policing in the forties and fifties

Reflections on different types of police officers

Some policemen were over keen and often found reasons for an arrest.  Some were not keen at all and settled for a quiet life which produced few arrests but most were average taking situations at they came.  If you could choose a companion in an incident, you would choose an average man.  If you were involved with a keen one, he could inflame a situation and make things worse.  If involved with a “non-doer” you finished up doing most of the work.

Rough stuff

Our car pulled up outside the Police Station which had a pair of Victorian style swing doors.

We took the prisoner by an arm apiece and ran him head first through the swing doors and he fell in a crouch on the stone-flagged floor whilst the driver and I stood back and said “Phew!”

Then a strange thing happened.  The Sergeant Clerk whose office was along the corridor peeped out.  He had achieved his promotion through office work, had never been seen on the streets in years and had never been known to have been involved in “rough stuff” in his 20-odd years service.

He came out of his office, sort of ran along the corridor and quite uncharacteristically put his boot in the recumbent prisoner and returned to his office.

Not knowing what to make of this we picked up the prisoner who still resisting was put in the cells, blood streaming down his face.  This was Saturday.  He was bailed next morning to appear the following Thursday at Court on a charge of drunk and disorderly.

I appeared at Court to give evidence.  The prisoner looked as though he had done 15 rounds and lost with two one black eyes one closed completely and with bruises to face an arms.

He pleaded not guilty and said that he had been assaulted by the Police.  In my evidence I described in detail the events in the pub but denied completely anything other than the most proper conduct after the arrest which the Magistrates accepted without question.

The prisoner was fined after being found guilty.

Policing in those days was physical.  The uniform carried a lot of weight but when it came to the crunch, the fist was often mightier than the pen.

Trouble at the Sun Inn

One Saturday winter’s night about 9pm instructions came over the telephone to attend the Sun Inn where there was a drunk causing bother.

The Sun Inn was a small place near the top of Boothroyd Lane an uphill walk of a couple of hundred yards.  There was only one entrance straight off the pavement into a narrow passageway about fifteen feet long with a door at each side at the nearer end leading on the left to the snug and on the right to the tap room.  At the far end of the passage which was only 3 feet wide was a serving hatch in the left hand wall.

There must have been twelve or fifteen people crowded in the corridor all with drinks in their hands.  The snug and the tap room were also full.  The landlord poked his head out of the hatch and shouted that a youth at the end of the passageway nearest the hatch was causing trouble.  The youth was a man in his early twenties the same age as me.  I knew him as Michael Grogan one of a number of sons in the Grogan family known for crime and violence.

I pushed my way along the corridor through the other drinkers.  They were not happy at the presence and behaviour of Michael and wanted to see him removed but at the same time they were not endeared to a copper who was expected to do the removing.  At the end of the corridor because of the restriction in space I was literally eyeball to eyeball with Michael.  Quietly tried the coaxing words but to no avail so the only response was effing and blinding.  Then the stronger words to leave the pub.  No effect.  Then the laying on of hands and quickly we were exchanging punches with no help expected or forthcoming from the crowd or the landlord.

Michael and I were now grappling on the floor.  He was as strong as I was and I could see me losing the fight unless I got the top hand.  I was by this time partly kneeling so I reached for my truncheon pocket with my right hand (not as common an event as films led people to believe) but it was becoming necessary in this so far evenly matched scrap.

I drew the truncheon high above my head to deliver a telling blow wherever it might land and I was aiming for the head but when I brought my arm down my hand was empty as one of the crowd (a woman) had hung onto the truncheon.

Anger, frustration and fear seemed to give me enough strength to overpower Michael and hustle him to the door.

The landlord must have rung for assistance for was I glad to see a police car outside the door and the driver coming to assist me to get Grogan into the police car.

Someone from in the pub politely handed me my truncheon before we drove away, me still trying to subdue the prisoner.

The Police Box and bloody arrests

I worked Westtown, Daw Green, Flatts, Eightlands and Northfields for 3 years from 1948 to 1952.  As there were 19 public houses and 3 clubs withing that area, I crossed swords on many occasions with their customers, often with a good-natured exchange after an admonishment over some minor infringement of the law, sometimes with an arrest.

A quick sizing up of the situation where trouble was developing or even where physical violence was in play led you to decide whether to deflate the situation with a friendly word of advice or whether an arrest was inevitable.

With most of those arrests, the drunk came quietly, sometimes a forceful persuasion was necessary.  Some arrests were bloody.

Policemen in those days carried no mobile phone, no personal radio (neither had been invented) and the only way of communicating was by telephone at a Police Box but the beat officer would only be available at either location at pre-set times.  The other alternative was to send a policeman to find him.

