A History of STOKE GIFFORD & Nearby Parishes
Edited by Adrian Kerton
Brian Allinson is a proud member of the community and has represented the good folks of Stoke Gifford as a Parish and South Gloucestershire Councillor. Here are his memories.
I was born on the 1st of February 1945 in Robeston Wathen Nr Narberth in Pembrokshire. My father was working for ENSA the armed services entertainment organisation, and I understand that at the time he was working at the nearby RAF Coastal Command base at Pembroke Dock. At some point after that my parents separated, but I was too young to understand that at the time
My earliest real memories go back to the early 1950”s and to a life “below stairs” In Charlton Musgrove House, a lovely big country house Nr Wincanton in Somerset.
The House itself had a sweeping drive up to the front door (which of course was not to be used by me). Our access was via a side door, giving access to the scullery, kitchen and living room for the Cook Housekeeper – my mother!
My big sister Jean, was also living with us but as she was 9 years older than me, she had started work and rode her bicycle into Wincanton each day .
Despite, our somewhat lowly position in the household, it was a very happy time in my life. The owners of the house, – Major and Mrs Davie were lovely people and treated mother and myself with great consideration. I was often allowed to play with their two children Simon and Lavender. Simon was about 10 then, and Lavender was about my age 6 years old.
As Cook housekeeper, Mother was the only real full time, employee/servant in the household, but others such as cleaners and waitresses came in from time to time on the occasions of a big dinner etc. I do remember one special occasion for my mother happened in the mid 50’s, when she was issued with a Kenwood Chef food mixer. She was very proud of it, and I believe it was one of the very first to be purchased outside of London.
One thing about being the son of a professional cook was in the way that I was brought up to eat food. I was never allowed to show dislike regarding any food that was put before me, only pleasure. On the rare occasion that I really didn’t like a particular food, I soon learned that to show any displeasure was the height of bad manners! All food on your plate had to be finished! Such training was to stand me in good stead in future years, for even today, there is no food that I will not eat.
Obviously mother did not have time to prepare separate dishes for me, so I grew up on quite exotic foods! I was used to a cooked breakfast, often kedgeree or braised kidneys on fried bread. No corn flakes for me!
There was one other important member of the staff and that was “Nanny”. She was a young lady, in her early 20’s I believe, employed to look after the education and welfare of Simon and Lavender, but also on occasions me. Major and Mrs Davie, although classed I suppose as “gentry” were very advanced for the time and certainly did not look down on mother and I as lowly servants. The only real indication of our position was the fact that our bedrooms were smallish and at the very top of the house, with access via the back stairs rather than the main stairs which I did not use.
Nanny’s quarters were on the 2nd floor and included a living room, bedroom and what served as a playroom and classroom.
As was the case with many large houses at the time, Charlton Musgrove House was the central part of a larger estate including a small farm. The farm was worked by “Prince” or Mr Prince to me. Prince was the Cowman, Pig man, and general farm hand, who lived in the allocated stockman’s house just down the lane. In similar fashion, the house grounds and the kitchen garden were the domain of “Perry” or again, – Mr Perry to me. He and his wife lived in a small cottage on one side of the main farmyard.
I understand that the question of my education initially presented a bit of a problem to the household. At the time of my mothers appointment as cook housekeeper at the house, I was barely over 5 years old, and not really capable of walking the 3 miles plus along lonely rural lanes into Wincanton where the nearest school was located. The problem was resolved when
Major and Mrs Davie decided that my education should, for the time being at least, be undertaken by Nanny, who’s role included the education of Simon and Lavender, until such time as they went to boarding school.
Almost opposite the house was Charlton Musgrove Church. This very old Church was the original Church of that name. Confusingly however, there was a second Charlton Musgrove Church in another village, also called Charlton Musgrove, about 1 mile further to the East of the original. I later learned that we lived in the original Charlton Musgrove village, but that after the “Black death” Centuries before, which had wiped out many of the original villagers, a second Charlton Musgrove village was then built about 1 mile further to the East of the original village. Which explains why there are actually two Charlton Musgrove Village Churches!
It was at the Old Church, whilst part of the Church choir, that I was given my first ever responsibility! – that of putting out the Alter Candles! The service of course included the singing of a number of Hymns, the last of which was always “Lead us heavenly father, lead us”. When the congregation got to the point of singing “Pleasure that can never Cloy” in the last verse, it was my signal to stand up, and whilst clutching the long candle snuffer, walk to the alter and put out the candles! I was very proud and enjoyed the task.
One incident that I will never forget, happened during a Sunday Service, when Lavender who was sitting in the pews beside me, suddenly burst into tears and became quite upset. I was most concerned, and enquired what the matter was. Her reply was “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die” I didn’t understand, and asked her what had scared her so. She pointed to the engraved tablets of stone, which were prominent all around the walls of the Church, recording the names of people who had died in the Service of their Country. She had read it however, that they had died during the service, and she needed to escape this dangerous place very quickly!
As time went on, Nanny suddenly disappeared, it seemed almost overnight, I never did quite understand at the time, but it eventually transpired I believe that she enjoyed the occasional night out, and as a result was “In trouble”.
By then Simon & Lavender were away in boarding School during the week, so Nanny was never replaced and it was time for me to go to a Primary School in Wincanton. There were two other children from our very small village, so the three of us walked every day, the three miles on our own, along the narrow Country lanes to school.
We walked every day on our own, whatever the weather. Today that may seem very harsh when judged against modern standards, but remember that then, in the early 1950’s, very few ordinary people had cars, and there was almost no School transport available in those days. Major Davie had a big Humber Super Snipe motorcar, which I did have ride in very occasionally, but never to school.
When we first arrived at Charlton Musgrove I was quite lonely to start with, I had almost no one to play and mix with. Luckily the Major and his wife were quite modern, from a social class point of view, and certainly never prevented me from mixing with their children Simon and Lavender, when they were around. However there were other opportunities to meet local children, mainly on Sundays at the Church service.
The Stockman “Prince” had two daughters, the youngest one was disabled by Spina bifida, the eldest about my age was fine, but had different interests from me. (Dolls!) Another farm a short way away also only had girls to play with. Toys were very basic, – a ball a cap gun and a pocket knife. Simon had some lovely toys including a Mamod steam engine, that we sometimes got going. It had a burner which you filled with methylated spirit, lit and placed under the boiler which of course was filled with water. Soon the flywheel was whizzing around and you could then power up some toy tools using a belt driven by the flywheel on the side of the steam engine.
For my 6th birthday one of the cowmen from another farm just down the lane, made me a toy farm with fields, by painting it onto a large square of plywood. It included a farmyard, buildings and the fields painted on it. He and his wife also gave me a few plastic cows, horses and pigs to put on it. I loved it, and over the next 18 months or so my stock of plastic farm animals grew and grew.
It might be difficult to imagine today, but in those days I had never seen a television! They had actually been invented a short time before the war, but were very expensive and even by the early 1950’s very few ordinary people had them. The best we had for entertainment then was a radio in our sitting room, and I can remember listening to it some evenings. for a 7 year old it wasn’t very exciting, although there was one new station, Radio Luxembourg which seemed a bit better, but it wasn’t very clear and kept fading away.
Then one day we heard that Mr Prince had got a television, and we all went down to his cottage to see it. There was only one channel in those days, and the picture was only black and white of course, as colour had not yet been invented. Most of the time it was only showing a test card, as the actual television programmes were only transmitted for a few hours each day and usually started with the news at tea time. The news was always read by a gentleman wearing a dark suit and a tie and it seemed that there wasn’t much that I was interested in. There were a few children’s programmes shown each week, “Watch with Mother” and “Muffin the Mule were popular but didn’t like them much, as they were too young even for me. What would really surprise people today was the small size of those early television screens, many were as small as 10 Inches, but most were 14 Inches. The wooden cabinets they were in however, were quite substantial!
For most people, the real excitement came in 1952 when we heard that the Queen was going to be crowned at her Coronation and for the first time it was going to be shown on the Television. (It wasn’t really called TV in those days!)
On the day of the Coronation everyone from all the houses and farms around gathered at Mr Princes House, and we all watched it together. There were a great many of us all crushed into his living room. I really didn’t understand much of the ceremony, but liked watching all the soldiers and horses. Everyone was very happy and we had cakes and orange squash. The grown ups had some beer!
Sometimes the Church would organise days out for local people and their children. A favourite destination was often Weymouth in Dorset, about 40 miles away. A coach, usually a Bedford OB, seating about 25, would tour around the area visiting the villages and then when full, head off through Sherborne and over the Dorset hills to Weymouth, arriving in the late morning. We would spend a lovely day on the beach, watching the Punch & Judy show and having an Ice Cream. Sadly our actual time at the seaside tended to be quite short, because at about 4.30 we all had to be back on the coach for the long slow journey back home and the boring circuit around the villages dropping everyone off. Again, very few cars in those days so the coaches had to stop at every village.
Another much closer and much loved destination for us was the Penselwood area, including Stourton Tower, otherwise known as Alfred’s Tower, where it was said that King Alfred burned some cakes whilst hiding from Viking marauders.
That area on the border with Wiltshire and Dorset, also had many other attractions such as Stourton Gardens and Sheerwater lake, where I first learned to swim. At first we had to rely on someone providing some sort of transport to take us there, but later when we learned to ride bikes, the closer spots like Alfreds Tower came into easier self propelled range! I loved playing in those woods near the Tower. I found the tower really exciting, but we couldn’t get inside, it was all sealed up. It was explained that a few years before, during the war, an English bomber returning from a raid had clipped the top before crashing in the woods nearby. Today the Tower is managed by the National Trust and has been repaired and recently for the first time ever I climbed to the top. What a view! Wincanton Primary school in those days was quite basic, I remember that our teacher was very kind, but she could also be very strict. “Mrs Edwards” or Miss to us, was certainly not young, well not when compared to Nanny anyway! Every day we were expected to drink a 1/3rd of a pint of milk, which was supplied in small glass milk bottles. These bottles often froze solid in the winter, and the foil cap would rise up on a column of frozen milk! We used to de freeze them around the only form of heating that we had, a large round black coke stove, which sat on its four legs in the middle of the classroom. It used to glow very hot sometimes, and Mrs Edwards was obviously worried that we might burn ourselves. It smelt a bit too. It wasn’t very efficient, so on the coldest days we would keep our coats on during lessons.
