Stories from the book, 'The Police in Lewes.' Part 10

Policeman at a switchboard in a police station. 1935
Police operator taking a 999 emergency call, Southend. 1962
4 Oct 2015 - As reported in the Gazette...Somerton Police Station is expected to close in around 18 months time after its switchboard operator Molly Winterbuttocks - above - announced plans to retire.
Policeman receiving details of a 999 emergency call. 1955
The Metropolitan Police Information Room during the 1930s.
The Metropolitan Police Museum
Assistant Chief Constable John Dibley OBE
Police in Lewes

Working the beat was an art

John says that working the beat was an art – at night, walk close to the buildings, hold in doorways, simply just watching and listening. You had to get to know all the back alleys in town and also the rear entrances to buildings, some policemen would put a matchstick or a piece of thread across gates and doors – if found to be missing or maybe broke that would mean someone had been through and possibly had broken in. It was a simple way of knowing who else had been there. However, in the daytime you walked on the pavement close to the roadway. This enabled you to keep an eye on the traffic movements as well as the pedestrians you either passed or passed you. It was a very good idea to get to know the shopkeepers and local traders as well as other members of the public. That was one very good advantage in living in the town where you were working in. These people knew a lot of what was going on in the town too.

Observation was kept at times, usually after a series of break-ins. John remembers that on one occasion he was sent to Seaford on the train, during his early days to try and help in keeping observations for a housebreaker in the Chyngton area. He stood in the doorway of an unoccupied house for just about 4 hours. It was thick fog and he had no idea where he was apart from being in Seaford! This was a typical observation which bore no fruit. On another occasion, when he was in the sub-divisional patrol car, he and his observer were keeping observations in Spatham Lane, near Ditchling. His observer and another officer sat in some bushes at the northern end of the lane. (A seat had been made from a plank of wood and a couple of oil drums.) I the meantime I was in the car at the southern end of the lane. There was no contact between the two points and you had to be careful not to leave the force radio on too long otherwise the battery will drain and render the radios useless.

‘Muscles here, I’m up a tree.’

On another occasion PC John ‘Muscles’ Clarke was sent to keep observations in the Walland’s area of Lewes. Chief Inspector Ward went to visit him and failed to find him anywhere. Then suddenly a voice from above him said,’ All correct Sir, it’s ‘muscles here, I’m up a tree.’ He acknowledged ‘Muscles. But didn’t quite know what to do now about the situation and hastily beat a rapid retreat. The shift patterns were a basic early turn from 6am to 2pm. late turn 2pm – 10pm and the night shift was 10pm – 6am. This was the normal shift times and had been for many years. Usually in Lewes there were three constables on each shift. If there happened to be any spare officers on any particular day, then an extra shift/s could be worked like an 8am – 4pm or 6pm – 2am. The primary duties, particularly at the weekends were to keep the traffic flowing through the town. Cliffe High Street was manned from 8am – 6pm: High Street would be manned from 9am to 5pm and then if there was a third man available he would have to look after School Hill. It must be remembered that there was 2-way traffic through the main artery of the town with no yellow lines in those days. They had not been invented yet, they came later. His recollection seems to be that there was some sort of restriction in and around School Hill but not in other parts of the town. I was reminded that it was a very long time ago.

Our duty was to keep the traffic moving as best they could but at the same time to help the delivery vehicles, particularly in the Cliffe area, where there was no alternative but to deliver to these shops from the street itself. (Even today it is the same and has been for well over a century now.)

Commuters who were coming into the town from the Railway Station in the morning did not like being delayed on their way to work, and if they were even for a very short while in the Cliffe, then a call would be made to the Chief Constable. This then resulted in a message passed down the line as to why these people were being delayed on their way to work! The Chief Constable knew full well what the answer really was, volume of traffic both vehicular and pedestrian.

The Causeway Bridge

On the 30th July 1969 the new Causeway Bridge was opened by the Mayor of Lewes, Councillor R. Yarrow. The Bridge had been built by East Sussex County Council who had done a really fine job. They also did some alterations of Malling Street, by realigning this street. This all meant that traffic duty for us in the Cliffe was no longer necessary. The little roads that led off Malling Street such as Davies Street, Hoopers Lane and Soap Factory Lane were all lost and the brook land between there and the river was developed. Brook Road forms part of this development, and the land Rover workshop which was owned by Caffyns still stands on its original site. This was originally in Hoopers Lane, and accessed from Malling Street. In the 21st Century Blacklaw’s motor dealer is sited in the building which faces Malling Street was once one of Caffyns petrol filling stations.

The main entrance for the police and public at Lewes Police Station was the door on the right of the police station, as you look at it. As you went through this door the enquiry office was on the left. The first room on the right was an interview and waiting room, the second room was the sergeant’s office. The day ‘Reserve’ man was First Police Reserve, Bert Hewitt, who had been a metropolitan police officer. His duties was 9am – 5pm, as did the telephonist, Rose Young. Rose happened to be the daughter of ex-sergeant Hambleton and had been a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps, (WAP.) during the war years. The switchboard was in a corner and was of the type whereby used plugs to connect people. Occasionally, if Rose was not there and Bert was in charge, he would get quite frustrated and pull all the plugs out, disconnecting everyone who had been on the phone.

There were coal fires in all the offices, including the enquiry office and these were kept going all through the winter months. It was very nice to come in after a cold patrol outside and stand in front of the nice welcoming fire. Sometimes the Reserve man on nights would put potatoes under the grate so that the patrol officers were able to have a hot snack when they came in for their refreshment break. There were no proper canteen facilities at the police station and so everyone had to take their own packet of sandwiches and possibly a flask too.

These stories have been taken from the Book ‘The Police in Lewes.’ For which I am very grateful.


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