In Westtown the only Police Box was at the junction of Webster Hill and Boothroyd Lane.  As we became more sophisticated in the early fiftiees the ringing telephone in the Police Box was enhanced by a simultaneous flashing light on top of the Police Box.

Frequently the telephone ringing at the Police Box would require me to go to this pub or that house to quell a disturbance.


In the small CID which was in the charge of Detective Sargent Alfred Cowan, they held themselves remote from the uniform men.

Cowan and his detectives managed not to involve themselves in petty crime and were happy to leave this to us.

If something more serious occurred, particularly if solving it looked apparent, the CID would then show a keen interest.  Basically, except in the case of really serious crime in which the CID had to be involved in (and of course would have media coverage) they were only really interested in crimes that were capable of being solved.

Cowan, a cynical man with nearly 30 years service spent of lot of time drinking in some of the seedier pubs in the town often assisted by Detective Constable Eric Greenwood (who also doubled as Coroner’s Officer).


Who are the inspectors?

Three inspectors were involved in the day to day running of the Force.

Two of them were more or less equal in seniority having been in that rant for about 5 years.  

Arthur Firth was a hard drinking, hard-swearing man but who, whilst a man strong on discipline, was an Inspector who supported his men and commanded their respect.

Harry Temple was quite the opposite, lacking in personality, grumpy and because of his uncertainty when faced with problems, the men tended to avoid him to make decisions if they could ask someone else.

Both these Inspectors has reached their rank because they were involved in the Force cricket team.

It was a well known fact that if you played cricket then the powers that be looked on you favourably.  This is there were two men with equal experience, qualifications and personality jockeying for promotion, the one would played cricket would get it.

Harry Temple had slightly more time in by way of service than Arthur Firth and thus when “Bull” was on leave, Harry Temple would become Acting Chief Inspector.

Thus there was an undercurrent of rivalry between these two Inspectors which was well known among the ranks.

The other inspector Gordon Davis who had a better grasp of the law than the other two did not aspire to any further promotion and just got on with his job.

Chief Inspector

The Chief Constable leaves the day to day running of his force to Chief Inspector William Hanson known behind his back as “Bull”.

Bull has 18 years service having come through the ranks to his present position not through being an outstanding copper but initially be being a member of the Force cricket team.  Subsequently, he came to notice when better officers were absent on war service.]  Now he is well established enough to stifle any competition or any challenge to his authority.

Bull is an apt description.  His is an imposing figure over 6 foot tall and 17 stone.  He is handy with his fists but there are few occasions these days when he is likely to be involved in physical contact with the public.

He is bull-headed by nature and this whos in is dealing with the officers in the force.  He is autocratic and goes beyond what is necessary to ensure obedience and discipline.  He prosecutes police cases in the Magistrates’ Court in an extremely forceful manner and whilst this may not always be to the taste of the magistrates on the bench, his bullish attitude goes unchallenged.

He is a man of strong character in a powerful position.

He is a Freemason but in a somewhat lower lodge that that of the Chief Constable.  Whilst the Chief Constable hob-nobs with the senior officers of the Corporation, large mill-owners, doctors and the like, Bull has as his social companions small business owners and others of what you might term second rank Masons.

Whilst Bull might bawl out in strong language any of his subordinates who he feels has erred in however small a way and punish heavily any intransigence ie breach of the police regulations – and a dressing down on the streets of the town if the fit took him, he had one redeeming feature.

If he came across any officer on the street who was struggling with a trouble-maker, Bull would pitch in with his fists to help out.  He would also support any officer in presentation of a case before the courts.

Overall, Bull was disliked by most of his subordinates.

Who is the Chief Constable?

The Chief Constable has done the same job since 1926.  He gained his majority before World War One ended when he was in the Royal Artillery.  He has always regretted his failure to make M.C.

He holds himself remote from the men under his command thus being able to hide the fact that his knowledge of everyday policing is not great.

He is driven to and from his office each day wearing bowler hat and black overcoat, bearing umbrella and briefcase, rarely appearing in uniform unless it be a formal occasion when the dignitaries are present.  He is a leading member of the Roebuck Lodge of the Freemasons’ Society.

Policing on Saturday night

One Saturday night there has been a melee in the town centre, a few glasses smashed, a couple of windows in a pub put through and a few broken heads among the youths outside the pub.

We got the phone call in the police station in the Town Hall and it was said that a gang of about 15 or so had been responsible, they were armed with weapons and wre believed to be from Leeds.

Three of us took the Black Maria and drove to Wellington Station.  This was about 11.30pm.  The last train to Leeds was 11.45pm.