We learned to write using pencils, but after a while moved on to very basic pens, just a wooden stem with a brass or bright metal nib at one end, which we dipped into Ink in order to write. So there was one extra task that we had to perform in those days, which children today would not recognise, we used to take it in turns each week to be the “Ink monitor” and fill all the Ink Wells that were situated on each desk.
As I got a little older and made friends at School with other boys from
Wincanton, Bayford and Templecombe, our area of exploration grew and grew. Our bikes were essential. Today the freedom we had then, to roam all over the area would seem risky to modern parents but then there was almost no traffic on the roads, and that traffic that was around, was slower moving and much noisier than now, so you got out of the way!
Apart from the need to explore, we were also driven by an urgent need to find suitable spots to carry out the important task of train spotting, – collecting train numbers and marking them off in our “Ian Allen” reference books!
The Summer months were lovely, and I spent many long days ranging over the fields and brooks between Charlton Musgrove and Bayford where I formed many friendships. Wincanton Racecourse was also a main attraction for me, not for the racecourse itself, but the fact that it required a staff of grooms for the horses and people to maintain the course itself. They lived in cottages nearby and had children of my age to play with. We would often play war games,- English against the Germans! Lots of noise shrieking and supposed gunfire was the order of the day.
By then my sister Jean had moved down to Dartmouth and had started work as a receptionist at the Royal Castle Hotel in the centre of the town.
I had now progressed to the junior School, and had obtained a set of roller skates. I would ride my bike to school, put it in the bike racks and then join the others racing around the playground on my roller skates they were very popular, but were also very noisy in those days because they had metal wheels. Rubber wheels came along quite a bit later.
As we got older our walk to school got more interesting. For example at the foot of Racecourse Hill, was a small garage. Really nothing more than a corrugated tin shack, but it was the local source of Jowett cars. There you might see Jowett Bradford vans, or the very advanced, (for its day) Jowett Javelin car. – yes my interest in things mechanical was already awakening!
But by early 1958 my life below stairs would soon be coming to an end. Mum was getting older, and she said it was time to move to Yeovil and start a new chapter in our lives. She wanted to retire from the hard life of being a Cook Housekeeper.
So I had to Leave Wincanton Junior School where I had spent many happy times. Even today I look back on my days at the School with much gratitude, especially towards Mrs Edwards, who spent a great deal of her time encouraging me to read confidently and to enjoy books.
Part 2.Teen Years and 1st job!
Leaving the slow pace of life in Charlton Musgrove and moving to Yeovil, was initially a very traumatic period for me. For at the same time my father came back into our lives! Mother and he had separated well before our move to Charlton Musgrove House, and so I had really grown up without him being around. Now he was working as a Bus driver at the big Southern National bus company depot in Yeovil.
We had moved into a brand new but quite small terraced council house in Monmouth Road, Yeovil. The development, on the extreme eastern edge of Yeovil town was so new that Monmouth Road itself was as yet unsurfaced. All the homes in the area were similarly newly built.
I remember too, the hardships that we put up with for the first few months at Monmouth Road. All of the furniture that we had used at Charlton Musgrove House had belonged to Major & Mrs Davie, so that when we moved into Monmouth Road we didn’t have much. I remember Mum and Dad sitting of seaside type deck Chairs at first and that the bedrooms were quite basic. Again there was no television, but we did have a radio. Eating had changed a lot too and I was getting used to a lot of baked beans and tinned spaghetti which I thought was horrible. Mum was still a good cook though, and when we could afford it, she did wonderful things with eggs.
Opposite the house were open fields and a very muddy pond surrounded by trees and scrub. It was a great place to play, and develop friendships with people of my own age who lived close by. A very different situation to that which I had grown used to in Charlton Musgrove.
Another big change for me was my new School, a big Secondary Modern School called Grass Royal. It was quite frightening at first because of course I had only experienced much smaller schools, like the one in Wincanton which had a total School population of around 80 to 100, and quite small class sizes.
In contrast Grass Royal had at least 6 times that number of pupils, spread over 4 year groups. Each “year” was then also split into 3 further class groups, dependant upon the academic attainment skills of the pupils. It was evident that my earlier schooling at Wincanton had been of a good standard because I was allocated a place in the top class group for my year.
There was still very little car ownership by ordinary families ahat time, so we all either walked or rode our bikes to school. I don’t recall anyone being driven to school or even arriving by school bus.
For me Grass Royal was a good school, and opened up some interesting new subjects for me. We learned French, (or tried to,) and we also had music and drama classes.
Once the initial shock at the change of pace wore off I began to really enjoy my time at Grass Royal. However quite suddenly it was time to sit the 13+ examinations, which provided an opportunity to move on to a Grammar School education. (Even today I don’t recall ever taking the 11+ which presumably I must have failed).
A few weeks later, I learned that I had passed the 13+ and was to be interviewed regarding which school I was now to be sent to. The interview took place within a fairly short time and I was subsequently allocated a place not at the Grammar School as had been expected, but at the Secondary technical School situated much closer to the centre of Yeovil.
“Yeovil Tech” was another new experience all together! Firstly it was an all boys school and instead of a relatively newly built complex like Grass Royal. Yeovil Tech was spread over a number of Victorian built, fairly run down buildings. The Main assembly room for example had the floor and desks raised Cinema style, the further back you were seated, the teacher having a clear and unobstructed view of his class. As its name suggested it specialised teaching technical and engineering subjects, to the detriment of any of the arts. And unlike Grass Royal which had a fairly relaxed discipline regime, discipline at the Tech was very strict and rigidly enforced.
The “Tech” also introduced another new experience to me, that of wearing uniform. The mandatory uniform consisted of black or navy blue trousers, a black blazer with light blue piping around all edges and pockets, white shirt, school tie, and school cap which again was quartered black and light blue. The full uniform was to be worn at all times during the school day including on public transport to and from school. To be seen on a bus whilst not wear
ing your cap was to risk having to write several hundred lines of “ I must wear my cap on the bus” after school that day.
Lessons included the usual Maths and English, but now introduced Algebra, Geometry, Physics, Technical Drawing, Workshop Theory and Practise, Building Construction, Woodwork and Physical Training (PT). the only soft subjects taught were Geography and History. Class sizes were relatively small at roughly 14 boys.
As indicated above discipline was very much a factor and was enforced firmly. To be caught talking in class risked having to duck quickly as a heavy blackboard rubber wizzed your way. Any failure to comply with the rules would result in a very painful visit to see the headmaster!
Nevertheless it was a great school to be part of, and the spirit of camaraderie amongst the boys was excellent. Wednesday afternoons was devoted to sporting activities, usually meaning football and cricket, dependant on the season, but occasionally Cross Country running was an option introduced to build up stamina.
Much emphasis was made on the importance of passing your GCE’s by the time you left School, and so increasingly we were sitting mock examinations taking previous years examination papers for our questions.
In the last six months of our schooling were we not only being pressed by the need to pass the exams looming ahead of us, but also now the equally important subject of having a job to go to. The idea of our not having an already settled future employment, was something our class teachers or the Headmaster would countenance.
My love of cars, especially quick ones, had caused me to make my way to the Local Jaguar dealer in Yeovil, W. Sparrow & Sons, where I enquired if they had any jobs suitable for a 16 year old. They appeared to like my initiative and agreed to take me on once I left school. So that was settled! Now for those GCE’s.
My studies paid off because ultimately I left Yeovil Tech with good grades in Maths, English, Physics, History, Technical drawing and Engineering Workshop Theory and practice. Better than average passes and a very good re
port. In my final year I had been appointed head boy and senior prefect. I was even allowed to issue the most basic punishment to miscreants, that of
Sadly that great school was never to survive the move to Comprehensive education that came along a few years later. It was closed and demolished. A big new General Hospital was built on the site and today there is no sign of the great times that I had there.
My last day at the Tech ended in a big party at the school one Friday in July 1961. We said our goodbyes to our friends many of whom we would not see again. The Tech being a somewhat specialised school had taken pupils from all over Somerset, and so in many cases it was unlikely that we would bump into friends again.
It seemed important that I should start my working life immediately and so on the very next Monday I found myself reporting to Sparrow’s garage in Sherborne Road Yeovil. I had been found a job as the clerk in the “Cost Office”. My working hours were 8.30am to 5.30pm each working day plus 8.30am to 1.00 pm on Saturdays. A lunch break between 1 and 2pm was allowed, but was unpaid. This all amounted to a 44.5 hour week. For which I was to paid the princely sum of £3/14s/7d per week or just under £3-75p in today’s money. However to my dismay tax and stamp etc brought my take home pay packet down to £2/18/1d. (£2-90) I certainly did not feel rich!
What did come as a much worse shock however, was the massive increase in my hours of work each day. School had started at 9.00am and usually
finished by 3.45pm at the latest. So the nearly 3 hours per day extra, plus the 4 and a half hours each Saturday, came as quite a shock to the system.
The garage itself was the main dealer in the area for Jaguar, Triumph, and Singer cars. There was quite a large showroom immediately to the right as you walked in through the main entrance, Offices to the left, and to the rear were the workshops. The building was quite old, and certainly not well lit, as are garages today. However what was clearly a big problem then and was never resolved were the stout brick supports that existed almost every 10 yards or so to support the roof. New cars in the showroom were squeezed in around them, but it was even more of a problem for the mechanics in the workshops who were constantly having to move cars about as they were serviced.
My job was to examine each mechanics daily job card, on which they gave brief details of work done on each car and the hours and minutes that they spent working on each one. The hours worked were then added to the job card which existed for each car being worked on. At the conclusion of the work being carried out, I would then provide the Senior clerk with the complete picture of the hours worked on the car plus the cost of any spare parts or oils used. From that the Bill was prepared! A very complicated but quite accurate method of recording the work done.
The two bosses there were Mike Fitzgerald, an ex RN Lt Cmdr, and Pat Shirley an Ex RAF Sqn Ldr from 617 Sqn. He had a tendency to drive very quickly & the guys in the garage referred to going flying with Pat rather than driving. However for all practical purposes my real boss was the Service manager Harold Pearson. Harold ran those workshops with a rod of iron, obviously a skilled mechanic in his own right, he watched over the activities of his team of mechanics closely, and ensured that the apprentices learned their trade properly.
