 to becoming an ACC (Assistant Chief Constable.) In fact he was acting Chief Constable for a few months while the ‘Chief’ was away.
He has plenty of memories while serving at Lewes in various ranks.
Although John Dibley had passed through the town of Lewes a number of times occasionally on the rather infamous A27 Folkestone to Honiton Trunk Road, his first real visit to the town was in the October of 1949. He went to Malling House with a view of joining East Sussex Constabulary. He actually was on terminal leave from the RAF, having just about completed his National Service. Most of his Service with the RAF was spent on the Canal Zone in Egypt. A short while before leaving there he sent off his application to join East Sussex.
Reading riting and rithmetic
At that time Sergeant William Goring was the recruiting officer. And John recalls that there was a fairly straight forward tests for reading, writing and arithmetic. There was also a medical to contend with. For his medical he was seen by Dr. J. W. Nichol who was then the Force Medical Officer. He was the father of Dr. P.C.J. Nichol, who became the Force Medical Officer when his father retired.
I was passed fit and then followed an interview with the Chief Constable, Mr. R.E. Breffit (Reggie Breffit.) I passed the interview and was accepted, as he had passed all the other tests including the medical.
Police Constable 268
On the 22nd November 1949 he attended Lewes Magistrates Court for attestation as Police Constable 268, also joining at this time and was also at the Magistrates Court was PC 269 Ivor Lewis. They appeared in front of two Magistrates, Mrs B. Read and Mr C. J. Rugg (He had a garage in Station Street and was very well known in the Town,) the event took place in the Retiring room of No. 1 Court, which is now part of the law courts, but in those days Courtroom number 1 and 2 were an integral part of County Hall. When the formalities had been completed they went to Lewes Police Station to be fitted with their new uniforms by ‘Stitchy’ Welfare, who was the Force tailor.
Having then been attested he reported to Hailsham Police station (which was his home town and was residing there in Hailsham.) That was just prior to going to Training School for his initial course. This was a station he knew very well as he had spent about 15 months there as a police cadet there as a cadet clerk prior to going for National Service. His uniform, which he was waiting for, duly arrived. He dressed up for the first time as a police constable, a very proud moment for him at that time.
Four sets of uniform was delivered to him at this time. This included two sets of ‘summer weight’ and two full uniforms of lined material for the winter months. There was also a heavy duty great coat, cape, waterproof leggings, a cap, and woollen black gloves, white gloves for summer wear. The tunics had seven silver buttons down the front of them, whilst the trousers were quite high wasted. This was because the trousers were designed to be worn with braces.
Then on top of all this uniform there were a pair of handcuffs, a whistle chain and a truncheon, whilst on duty, this was together with a notebook and a small first aid pouch. The trousers had a ‘fob pocket’ which was designed to carry your pocket watch and one usually carried a piece of ‘Surveyor’s chalk;’ this was to mark out on the road surface the position of motor vehicles etc. at accident scenes, a very useful item. When you had marked out the position of the vehicles then they could be moved and the road opened for the flow of traffic again. The tunic was high necked (dog collar) and one wore a collar-less shirt underneath.
My RAF shirts did duty for several years under my tunic. All of this uniform had to be kept at home as there were no facilities then for storage at the police station.
At the time of my appointment I was paid every two-weeks by cheque. For my first pay period I received £12.13s, plus a lodging allowance of £1.10s, and also a non-taxable allowance of 5s (five shillings) boot allowance. Out of my salary I was deducted a total of £1.16s.Tax, 10s.4p superannuation and lastly 14 shillings Nation Insurance. I was left with a net salary of £11.16s.11d.
On the 1st January 1950 and in company with Peter Chorlton, Ivor Lewis, Brian Emery, Bill Wheatley, Charles Horscroft, Jim McConnell, Vic. Stoner and Frank Buckland, training commenced at No. 6 District Police Training Centre in Sandgate, – these buildings were formerly used as a ‘Star and Garter’ Home for ex-servicemen. Among our Instructors was Sgt Ken Godley from East Sussex.
With the training course completed, he reported for his first duty at Lewes Police Station at 9am on Monday 1st April 1950. Lodgings had been found for me at number 29, West Street, Lewes. The house was owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Woolgar. The front of this house was a barber’s shop, he did very well for haircuts! Sergeant John Harman was on duty on my first day and the morning was spent totally familiarising myself with the police station layout. After my refreshment break of 45 minutes I was teamed up with PC John (Jack) Baker – the Falmer constable – to be instructed in traffic control in Cliffe High Street. On returning to the police station I was told that someone had reported in sick and that I was on ‘night duty’ for the rest of the week. The night duties consisted of an 8-hour shift from 10pm – 6am! I had already bought a street map of Lewes, which cost me a shilling but was very much finding my way around in the dark and around unfamiliar ground.
.The job on night shift was checking shop door handles to make sure that the shops were secure. The checking of shops and businesses in the town centre was normal, special attention had to be given to premises such as post offices, banks etc. where a lot of money was kept on these premises. You also had a list of unoccupied hoses, where the owners would inform the police they would be away from their home for a period of time and the police would then visit these premises to check there had been no break-ins, while the occupier was away. You usually checked these premises at least twice a night. You also had to get used to people who were moving about during the night. In those days the general public were encouraged to report their absences and quite a lot did, particularly in the more affluent areas of the town. All of these foregoing premises had to be checked of a very good reason why you hadn’t checked the. There were plenty of reasons why you hadn’t checked them, such as a bad accident or maybe a burglar.
At this time, the early 1950’s the population of Lewes (The 1951 census.) was 13,106. The street lamps were switched off at 11pm by the lamplighter who lived in Morris Road. A light was left on at Cliffe Corner, Library Corner, Star Corner and The Prison Cross Roads. You were expected to record the index number of all vehicles passing through the town between midnight and 6am. All these index numbers were recorded in a book which was kept at the police station. Points were made every half-hour at telephone boxes, of which there were 14 in the Borough, and there was a late point at the Railway station. This coincided with the arrival of the last trains from London and Brighton.
Occasionally you would have a point at Cliffe Corner and then another one 30 minutes later, during this time you had to walk up Chapel hill to the golf club, check its security and then back down the hill again. John was quite fit in those days as were most of the young officers, it may have been a bit different for the older policemen. At that time there existed a small private footbridge over the River Ouse, this led from the Pells to Malling Deanery. A key for this bridge was kept at the Police station and occasionally the sergeant would direct you across the bridge and up Church lane (This was just a country lane then) to a point at Malling Down. The Malling Estate did not exist then. The sergeant would meet you usually before your refreshment time and again once after it. Sergeant Harman would particularly delight in telling you to book the meet at unusual spots in the town area. This is just one example, ‘Wylies’ Cottages – this would be probably the first time you had ever heard of it, let alone see or find it on the map.
John states that he recalled being on foot patrol in Western Road in the early hours of the morning when a station car, a Wolseley, came down towards the High Street, with three people on board. The driver was Sergeant Harman and also in the car with him was Pc Fred Burtenshaw. When I went in for refreshment I enquired as to who the third person was who was sitting in the back seat. It later transpired that they had attended a ‘sudden death (known in Brighton as a G5, and to the Ambulance service simply as ‘a black.’) on the Neville Estate and, rather than call out the undertaker at that time of the morning to remove the body, they took it upon themselves to remove him to the mortuary. They had propped up the body on the rear seat.
These stories have been taken from the Book ‘The Police in Lewes.’ For which I am very grateful.