Crossing the footbridge we could see about 15-20 youths on the Leeds bound platform.  We three police constables descended the steps and turned onto the platform.

At the same time we heard a clatter as weapons consisting of knives, crow bars and motorcycle chains were thrown onto the railway line.

Some youths stood their ground and protested innocence.  Two or three made a dash up the stairs.

I remember one in particular was over truculent and one of the policemen who was more than handy with his fists, took the youth around the corner and hit him so hard he slumped half concious against the wall.

This took the steam out of the others who were being marshalled across the bridge to the police van.

Meanwhile help has arrived with three more policemen.

One of them was a bit naive and I found him round the wall corner patting the face of the semi-concious youth and saying “Tell me who hit you and I’ll arrest him!

I said, “Come on Ted.  Don’t be daft, pick him up and bring him along.”

We put them all in the cells and went back to the station after the last train had gone.  We collected a large assortment of weapons as a result of which all were charged with possessing offensive weapons.

Arrested on Christmas Eve

Nobody made arrests that turned out to be unlawful deliberately.  They were made either out of ignorance of the law which was inexcusable or out of ignorance of the circumstances normally where a decision to arrest was the only apparent solution to a problem at the time.

However, any unlawful arrest was likely to have serious consequences to the official making it.

One arrest that had me really worried afterwards occured one Christmas Eve.

I was duty driver around midnight on Christmas Eve when a telephone message called for assistance at the Stag and Pheasant pub on Huddersfield Road.

The officer on that beat had run in for help from the Police Box at the top of Webster Hill.  I took a constable with me in the Police van, joined the beat constable and we decided the plan of action.  The two foot constables would go into the pub whilst I parked the van up on the pavement and partly on the small forecourt of the pub.  Anyone thrown out of the pub front door was “arrested” and I would put them in the van.

Shortly, bodies began to be ejected from the pub and I was grabbing them and putting them in the van.  Some were blind drunk, some were staggering and some calmy accepted directions to get in the van.

Within five or ten minutes, order in the pub was restored.  I had eleven men locked in the van and the two foot constables emerged from the pub.  The beat man would resume his duties and the other officer and me took the prisoners back to the police station.  There, they were searched and put in the cells.  The system with drunks was to allow them to sober up before charging them and bailing them to appear at the next Magistrates’ Court.

The officer who had accompanied me in the van was on one of the town beats and he had to come in at 5.30am when he and I would take the details of each prisoner, indicate with what offence he was charged and the duty Inspector would charge each one and grant bail.

Eleven men in various stages of recovery from alcohol were individually charged with being drunk and disorderly and left the station.

The overnight beat man came into the station at 6am and we three officers who had been involved in the arrests had to make out a report of the events that tallied with what each had entered in his pocket book and the report would form the evidence to support each and every charge.

Consternation!  The two beat men had thrown out ten drunks.  I had put eleven men in the van.  Eleven men had been charged and bailed with appropriate entries in the charge book, the station log and the custody sheets which showed the men’s detention in the cells.

We three had our own inquest as to what had happened and I realised that in grabbing each man and putting him in the van, I could now recall that one man I had grabbed had not come from the pub but had simple being passing along the footpath at the crucial time.

My two colleagues could only provide evidence of arresting ten men between them.

Number 11 was mine and mine alone.  There was no way the other two could change their evidence to help me.  It would simply leave me holding the baby.

We decided we would sit tight, not even telling our superior officers and see what happened three days hence when the eleven appeared before the Magistrates.  If Number 11 objected to the charge, I would have to explain as best I could.  The 27th December, the day of court, came round.

Several officers attended court, including we three, as there were a large number of offenders appearing for a variety of offences committed over Christmas.  We checked that our eleven were present and nervously awaited our turn.

The prosecuting officer was the Chief Inspector who was second only in rank to the Chief Constable.  He of course was not aware of phantom prisoner Number 11.

All eleven stood in the dock.  To each one his name and the charge of drunk and disorderly was read out and he was asked to plead guilty or not guilty.  Then men each answered “Guilty, Your Worship” and I had the sinking feeling that Number 11 was going to say “Not Guilty, Your Worship”

This was it.  I was going to have to give evidence before the Magistrate for something I could not justify.  They were going to give me a roasting.  That would be nothing to the roasting I would get from the Chief Inspector.  I was going to be in for it.

“Guilty, Your Worship” replied Number 11 and what relief I felt.

The magistrate said, “You will all be fined 10 shillings”

Number 11 was a stranger to me.  I had no idea why he had pleaded guilty and I thought it prudent not to broach it to him after the court hearing or to anyone else after that.