But for me, the real stars of the job were the cars! I could sit in Jaguars and smell the leather. I could marvel at all the instruments and dream of the day when i could drive one. Then there were the Triumph Sports cars, – The TR3A’s and of course the Triumph Herald 1200 which I suppose was the bread and butter of the garage at the time. We also sold and serviced Singer cars. Singers were the posh versions of the Hillman cars, like the Hillman Minx, our equivalent was the Singer Gazelle. They were built by the Roots Group.
Harold Pearson, the service manager made it very clear that whilst I was not going to enter an apprenticeship to become a mechanic, he believed that I would perform my administrative role much better if I mixed with the mechanics, watched them working and understood the basics of their work. That decision was to have a huge benefit to my understanding of my role and my progression towards other responsibilities in the garage,
The Mechanics, about a dozen of them ranged across a very wide skills base. The top man was Bill Dufty a skilled Jaguar mechanic, who could be relied upon to carry out any task on those powerful machines. He had a small group of less well experienced men working with him and at least two apprentices. Then came the Triumph team and ten also the Singer guys all used to working on the Roots group vehicles.
At first the mechanics treated me with great suspicion but as my enthusiasm and knowledge grew so did their trust and helpfulness. But there was one occasion right at the start when my mischievous nature risked all. It came about during a tea break when It had been decided by the mechanics that I as the most junior person in the garage should make the tea for them, in the big urn in the canteen. I protested that I wasn’t a mechanic or an apprentice and anyway I didn’t drink tea. I had a flask of Coffee in the office. Harold stayed out of that one, watching developments. So I reluctantly agreed to make the tea. I filled the urn and switched on the electricity. When it got quite hot, (but way off boiling), I threw in some tea and then some milk and retired back to the office quickly. There was a great commotion from the canteen and then a lynch party came looking for me. It took a bit of ducking and diving but they eventually saw the funny side and left me alone. They never asked me to make the tea again!
As the months went on I got more and more involved in the day to day work of the garage and gradually learned through familiarity, the basics of driving. Even more importantly I learned the skill of manoeuvring the cars in tight spaces around those brick supporting pillars. Then on the 1st February 1962 I became 17 and able to learn to drive a car legally on public roads. It was obvious that the garage management expected me to pass my test at the earliest opportunity.
There was a driving school attached to Sparrows Garage it was owned and managed by Mr & Mrs Stock, and made use of a Triumph Herald 1200 car supplied by the garage. So it was to them that I turned to teach me properly and prepare me for the test. It was quite expensive for me, still on quite a low wage. Even at discounted rates it cost about 10 shillings (50p) an hour to learn. But it was worth it, for three weeks later I passed my test at the first attempt. Now the real enjoyment of working in the garage would start!
My position in the Cost Office was immediately behind the Service managers cabin, so I was immediately to hand if someone was required to fetch or deliver a customers car. My experience of different cars and their peculiarities grew very rapidly. Some cars like the Old Standard Vanguard’s had a column gear change which was new to me, and worse still had a peculiar curved, almost banana shaped hand brake under the right side of the dashboard. However the ones that you had to watch carefully were the mark one Jaguar saloons!
The Jaguar car company had introduced their 2.4 Litre saloon in 1955 and a while later they added the 3.4 Litre version to the range. The earlier versions had drum brakes fitted, but as racing experience had shown the effectiveness of the new fangled Disc brakes, all Jaguars had been fitted with Discs since about 1957. But the problem was that in those early days no one had realised that disc brakes resulted in very ineffective hand brakes! Thousands of owners were finding that after they set their handbrakes and got out of their cars, the car then had a tendency to follow them as they walked down the road! You had to leave them in gear or turn the wheels into the kerb to have any chance of securing your car. A modification was quickly brought out! But by the time I arrived at Sparrow’s Garage the beautiful Jaguar Mk 2 saloon was out, and how I loved them, – especially the new 3.8 Litre version. It drank petrol at about 14mpg but at 5 shillings -25p per gallon, who cared?
Soon I was being used regularly to catch the train to Taunton, about 32 miles away, to collect new Triumphs and drive them on their 1st Journey to Sparrows in Yeovil. Most of the Triumph Herald 1200’s and later the very powerful Triumph Vitesse 6 saloons sold in the region, were first driven by me!
However, the most exciting were the Triumph TR4 and later TR4A sports cars.
Also In 1963, there occurred a situation that was eventually to have a very important influence on my future life and that of my family. For I had noticed a very trim and smart young lady that walked past the garage entrance every day. She usually wore a cream coloured top coat with a green collar. I found her very attractive and decided to ask her out! We seemed to get on very well and within a short time I suppose you could say that we were “going steady” Her name was Paula Merrick.
As my driving experience grew, and the management accepted that I could be trusted, I was sometimes required to take a new Jaguar to another dealer and swap it for another Jaguar of a different Colour, as wanted by our customer. By the time I was 19, I was often driving new Jaguars all over the Country on such exchanges. On rare occasions too they were the new E type sports versions.
I just loved my job!
Things were to get even better very soon. Our combination of Jaguar cars plus Triumph and Singer, was a good one, and it was evident that Sparrows were doing well. The sales department was under pressure and when I be
came 19 in 1964, Pat Shirley my boss, and John Mead the sales manager asked me if I would like a move from the cost Office to the sales department. There would be a pay rise, and better still an opportunity to earn commission! I accepted very quickly!
But I had to quickly learn a whole new set of skills! And here the Service Manager Harold Pearson was going to be the key! For I now had to learn how to present a car during a demonstration drive, in order to bring out its smoothness, stability and control. This was not all about speed! The Jaguar catch phrase at the time, was “Grace, Pace, and Space” and I had to be able to impress on prospective buyers those qualities. It also applied of course to all the cars that we sold. But I suppose the most vital skill that I now had to learn was how to evaluate effectively the cars that I was buying in by way of part exchange. Harold Pearson went to great pains to teach me to listen to what every car was telling me. To relate all sounds, smoke and smells that were not normal, to the cash required to be able to sell the car on to a new buyer.
To carry out that part of my task was not only vital to Sparrow’s as a garage , but to my success and continued existence as a salesman. Each deal that I made was down to me. I was the one that agreed the trade in value of the customers car. Not the sales manager as happens today. The sales manager was ultimately in charge of the sales dept and would very quickly come down on me if I were giving silly valuations. But it was me in the first instance that agreed the price allowed.
Another practise that was common then (and was very different to normal practice today,) is that we retained, for sale on our forecourt, all cars that we took in as part exchanges. That was another factor that made it essential that my buy in’s were properly valued.
Modern motorists would be amazed at the prices that cars attracted in the mid sixties. For example a new Triumph Herald 1200 was £647, including two essential extra’s the heater and front disc brakes. A brand new Triumph 2000 saloon which had only just come on the market was £1,115. None of the cars then were fitted with such luxuries as a radio. Once again they were extra. I could put a new Jaguar Mk2 2.4 litre on the road for a little under £2,000, but an E type, would cost you around £3,000.
When it was introduced the E Type of course was one of the wonders of the motoring world. People would come in just to look in awe. It was so different!
People wondered at the magnificent gleaming 3.8 Litre Twin Overhead camshaft engine fitted with no less than three big SU carburettors. The SU’s were generally accepted as being the best carburettors available, but no other car had three of them! This car even had three windscreen wipers! Remember that not very many years before quite a few cars were sold whereby the passenger visor and passenger windscreen wiper were extra’s.
I remember now that first three E Types that I sold all had accidents at the end of their first day with their new owner! You see, the E Type was the first really streamlined car that was offered for sale in the UK. So aerodynamically perfect was it, that the bonnet profile flowed down to the oval air intake at the very front. This meant that whilst sitting in the drivers seat, you simply could not see the first few feet of the bonnet. We always warned new owners of that fact, but they immediately fell so much in love with their new possession that they promptly forgot about our warnings, and parked their new car through the end wall of their garage when they got home! Sadly a new E type bonnet would cost about the same as a new Triumph Herald 1200.
My career in the Sales Dept introduced me to some lovely people. Every year I would sell a new Jaguar to farmer Tom Clothier at Wyke Champflower Nr Bruton. I would then take back one supplied to him two years previously, which he had passed on to his son when it was 12 months old and he was getting a new one. It would take me the whole of my working day to make the sale. We both knew that at the end of the day he would buy the car I was demonstrating but we had to argue about the sale for hours. I would walk out at least twice, be called back and then thrown out several times too. The argument would last over lunch and then continue until abut 4.00pm when we would finally agree on a figure to change! That charade was part of the game and we both looked forward to our tussle.
One of the services we would offer to our customers was a collection and delivery service, at least for a couple of years after the initial sale!
Little did I know it, but one day that quality service was to result in me being arrested for stealing a car! But it’s not quite how it sounds!
In the first Instance I had sold a new Triumph Vitesse 6 to a customer living not far from Yeovil. I had taken back in part exchange his blue & white
Triumph Herald 1200, which was now in our possession. However he had been a customer who made use of a personalised number plate, which of course had now been transferred to his new car.
Coincidently, a few weeks earlier I had sold a Singer Vogue car to a lady living in Bridport who now wanted me to collect her car, and bring it back to our garage for its first service! I obviously needed transport to get to Bridport, so it was agreed that I would use the traded in Herald 1200 which had not yet been cleaned and readied for sale. Its number plates had been removed so to be able to drive it legally on the road, we put on our General Trade plates, which all garages used.
At 6.00am the next day I set off for Bridport driving the Herald. What none of us knew then, was that on the previous evening a blue and white Triumph Herald identical to the one I was now driving, had been stolen during a Burglary in Dorset!
As I neared Bridport, I became aware of a large Wolseley Police car following me quite closely. But I wasn’t worried after all I hadn’t done anything wrong and certainly hadn’t been speeding! However quite suddenly as I rounded a bend just as I got to Bridport, there was a roadblock ahead which forced me to stop. Before I knew what was happening, my drivers door was wrenched open, I was dragged out, and very quickly found myself being thrown into a cell in Bridport Police station! I was told that I had been arrested on suspicion of stealing a motor car – the one that I had been driving, and possibly robbery as well.
It was not yet 7.00am so my explanation regarding why I was in possession of a very similar car to one stolen in Dorset, – and which had clearly had its registration plates removed very recently, could not be verified until Sparrow’s garage opened at about 8.15am. So I spent a very frustrating period sitting in that cell in Bridport! Eventually of course the garage opened, and my story was confirmed! I was taken out, dusted down, and sent on my way! They didn’t seem very sorry, more annoyed that the arrest was refused.
