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.