My father had started a business promoting football pools and it quite rapidly became a full time occupation for him. He stopped driving the bus’s and opened a small office in Yeovil. At the same time we moved away from the very small house in Monmouth Road, and moved into to a larger detached house in Goldcroft Road. Sadly within a few years his health was obviously
failing and he underwent a serious operation in Yeovil Hospital. He was suffering from cancer and the prognosis was not good. He died a couple of years later.
By early 1968 I was getting a little unsettled with my life in the Motor trade. I loved the excitement of being able to sell and drive some lovely motor cars but I needed something more. I needed a real career which offered a decent future and a proper path to greater things. Ideally I was looking towards the armed services, preferably the Royal Navy, but there were serious difficulties which now combined to make that unlikely.
My fathers death, had left us unable to keep our home in Goldcroft as a viable proposition. There had been no equity in his business and my earnings were not sufficient to take over the mortgage on the house. My sister Jean had met Stan a serving Naval Petty Officer also from Yeovil originally, and they had married and were now living in Southsea Nr Portsmouth. Effectively therefore I was now the only breadwinner in the family. Leaving mother on her own in order to join the forces was really not possible. In addition I was still seeing Paula on almost a daily basis and that also made moving away far less attractive. So I resolved to continue at W Sparrow & Sons, a job that I still enjoyed.
Then as so often happens in life, a chance meeting changed everything! I had been working in the Garage one Saturday as usual, when I saw a smart looking gentleman showing interest in a used Rover 2000TC that we had in our showroom. I went over to speak to him and we got on very well. He eventually decided to buy the car, and during our many conversations over that period, he clearly recognised my frustration at not being able to join the services. He revealed that he was in fact the Chief Superintendent of Police in Yeovil, and suggested that I should consider a career in the Police. This was something I had not previously considered, but the more that I thought about it, the more I realised that it did offer the varied life and structured career path that I sought! – My application went in soon after!
A Career in Policing !
My application to join the Somerset & Bath Constabulary was acknowledged by letter giving notice that I was to be called for an Interview at the Force training Centre at Cannonsgrove just outside Taunton. The letter confirmed that my GCE O level passes were sufficient not to have to sit the normal Police entrance examination.
So in late August 1968 I found myself sitting before a formidable panel of three very senior Police Officers who were clearly determined to give me a very hard time! I had done my homework and had spoken to a number of serving officers, all of whom had warned me of the pressure that I would be subjected to during this interview and they were correct.
This first of two Interview’s lasted about 40 minutes that morning, and each of the three Senior Officers took turns in questioning my motives for wanting to join, my honesty and integrity, and my determination not to back down. It was quite a shock initially, despite the warnings I had received, but after a while I actually began to quite enjoy the tussle. Then as the interview progressed, I think that they realised that I was not going to be discouraged or give in to their bullying tactics.
There then followed medical examinations and fitness tests prior to a second interview in the afternoon. That second interview was very different to the earlier one, and was more concerned with looking into my awareness of current affairs, my sporting and leisure interests and general approach to life. I was then told to sit outside whilst my application was considered.
Finally I was called back in, and offered the position of being a Probationary Police Constable in the Somerset and Bath Constabulary. I accepted with great delight!
And so on the 14th October 1968 I reported as Instructed back to Cannonsgrove, where my initial two week induction course commenced. I was issued with my “Collar Number” No 1002. That Collar number would stay as my personal identification number throughout the 30 years of my service. The term “collar number” stems from the early days of Policing when officers wore tunics which featured stiff high collars. They wore prominent numbers on those collars in order that they might easily be identified.
Today the numbers remain as an integral part of an officer’s uniform, but are now carried either on shoulder epaulettes or other prominent position.
During that initial induction course lasting two weeks, we were issued with our uniforms. The issue comprised of two thick Winter Weight, lined Tunics with trousers to match, and two thinner unlined summer weight Tunics and trousers. However what came as a bit of a shock to me, was the fact that the trousers had button flies, something that I had not previously encountered! A greater and even more unpleasant shock was the issue of 6 bush shirts, for they had separate stiff and starched collars. These separate collars required the use of a collar stud to attach them to the shirt. This was 1968, but the uniform we were issued with appeared to have dated from the 1920’s. Finally, our issue was completed by outer clothing in the form of raincoat, heavy “trench” coat, and a cloak which we were taught to fold properly in order to carry it over our shoulder when on patrol. – Plus of course the traditional symbol, of the Policeman’s Helmet. We were warned that the helmet must be worn at all times when on duty outside of the Police Station, including even whilst crossing the yard at the rear of the station in order to reach one of the outbuildings.
Those initial two weeks passed very quickly. We had been issued with several law books, and we were told that we should read and learn the rules contained in them very quickly. At the same time we were also given a small pocket sized book containing details of 120 Police “Powers and Definitions”. This small booklet was to become our Bible, and it was impressed on us that those Powers and Definitions, should be learned by heart immediately, for during the three month Initial training course that we were about to embark on, we would be tested on our knowledge of them almost daily.
The Police District Training Centre Chantmarle
The initial 3 month training course for male recruits joining all South West Police Forces, was located at the Regional Police Training centre at Chantmarle near Cattistock in Dorset.
Chantmarle itself was a beautiful old Manor house, set in its own grounds, with a modern linked dining hall block and kitchens to the rear. Further back again, was what would eventually become a students accommodation block, but at the time of my arrival in November 1968 was still under the final stages of construction.
At the front of the Manor House the once impressive gardens, had been converted to accommodate a formal parade ground. In addition, there was a second smaller parade ground to the rear of the training centre, nearer the partially completed accommodation block. This second parade ground had clearly been laid over what were once large tennis courts.
The actual approach to the training centre was via a narrow lane, which led solely to the centre and also gave access to a car park for students and staff. The park was located in the middle of a group of trees to the East of the main buildings.
We had been briefed to report to Chantmarle by 4.00pm at the latest, on the Sunday afternoon immediately prior to the commencement of our course on the Monday.
So at the appointed time and date, I duly presented myself at the training centre, where I was shown to a classroom close to the new accommodation block. There were approximately 20 other new recruits gathered there, and although we were all still dressed in our civilian clothing I learned that we were a mixture of recruits from Bristol, Gloucester, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset and Bath, forces. We were all chatting cheerfully when suddenly someone bellowed “Stand Up” and in marched a grim faced Police Sergeant, who then motioned us to sit, and proceeded to introduce himself as our class tutor Sergeant Standley.
For the next hour Sergeant Standley told us what was expected of us, the way we would conduct ourselves and what was required of us. It all sounded a bit draconian, especially for those of us, – the majority, who were not transferring from the armed forces. In future we would wear full uniform at all times when on the training centre premises and when walking outside would also wear our Police Helmets. We would stand to attention whilst addressing or being addressed by a member of the training staff, and when in the classrooms would stand immediately a member of the training staff entered the room. We would not sit down until directed to do so.
We were advised that each day would commence with a period of drill training on the small parade ground located at the old tennis courts, before marching down in our class squads to the larger formal parade square at the front of the Manor House. Once there, a formal Inspection would take place, and woe betide us if anyone’s appearance was not up to the centre’s very high standards.
As if this was not worrying enough we were then told that we were all now going to have a haircut! Several of us protested that we had very recently had our hair cut before arriving at the centre, but our protests were ignored and we were marched down to another classroom where all the other first level students were gathered. The two barbers present then proceeded to cut off almost all of our hair, leaving us with what was then called a “Crew Cut”. The floor of the classroom quickly became ankle deep in hair!
Finally were taken to our dormitory’s located then in the very top of the Manor House. We were allocated a bed, sheets, blankets, and a wardrobe and left to make our beds. We were advised that on getting up the following morning we should strip our beds, folding sheets and blankets in the approved “box shape”. The dormitory would then be subject to inspection and if our preparations for the inspection were not satisfactory we would be required to re make it all again!
Welcome to Chantmarle!
The following morning we were up and having breakfast by 0800 having already tidied and swept the dormitory and “boxed our Beds”. Then by 0830 to the smaller of the two Parade grounds, for our first drill lesson. This part at least was easy for me, as a few years previously I had joined the “Boys Brigade’ at the Baptist Church in Yeovil, and they had an excellent drill squad which I had been part of.
There were a couple of ex servicemen in our intake, so the three of us found the drill lesson easy. The same could not be said of the majority however and at least two were dreadful, – suffering from what we called “Dolly Marching” they would swing their arms on the same side as their legs, instead of the opposite side. This caused much amusement to the rest of us, and exasperation to the drill instructors!
But at 09.00 the relatively easy drill session ended and we were marched down to the big parade ground in front of the Manor House and formed up grouped in our classes for Inspection.
The Inspection did not go well! The Deputy Commandant marched slowly up and down each of the assembled lines of recruits and pointed to numerous apparent failures in our efforts to press and clean our uniforms and bull our boots in the approved manor. The senior drill instructor, Sergeant George Fernyhough, closely following the Deputy Commandant, noted down the name of each miscreant in his note book, barking out an instruction to the recruit, to report to his office that evening at 6 O’clock, 7 O’clock and 8 O’clock in full uniform ready for Inspection. Such punishment meant that the unfortunate recruit would not be able to relax that evening whilst preparing for the next days efforts, but instead would to be working on ironing and pressing their uniforms, and bulling their boots, ready for even more critical Inspection that same evening.
Each morning that same critical Inspection would take place, and it seemed that by the end of the 1st week just about every one of the junior recruits had been reported for one fault or another. Many of us spent difficult evenings standing outside Sergeant Fernyhough’s office waiting for his approval of our turnout. The worst offenders found themselves being appointed duty Fire Marshalls for the coming weekend, which meant that they could not go home as expected, but instead had to remain at Chantmarle making regular security patrols and fire safety inspections.
The next four weeks continued in very much the same manner with frequent tests on our knowledge of the law and powers of arrest etc, combined with an increasing number of practical scenarios played out around the grounds of the training centre, depicting simulated car accidents, burglaries and drunken Yobs etc. We were learning how to deal with all manner of offences and situations, often committed by abusive or difficult offenders enthusiastically played by our fellow students.
Our first four weeks of being the junior course at the centre were coming to an end and we were just about to go off on our weekend break when Drill Sergeant George Fernyhough entered the classroom. For once he was not so grim faced and was almost in danger of smiling, but what he said came as a surprise! “Right lads, that’s the end of your first four weeks. When you come back on Monday you will be the Intermediate class! When you are inspected on Monday morning, I’m going to pick on several of you for being poorly turned out. I’ll shout at you to report to me at 6 and 7 and 8 O’clock, but don’t bother that’s just for the benefit of the new junior course, I do like to get their attention!” “Have a good weekend!”
When we arrived back at Chantmarle the following Sunday night we were surprised to find that we had been allocated our own bed study apartments in the brand new student accommodation now entitled “Cattistock Block”. Each student now had his own individual room, the rooms were quite small, but it was our own private space, fitted with a single bed, wardrobe and study desk. There was a reading lamp over the desk, and a small bedside cabinet and lamp beside the bed. It was pure luxury compared to the dormitories that we had been allocated in the old manor house. True, – there were no wash basins in the new rooms, they together with the showers and toilets were at the end of the central corridor, meaning that the early morning routine was very much the same as before, but nevertheless it was a huge improvement in the living conditions that we had experienced since we first arrived!
Both the intermediate and later senior stages of the Initial Police Training Course, passed by quite quickly. There were frequent tests of our knowledge of law and procedures and ever more practical scenarios. We were also taught how to give evidence in court, these courtroom experiences included how to respond to hostile questioning from defence lawyers.
But as the course entered its final few weeks the most burning question in our minds was, – Where were going to be posted? None of us really had any idea, the only thing that we did know was that we would me moving away from our home area’s. All the Police Forces at that time would insist that a new young probationary Police Constable should learn his duty whilst not hampered or tempted by earlier friends or associates. Home for me was by that stage Yeovil so I knew that I was not going to Yeovil!
The other Divisional Police stations, where all new probationary Constables in the Somerset and Bath Constabulary could be posted were, Taunton, Bridgwater, Frome, Bath, and Weston Super Mare. Of those, I really wanted to be posted to Taunton, a town that I already knew well, because of my frequent visits there to collect cars. It was also where the Headquarters of the Force was located.
At the start of week 9 just as we commenced the final 4 weeks of the course and were now the senior students, came the brown envelope that we had all been waiting for. I tore mine open and to my relief found that I had been posted to Taunton Division. I was instructed to report to the force’s own training school at Cannonsgrove, on the first Monday in January 1969 for a final week of local procedures training, prior to commencing my duties at Taunton Borough.
However, the same envelope contained a memo bearing very worrying news! About two weeks earlier I had met a Senior Officer from the force who was paying a Liaison visit to Chantmarle. During our conversation I had mentioned to him that I was engaged to be married, and that both Paula and I were looking forward to my new career as a Police Officer. He had not given me any reason to be concerned, but had clearly reported our conversation to the Force Personnel officer on his return to Force Headquarters. The memo I now received advised me in no uncertain manner that I was subject to Police regulations, and therefore could not marry anyone, without the Chief Constables permission. Furthermore no permission would be granted until I had formally submitted a report to the Chief Constable, through my new Divisional Commander, giving full details of the woman that I was seeking permission to marry, together with her date of birth, her address, and names of her parents and siblings etc. This caused a certain amount of panic in my mind as we had already set a date for our proposed marriage of the 26th April 1969, only 5 months from the date of receiving that memo!
Luckily a friendly Somerset and Bath Sergeant at Chantmarle assisted me in the correct form of submitting such a report, and it was submitted without further delay. It may surprise anyone reading this history today, to learn that although this took place in the late 1960’s the Police service was still using a report style which went back to the previous century, requiring formal requests such as this to submitted to Headquarters using phrases like “Sir, I humbly beg to report that I have been courting a young lady, who is of good character and now seek your permission for us to marry. The ladies name is ………
Police Initial training course no 195 at Chantmarle ended with the final Parade being Inspected by an Assistant Chief Constable from the Wiltshire Force. We then said our goodbyes to fellow course members, with whom we had worked closely together for the past three months. All were now returning to their forces, and were looking forward to the real start of their careers. We realised that although we were almost certain to meet our colleagues from our own force again, we were far less likely to see friends from neighbouring forces.
We had Christmas off duty at home. I didn’t realise it at the time, but in my case, it was to prove the last time for at least 10 years, that I would be able to spend the entire Christmas period at home. My force like all of the others I suspect, worked on the principle that you were required to work either Christmas day or Boxing day but not both. The same principle applied at New Year.
All of the Somerset and Bath recruits, wherever they had been posted, were required to attend the local procedures course at Cannonsgrove that first week in January 1969. There we were provided with additional items of uniform to supplement the basic issue allocated before we attended the course at Chantmarle. However the most significant thing to happen was that we were to meet our allocated Tutor Constable for the first time.
The Tutor Constable, was key to ensuring the recruit’s future successful career. Each tutor was a highly experienced and had been chosen not only for their wide experience, but also their ability to pass on that knowledge to the new recruit. I was extremely lucky, in that my Tutor was the very best that the Somerset and Bath Constabulary had at that time. Alan Willoughby was a highly decorated RAF Bomber Command aircrew member who had first joined the Police on leaving the RAF after the Second World War. At the time he became my tutor he had already carried out over 20 years of Police service and was a highly respected member of the Taunton Borough Division. He was also the Taunton Division Constables representative on the Police Federation.
My first day actually on Taunton Division passed as a bit of a blur. I had introductory meetings with the Chief Superintendent and his deputy, and other senior Officers. They all appeared quite stern, but Allan was always with me and provided constant reassurance. However the most important thing was to meet my Sergeant and his section, the group of Police Constables that I would be working with every day.
I had been allocated to Sergeant Westcott’s section. One of 4 sections Policing Taunton Borough. The section comprised of about 10 officers of varying ages and experience. There were a couple of experienced men, like Allan Willoughby, and about 4 officers having between 4 and 8 years service, but there were at least 4 probationers with less than 2 years service, including myself who of course had no operational experience whatsoever.
In those days we worked straight shifts of seven days of 10pm -6am Night Shifts (Monday to Sunday) Followed by rest Days on Monday & Tuesday , then Seven late shifts 2pm-10pm, rest days Wednesday & Thursday and then early turn 6am – 2pm Friday to Thursday. Rest days Friday to Sunday before back to Nights on the Monday. So we had one free weekend per month. It was also made clear to me that whatever shift I was working on any particular day, I was required to parade for briefing 15 minutes before that shift commenced. The briefing period included details of current crime trends, local stolen cars and other issues that needed to be borne in mind during the forthcoming patrol.
The shifts as described above were quite wearing, especially in my case the early turn one, because to be at the station by 5.45 (at the very latest) meant getting up at 5.00am, something I never found easy! Luckily after a few years, it was decided by the Chief Officers, after talks with the Federation that the full 7 days on each shift was not good for our health. So in order to bring some relief the early and lates weeks were mixed up a little with no more than three consecutive days one one particular shift. However the Nights week was not altered, and we were always required to perform 7 nights consecutively. We had one 3 day weekend off duty each month!
I was now classed as a Probationary Police Constable! Police regulations decreed that all Police recruits were employed on a probationary basis for the first two years of their service. They would carry out the full duties required of a Constable, but their performance and conduct during that period would be closely supervised and reported on. If there was any doubt concerning any aspect of their performance or conduct during that period, then their services could be dispensed with, after suitable warnings were given. In addition the Probationary Constable was required to undertake 1 day’s additional training at the Force training school per month, in order to maintain their knowledge of law and procedures.
On commencing operational duty, the new Probationary Constable would be accompanied by their Tutor Constable during the first 8 weeks of their service. The tutor would ensure that his student would be exposed to all manner of Police duty from routine patrol and traffic “Point Duty” to making arrests and dealing with sudden death etc.
Allan Willoughby started my settling in period by introducing me to routine foot patrolling around the streets of Taunton. Not just the shopping area but the back doubles and rear yards of premises as well. I was introduced to shopkeepers and Hospital staff, but most importantly I was told where I would be welcome to call in for a cup of tea, and where I could leave items of outer clothing if during my patrols, it got too hot to wear them! Officers were not permitted to return to their station for such unimportant reasons as comfort and convenience once they had commenced their allocated beat!
We dealt with shoplifters, parking offenders and known criminals were identified to me as worthy of “keeping an eye on”.
Those first few days with Allan were spent working an easy 9-5 routine, but it was not to last and I was soon introduced to the Police Officers burden of shift work! We commenced my first ever week of nights carefully guided and advised by my tutor.
Each night Sergeant Westcott would allocate us a different beat, and in that way I learned all of the important premises and shops on each beat, all of which required careful checking for security each night. I soon learned the dynamics of walking the beat gripping each door handle in turn, twisting and leaning on the door to check it was locked! Just occasionally a door hadn’t been properly secured and you fell inside, often to the sound of the burglar alarm going off! That then required a call on our Pye Pocket Phone radios to control to call out the key holder! Once again Allans knowledge of suitable night time tea stops was of great importance. The Hospital Casualty Dept was an important Tea stop and had the extra advantage of providing the vulnerable nursing staff a police presence at least twice during the night.
I made my first ever arrests that week too. The first was very easy, a drunk and incapable man who we had no choice other than to arrest, mainly to ensure his own safety!
The second arrest was much more testing although in some ways it was quite funny! The subject “Tom” was an ex Engine Room Stoker on the famous inter war years liner the “Berengaria”. Tom in his 50’s was now Shore bound having served it was said a period in Prison for manslaughter of another seaman in a fight. Tom had turned to the local brew of Cider, the rougher the better. The trouble was that Tom drank too much of it, every night, and when he was drunk he wanted a fight!
So one night that week the inevitable happened and whilst Allan and I were crossing a car park there was a loud shout of “What the f******* hell are you B******* doing here? Allan sighed and muttered “I’d better get some back up”. He clearly knew that this was going to get interesting. We went over to speak to Tom to warn him about his language, and of course he was having none of it and a fight very quickly started. Tom was a big strong man and the two of us could do little more than try to hang onto him but even that was difficult! Then luckily a bit like the Cavalry coming over the hill our anti Violence waggon (known as the Paddy waggon) driven by Sgt O’Sullivan arrived. The fight got even bigger as about 6 of us tried to subdue Tom. We finally got him under control and I will never forget Tom who was by now grinning with a twisted satisfaction singing at the top of his voice, to the time of “Raindrops keep falling of my head’ except that his version was “Truncheons keep bouncing of me ead”. Another one to sober up in the cells!
I learned quickly at Taunton that there was a particular problem there. it was this. Men who get drunk on beer can get nasty but tire quite quickly! Men who get drunk on Cider will fight Brick Walls! It was an enlightening week!
There was a further restriction that applied then on recruits joining the force which many would find unacceptable today, and that was the restriction on owning property! If you owned a house you could not keep it! Police Officers then were required to live in a Police House, or if you were a single man like me you had to live in approved lodgings. The reasoning was this,
In order to manage his force effectively the Chief Constable needed to be able to deploy his work force wherever he decided they were needed. To do this he had Police Houses located near Police stations all over the Force Area and when Police Officers were posted to a station they were required to live in the house that they were allocated nearby. Regulations stated that married officers could expect a minimum of 14 days notice of any move of station, and of course house. Single men could expect only 48 hours notice!
At the time of my joining the service, Police Officers were not allowed to buy their own houses until they had a minimum of 21 years service, and even then they had to apply for permission.
My continued education into the skills and abilities demanded of a young Constable continued on the following Wednesday when Allan and I started the week of 2-10pm late shifts. This late shift was to become my favourite shift, it was usually busy with a wider variety of challenges than the other two shifts offered. Allan taught me how to deal with several different shoplifters during that week and also two thefts from pre payment gas and electricity meters. That last offence was very common in those days, but almost unknown today. Then, many homes used the pre payment meters which required being fed with cash, – usually then two shilling pieces (10p today).
After a while the the meter’s locked cash box would contain a great deal of money, the property of the utility, either the Gas or Electricity company. The presence of that ready supply of money occasionally became too much of a temptation to the householder, who would find some way of breaking the padlock and stealing the money. The theft was usually reported by the meter reader sent to collect the money, or occasionally by the homeowner who then usually blamed some passing burglar who had obviously broken in and robbed the meter. I soon became quite skilled at dealing with both of those very common types of crime.
The late shift often required another skill now not required of the modern Police Constable, that of traffic control! Taunton in those days had very few traffic lights, but it did by 1969, have quite a few cars and lorries using its streets especially during the rush hour. we had been taught the basics of traffic control at Chantmarle, but there at best we might be practicing with two or perhaps three cars belonging to fellow students. Now I had to learn how to control quite heavy traffic from several different directions, whilst preventing hold ups from developing wherever possible. You had to be very precise and make your instructions abundantly clear or a nasty accident could occur- with you in a lot of trouble!
The next subject on Allan’s list was how to deal with sudden deaths! It was vital that I understood and experienced all the established procedures for dealing with sudden or unexplained death! Never a pleasant experience, it was then, and still is today, a task that all Police Officers, will have to deal with many times during their service.
Whilst dealing with a sudden or unexplained death, the Police Officer is acting on behalf of the Coroner, and must therefore gather any evidence which will assist the Coroner to establish the cause of and the circumstances surrounding that death.
It was during that first week of late shifts that I experienced the first of many sudden deaths that I was to deal with during my thirty years of police service. This one proved to be a very sad one indeed!
We had received a radio call to attend an incident at a Private school near Taunton. On arrival we were shown to a toilet block on the ground floor where I saw the body of a young boy apparently aged about 14 or 15. There was a pyjama cord tied tightly around his neck, it had clearly been cut through and we noticed that there was an identical piece of cord tied around a stout water pipe which was located above the toilet area where the body lay. I was clearly dealing with a devastating case of suicide, but the subject person was so young!
The body had been discovered by one of the teachers, who had immediately cut the young boy down, but it was too late. Allan took me through the immediate investigations and interviews with friends and teachers. Senior officers were notified and duly attended as did the criminal Investigation department (The CID), but there were no suspicious circumstances. It was a truly tragic case. Finally, I was instructed accompany the body to the local morgue in order to provide continuity of evidence.
I will not add any further detail concerning the apparent cause of the tragedy, because although the incident is now about 50 years ago, there might still be family members around. As Allan said later, it was far from being the easy routine example of a first sudden death that his students usually experienced.
I did not sleep easy in my lodgings that night!
Our lates week continued with two more shoplifters and the execution of a number of arrest warrants for none payment of fines. Finally we learned that on the last two days of our lates week, Monday and Tuesday, we had been dropped back to a later 6pm to 2am shift in order to carry out some observations. Apparently an informant had tipped off the CID that a particular gang of safe breakers were planning to raid some particular premises in the centre of Taunton. The CID had made arrangements for a team of officers to occupy some overlooking offices where we were to set up an observation post.
Accordingly, Allen and myself wearing rough civilian clothing spent a cold and very boring 8 hours staring at the rear of a nearby business premises incase somebody tried to break in. To say that it was boring is actually an understatement!
A small team of officers were detailed to carry out the same observations for a further five days but the expected break in never occurred. It was a clear indication that not all Police work was going to be exiting!
I was to find that those early months of being a probationary constable, quite often involved a period of shift changes onto observation duties.
When such duties were required for whatever reason, supervisory officers were reluctant to take community beat officers, or area car drivers off their patch, so it became the normal thing to do, to make use of the less experienced team of town centre beat officers for such tasks. One such operation remains clearly in my mind even today! There had been several hay rick fires on farms in the countryside surrounding Taunton. Initially it had been thought that perhaps the fires had occurred as a result of spontaneous combustion, but it was quite quickly realised that this was the work of a very persistent arsonist!
Now it is a well known fact that farmers do not tend to be shy retiring types, and they very soon started telephoning the Chief Constable Kenneth Steele to demand action! The Chief Constable in turn started to give Taunton Division’s Chief Superintendent a hard time and a squad was formed to carry out observations on a minimum of 8 vulnerable hay ricks every night! I was one of the poor officers selected for this onerous duty, and for quite a long time found myself sitting on a lonely hay rick every night waiting for it to catch fire! There was certainly no chance of you falling asleep, – you didn’t want to wake up in a fiery furnace!
But we were eventually Victorious and caught him! The culprit turned out to be a retained Fireman. The rural Fire Stations, being much less busy than those in the larger towns and Cities, relied on part time fire fighters, men who normally carried out ordinary jobs such as mechanics, butchers and shop keepers, but these men were highly trained and prepared to drop whatever they were doing on hearing the fire siren and go off to fight the fire! They received additional pay for turning out in such emergencies. This particular fire fighter had decided to supplement his income by setting hay ricks on fire, then rushing home and waiting to be called out to put it out! The local magistrates in Taunton did not see the funny side of the matter!!
My period of being tutored by Allan passed very quickly, and soon I found myself on patrol on my own. I had every confidence for Allan had been a first class Tutor, and I had been given a firm base on which to develop my new career.
Despite that confidence, I was still very much the new kid on the block as far as my section was concerned, but without exception my colleagues went out of their way to help and advise whenever I needed guidance. The Pye Pocket radio that we all carried, was also a great help. Back at the Police Station constantly manned, was the radio base station operated by a senior and experienced colleague. The main purpose of the radio system was to direct us to incidents etc, but it was a true two way system, and so we could also use it to call for back up in the case of trouble, or merely to seek advise or directions on a subject that was new to us.
One thing that did annoy me though, was the fact that I was not allowed to drive at all! I was told that it would be at least 6 months at the very least, before I might be allowed to drive one of the Hillman Imp “Panda Cars”. And indeed probably much longer than that. I found that restriction exceedingly irksome given my background in the motor trade. But it was the rule and I was in no position to challenge it.
The long awaited permission for me to marry Miss Paula Merrick finally came through at the start of February and I was able to phone Paula with the good news. The permission had taken well over the expected 6 weeks and we were starting to get quite concerned. However I had forgotten that the Christmas and New Year breaks would cause additional delay. But now with permission granted, we could really now start planning for our wedding day! The Church, and reception had been booked long ago, but until permission had been granted, we had been unable to make any detailed plans or invitations.
The Authority to get married also meant that we needed somewhere to live! The Force had a policy that all of their married officers should live in Police Houses, however due to a recent increase in recruiting there was a critical shortage of vacant Police houses!
As a result I was told I should rent suitable accommodation within the Taunton Division. In addition, the failure to provide be with a Police House would mean that I would receive a regulation housing allowance to in order to compensate my rental expenses, until such time as I could be allocated a Police House. There were a number of approved premises available and as a result we soon found a small ground floor flat in Peter Street Taunton that suited our needs .
Obviously until the date of our actual marriage I was still required to remain at my approved lodgings in Fairfield road Taunton. So it was there that I was staying on my last week of night shifts immediately prior to our wedding, when an incident occurred that aptly demonstrates the much firmer level of discipline that applied in those days. I had been working the Town Centre South foot beat all night checking the shops and business properties in East Reach. It had been a relatively quiet night, and I returned to the station just before 6.00am and booked off duty. I got to my digs at about 6.20 and went straight to bed and to sleep.
At about 8.45 am there was a very loud pounding on the front door of my digs and I heard it answered by my landlady. A very gruff voice loudly demanded “Is Allinson in?” to which my landlady obviously said yes and the Voice said “Get him up, he’s wanted down the station!” I was driven to the station by the Sergeant that had called at my digs and taken before an Inspector who was obviously most displeased! I was informed that a burglary had occurred on my beat and the Inspector was demanding to know how and why I had missed it. I had to submit a duty report, detailing my actions that night and apologising that I had failed to discover the burglary! From my own enquiries later on I discovered that the entry had been via an upstairs window reached from the roof of an adjoining building. I would have not seen it even if I had suspected it was happening! No matter, it was on my beat, and I was responsible! Discipline was much stronger in those days!
By now the 26th of April was approaching rapidly, and Paula especially was working very hard to get our flat, No1, Peter Street, Taunton, ready for our occupation, and brought up to an acceptable standard. It was fairly clean, but old by even the standards of the late 60’s. The windows had draughty metal frames and of course no double glazing Paula bought and made herself all of the curtains and nets. I bought a carpet square big enough to cover most of the sitting room floor. Lino covered the rest. A double bed, and some chairs and a table for the sitting room cleaned out all our savings, but we did still manage to rent a Black and White 17 inch TV from radio rentals!
The worst bit of the flat which we were never able to do anything about, was the plumbing! The cold water was OK, even though there was a horrible metal water tank suspended over the pretty small & basic bath. But the hot water system was primitive to say the least! The hot water supply to both the Kitchen and bath room was via separate gas geysers that were not only noisy but smelt and consumed large amounts of gas.
The actual wedding day itself dawned clear and bright and I met my Best Man Jerry Fowler, at a pub we both knew well, – the Pen Mill Hotel, near Pen Mill station, not far from St Michael’s Church where Paula and I were to be married at 1.00PM.
The reception was to be held in Sherborne some 8 miles from the Church, We had planned we would be leave the reception at about 4.00pm in order to allow plenty of time drive down to Torquay, where I had booked a room in the Corbyn Head hotel for the 1st night of our married life!
Jerry and I had arranged to drive independently to the reception hotel, where I would leave my car, ready for our departure at about 4.00pm. Jerry, who I trusted implicitly, promised he would not tell anyone where my car was!
His task now was to drive me back to the Pen Mill hotel where we were to have a couple of steadying drinks prior to the wedding, and to meet some of our guests and supporters!
We had a great time, but soon after 12.30, Jerry drove me the short distance to St Michael’s Church. There many of our friends and family were already gathering! Paula of course had not yet arrived and I waited nervously with Jerry, hoping that she had not changed her mind! I needn’t have worried because suddenly she was there looking absolutely stunning.
The service itself seemed to take such a short time, and almost before we knew it, we were standing outside the Church as man and wife! The family photographs seemed to go on for ages, before we were able to drive off to the reception in Sherborne.
The reception was great! Both of our families had always got on very well, and so it was a happy event for everyone. The meal was very good and the speeches not too long! We managed to get around to see everyone, but then our scheduled departure time of 4.00pm seemed to arrive very quickly and it was time to say our goodbyes. We moved towards the front door ready to leave, knowing that my good old Hillman Husky 830 RYD should be waiting outside as arranged with Jerry! It was there alright, but not quite as I had last seen it! It was now covered in sticky tape and ribbons, notices saying just married, and several cans and old boots tied to the rear bumper. I could hardly see out of it to drive away!
The drive down to Torquay was otherwise uneventful, and we booked into the Corbyn Head Hotel where we were given a lovely room with a sea view. We decided that the restaurant at the hotel was too expensive even for our honeymoon and Torquay itself looked very inviting. We quickly found a great restaurant and really enjoyed a private meal together, alone at last!
Sadly we could not afford to stay in the Corbyn Head, for more than that first night, and so the next morning we drove down to Cornwall and found a small B&B in Falmouth for 3 nights. We had used virtually all of our savings on the wedding, and also in buying furniture for our flat in Taunton, so this would be quite a short Honeymoon! In any event, having only been a Police Officer for a few months, I had not accrued much annual leave entitlement to be away any longer.
We arrived back in Taunton, on the Wednesday after our wedding and had a couple of more days getting things straight before I returned to work on the Saturday, a week after our wedding.
We settled into our flat, quite quickly, and Paula managed to get a job in the Gas Board offices in the centre of town. That certainly helped out with the finances, but more importantly gave her some purpose and direction. It was OK for me working in a strange town, but Paula didn’t know anyone in Taunton, and it would have been very easy for her to have felt isolated and alone when I was out working.
We both still remember sitting in the flat one evening in July that year watching the Apollo Moon landings on our black and white rented TV. It seemed so futuristic at the time!
At about the same time, further recruitment had meant that I was no longer the most Junior member of Sgt Westcott’s section. PC 1037 Alan Bailey, had been posted to us and we formed a very firm friendship, Alan was a couple of years younger than me and was married to Penny. Coincidentally, they had also married on the 26th April that year so we immediately had something in common.
Alan was an immensely cheerful and carefree individual, who’s tendency to act sometimes without thinking things through could cause Chaos, but whatever it was that happened his cheeky and cheerful grin would save the day! But he hated early turn! I remember one week he was late on parade three times, Sergeant Westcott was very cross indeed, and made it quite clear to Alan that if he was late again he would go before the Chief Inspector with a recommendation for the sack! The next day when I arrived at 5.40 am ready for the early turn briefing, Alan was already there fully dressed and ready for patrol. Sgt Westcott briefed all of us except Alan as to our duties, and instructed us to go out on patrol. Alan said ‘but you haven’t given me a beat Sergeant, what should I do?” The Sergeant looked at Alan and said
“ Mmmh, – I don’t really know Bailey, you obviously haven’t looked at the roster, for you are on a rest day today!” We all fell about laughing and even Alan saw the funny side of it!
I had been posted to Taunton Borough sub division, covering the actual county town of Somerset. Taunton Borough Sub division was quite a small part of Taunton Division itself. The actual Taunton Division, included all the countryside and small towns between the County border with Devon, and the small town of South Petherton, the eastern border with Yeovil Division.
Taunton Borough sub division was policed using the relatively new “Unit Beat Policing” method of working. The Sub division was split into 4 equally sized area’s . Each area was then further split into a small number of unit beats, each beat having an allocated Unit Beat Police Constable responsible for it. (The forerunner of what today we call a community Constable). Each of the 4 area’s had a dedicated Police “Panda Car” providing back up for the beat officer, and also able to deal with any incident requiring a rapid response.
By this time, I had served operationally for about 6 months, and I was being teamed up quite frequently with PC 768 Chris Mitchell. Chris was one of the more experienced Constables on the section and had about 4 years service . He was the area car driver for the No. 1 area, on our shift.
It was quite common then, for the Panda cars to be double crewed on the night shift, when they would often be sent to deal with fights in pubs or domestic disputes etc. ( Often some of the most difficult situations that young officers would face). Chris and I made a good team, he was very handy when dealing with violent situations, and I was developing an expertise in dealing with messy road accidents, a duty that Chris didn’t like.
The workload of the area cars was increasing all the time. We were expected to serve summonses, execute warrants for arrest, deal with accidents, public order offences and shoplifters. it was none stop! On top of all that, we were also expected to check vacant houses! In those days when a householder went on holiday, they told the Police when they would be away and when they were coming back. We would then be tasked with checking their house for them as often as possible during their absence!
Later that year came the first of the troubles in the Middle East, that affected the price and availability of Petrol. The price soared up from its normal 5 shillings (25p) per gallon to about 7 shillings! Panic set in, and the Chief Constable instructed that the Panda cars would be limited to 25 miles per 8 Hour tour of duty! Yet we were still expected to do all the work that we had been doing before. It just couldn’t be done! It seriously affected our morale and we were very unhappy. We took our duties as police officers seriously, and wanted to do a good job.
It was then that my previous experience in the motor trade came to the fore and caused us to do something that was actually against the very law that we were trying to uphold! (its 50 years ago now so I think that I can safely admit it). I had worked on the Hillman Imps in Sparrows garage on many an occasion, and I knew that if you put your hand up behind the dash board you could unscrew the speedo cable and drop it back. The mileometer would no longer record, and we could get on with our tasks without exceeding the allocated 25 miles per tour! Very naughty indeed, but the job was getting done and everyone seemed happy, – except for the fleet manager who could not understand why the Panda’s did not seem as good on fuel consumption as they once were!
But then one day it all went wrong! We were driving through Station Road Taunton one afternoon when Chris started sniffing the air and saying “whats that funny smell?” I said that I had a cold and couldn’t smell anything, and then Chris exclaimed “Christ!” and pointed to a thin trace of smoke curling up from behind the dash board. The end of the speedo cable had touched another terminal and had started to short it out!
Now we had to think quickly! We could either abandon the car and let it burn, or take action to stop the short circuit. The first option was the safest, however the paperwork involved afterwards was likely to be very trouble some indeed! So Chris thrust his not inconsiderable fist up behind the dashboard, grabbed the very hot speedo cable end, and got it away from the electrical circuit that it had come in contact with. The cable soon cooled down enough to reconnect it properly, and we were safe from the dreaded paperwork. All that was now required was a quick visit to the general Hospital A&E dept for some soothing ointment for Chris’s burnt fingers!
The fleet manager was later heard to remark that his Imp’s were doing much better on fuel again. They must have had a bad batch of fuel!
By early 1970 the increased rate of recruitment into the Police service, meant that despite the fact that I was still on probation, I was by then one of the more experienced Constables on Sgt Westcott’s section. However, I was desperately hoping for my turn to be allocated a Police house because our flat in Peter Street cold and not very comfortable. Then one day there was a very official looking brown envelope in my “In Tray”. When I opened it I was quite shocked to learn that I was being transferred away from Taunton Borough to the small Police station at Ilminster on the A303. But the more important news was that I was being allocated flat 2 above Ilminster Police Station as my first Police House.
Ilminster Police Station was not very old in 1970, and had been built with two large flats above it. The flats had a common stairway up to a small first floor landing in the centre of the building. Flat 1 was located over the front part of the station and Flat 2 the far end of the building. Both flats were the same 3 bedroom design, but also offered a large sitting room, a dining room and a reasonably sized kitchen. However for Paula and I the real improvement was that we had a proper bathroom without a hideous water tank suspended over the bath! The station also possessed two gardens at the rear allocated to the flats and also a grassed area around the station itself!
The only drawback to my new posting appeared to be the fact that sergeant in charge, – Sgt 379 Fred Parks had a bit of a reputation for being a “Martinet’ a stickler for detail and discipline, and one to watch! It was he who was living in flat 1! This might be difficult!
However, I had a cunning plan!
But before my cunning plan could work, I learned that I had to go on yet another course! It was a a direct result of my posting to Ilminster section.
Ilminster was a rural section, and in the early 70’s such stations were only issued with one car, – The Sergeants car! It was therefore an absolute requirement that all Constables posted to the section should hold a full motorcycle licence and be proficient enough to be authorised to ride a fully equipped Police motorcycle. In my case the problem was that I had never ridden a motorcycle in my life!
And so it transpired that one very cold Monday morning in February 1970 I found myself reporting to the now abandoned wartime airfield in Culmstock in the hills above Taunton, for the first day of my two week Police motorcycle course. There were 8 of us on the course, two others like me, were total beginners! We were split into two groups of 4, each group with an Instructor in charge. We were introduced to our motorcycle for that 1st week of the course a 250cc BSA Bantam.
I spent the first two hours learning the intricacies of a 250cc Air-cooled engine, how to start it, and how to change gear etc. Then riding up and down the old runway and then the perimeter track. The afternoon saw us riding on open roads, around Culmstock and being urged to go faster and faster by our instructors.
The next day we rode to Bristol on the A38, and then back again via the A37, A303 and local roads to Culmstock. I was a bit saddle sore and cold when we got back. The next day we went to Barnstable in Devon and Thursday to Exmouth. The final day was test day and we swapped instructors. Both Instructors were qualified and Licensed testers. It clearly would not have been correct for the Instructor to test his own students hence the reason for them swapping. The day was spent in and around Taunton in heavy traffic, each student in turn being followed closely by the tester who was watching us closely. We all passed! It might seem unusual for complete novices to receive their full motorcycle licenses in only 5 days, but remember we were under close instruction by experts for almost 8 hours a day and had covered hundreds of miles. But that was only the end of week 1.
At the start of week 2 we were instructed to report to Taunton Division HQ garages where a number of 500cc Triumph Tiger Twin motorcycles had been allocated for our use. This machine was a quite formidable proposition for someone like me, who until one week ago had never even sat on a motorcycle let alone ridden one. The 250cc BSA Bantam had been relatively easy to learn on, but this beast was going to be more of a challenge! In the first instance it was quite heavy when stationary, so you had to ensure that its weight was kept in balance and upright. If you weren’t careful when pulling it onto its main stand it was easy to lose balance and then finding it very hard to stop it from falling over. We spent some time learning its basic daily maintenance, before starting up and venturing out onto the road. The rest of the day was spent in and around Taunton Division getting used to our new charge. Each day then saw greater distances and higher average speeds being achieved although it must be remembered that this was intended as a basic motorcycle course and we were not being taught to be road traffic officers. The force was proud of its driving school standards, and this course was part of it.
Our Instructors would concentrate on each of us in turn, powering on ahead and patting his rear offside pannier indicating that that should be where we were to position ourselves. He knew our capabilities, and was testing and developing them all the time. On the final Thursday we went up the A4 to Heathrow and back, each of us being extended for a considerable distance with the others trying to keep up. It was an enjoyable penultimate day. Finally on Friday the two Instructors swapped over again and re tested each others students. This test was not for a full licence, because we had achieved that at the end of week 1. This test was for a “County Authorisation”. We all passed, and it meant that henceforth we were authorised to ride Police Motorcycles of up to 500cc on general Police Duties. We were not authorised to undertake Road Motor Patrol Duties (Traffic Officers Duties) which required a more advanced course.
Now I could undertake to full range of duties required of me as a Constable on Sgt 378 Parks Ilminster section. It had an establishment of 9 Constables.
Four Constables, of which I was one, were responsible for mainly foot patrol duties in and around Ilminster. Four other Constables lived in residential beat stations in South Petherton, Buckland St Mary, Seavington St Michael, and Ilton. The ninth Constable was the residential beat Officer for Ilminster itself, – PC Alan Fitchet, who due to his long service and experience, lived in his own house on an estate in Ilminster.
All four residential Beat officers generally worked 8am-4pm shifts, or 4pm – 12 midnight, although on Fridays and Saturdays the late shifts tended to become 6pm to 2am to cover for occasional weekend disorder problems. Each of the RBO,s was allocated a 500 CC Motorcycle although these were gradually replaced by Ford Escort Vans.
Between us the four Ilminster town constables covered the standard 6-2, 2-10, and 10-6am shifts that I had worked at Taunton. Except that here we were on our own! When we left the station, we locked it up behind us and patrolled alone. We had no radio, – Taunton the nearest manned station was over 15 miles away, far beyond the range of personal the radios in Police use in those days. So instead we made points at Telephone kiosks instead. That meant that from 25minutes past the Hour until 35 minutes past the hour, 10 minutes, we stood outside pre arranged Telephone Kiosks in case the Control room at Taunton wanted to tell us something. Once we left that position we were lost to them again for a further 50 minutes!
Today that will sound almost Victorian, and in some respects, Policing in the smaller and rural townships of Somerset had not changed much since the early days. Without radio and thinly spread, we were very much on our own.
You quickly learned how to handle yourself, and how to deal with all sorts of issues. If you were really in trouble you did have your whistle, but as there was usually no other officer to help you, you had to rely on members of the public to assist. Luckily Ilminster by and large was very peaceable. However if you did have to arrest someone, you had to manhandle them up through the streets, up a steep hill to the Police Station, unlock the back door, and then get them into the single cell. Having done all that, now your problems really started, because you had to get the Sgt out of bed to accept your prisoner! Not calculated to make you that popular!
That was where my cunning plan was centred! I had to gain the confidence of Fred Parks! I was still on probation at that stage, with at least 8 months still to go until the important 2 year confirmation point. So I could not allow my inexperience to shade his opinion of me!
I had spotted soon as we moved in, that there was a huge difference in Fred’s garden and mine, – they were both the same size and shape, only separated by a close boarded fence. However, Fred’s garden was immaculate, whilst mine was in a very poor state indeed. I was clearly going to have to develop a very keen love of gardening!! So my very first day off, I was out there digging my heart out! I really didn’t know very much about it, but I had often seen my dad digging in his garden, so it was obviously the thing too do. Very soon Fred was looking over the top of the garden fence looking very much like the cartoon character “Chad”. “Very good Allinson” he said “Its nice to see someone taking an interest in his garden, keen gardener are you?” “Oh yes”, I replied, “I love it!” “Excellent” he said, “Would you like some Raspberry canes ?” “Oh no thanks.” I replied “I don’t have any raspberries!” This appeared to give Fred some indigestion and he went in!
Not a good start!
Nevertheless, I soon settled into the new routine. Despite Fred’s off-putting reputation he was actually a very good Boss! A good Sergeant! He ensured that the station was well run and that we all did our very best to ensure that we all provided the very best service to the residents and businesses that made up the small town of Ilminster.
Our regular day time foot patrols of the centre of the town ensured that traffic could flow properly through the area and also that through our day to day contact with the small town centre retailers, our knowledge of what was going on locally was constantly updated.
One of my priority duties during Fridays and Saturdays during the Summer months, was traffic control on the two main pedestrian crossings of the A303 through the town. This major trunk route would rapidly grind to a halt if you didn’t regulate those pedestrian crossings! Traffic tail backs would build up very quickly over many miles causing hours of delays!
Ilminster section was twinned with Chard section a few miles to the South. Chard was the larger of the two towns and like Ilminster straddled a major route to the South West of England. Ilminster was on the A303 and Chard the A30. Chard section was organised in exactly the same way as Ilminster, with 4 Constables covering Chard town, and a similar number of RBO’s lived in detached station houses in the surrounding countryside.
Chard town constables worked the same shifts as their Ilminster colleagues, and when on nights worked together after 2.00am as a mobile Night Crime car. The two section Sergeants took it in turns to be the Sergeant on call for the week, The beat Constable on night shift in each town patrolled on foot in his town until 1.00am, taking his refreshments in his own station before the two joined together at 02.00 using the car belonging to whichever Sergeant was NOT on call. Our task was to check all vulnerable property, building sites, and explosive stores etc, on the two sections until we went off duty at 06.00.
In my case I was twinned with my colleague PC 1000 Russell Kent. We knew each other very well as Russell was one month senior to me when we were both under training at Chantmarle. Russell obviously fancied himself as an expert rabbit catcher, and I recall one night when we were on a joint anti crime patrol, we happened on a large open area that was in the process of being developed. There were a huge number of rabbits there and Russell decided he was going to get one of them. I stopped the car and he got out pulling his truncheon out of his pocket as he did so. I saw him start to wind up the truncheon in circles over his head, faster and faster whilst gripping the leather thong in his hand. Suddenly he threw it at one of the groups of rabbits. Unfortunately the leather thong must have caught on one of his fingers because instead of hurtling towards the Rabbits the truncheon shot downwards at an angle and bounced off the bonnet of my Sergeants car leaving a big dent, before disappearing into some undergrowth nearby! The rabbits scattered immediately and I’m sure I heard them laughing!
Now we had two problems! We had to find Russell’s truncheon and that took some time, but there was also the problem of the dent in Sgt Park’s bonnet!
Luckily that problem was resolved a little later, for whilst checking another building site, It appeared that the vibration caused by the movement of our car must have unsteadied a pile of bricks and one of them toppled onto the bonnet of the car. It was just one of those things I suppose. But I never allowed Russell to chase rabbits again!
We soon had an example of how the best intentions can go wrong! Sgt Parks had a visit from one the Taunton Inspectors one day! This relatively new and very keen Inspector had decided to Inspect minutely all of the stations books and records. Fred, being a stickler for detail of course passed this close inspection of his records with no difficulty at all, until it came to the Inspection of the Found Property cupboard! This tightly packed cupboard contained all of the found goods that the public had found and had then brought into the Police station. Standing orders instructed that members of the public bringing in such property should be given the choice of leaving the property with us, or keeping it themselves after leaving us with their names and addresses etc. Then if the loser called us, they would be directed to the finders house to collect their property. This second option rarely happened, and the majority of found property always ended up in the Sergeants cupboard. He was then required to perform a monthly check of the cupboard to confirm its presence ! The overly keen Inspector had now criticised our Sergeant for allowing too much property to accumulate!
Sgt Parks in turn subsequently berated us for not persuading more finders of property, to agree to look after the property that they had found!
A few days later on a Saturday morning I was on early turn and had relieved PC 734 John Crosby who had been on the night shift. During our hand over, John had told me that he had had a funny occurrence during his refreshment break when at about 1.15 am a passing lorry driver had brought in a large white rabbit, which he had discovered hopping down the middle of the A303! John said that in accordance with the Sgts instructions he had persuaded the lorry driver to keep the Rabbit!
I thought no more about it, and completed my early turn property checks in the town, returning to the station at about 9.00am to cook my Breakfast.
At around 9.30am the station front door bell had rung and on answering it I found a young mother outside, accompanied by her young son who was visibly upset!
I asked her what the problem was, to which she replied “He’s lost his white rabbit!” I smiled broadly, inviting her into the enquiry office, and I went around to the other side of the counter, reaching for the very impressive found property book! “Your white rabbit, young man is in Penzance” I almost shrieked in my disbelief! The young mum then also burst into tears, and as a result, I spent the next two hours tracing the trucking company the driver worked for, finally persuading them to deliver the white rabbit back to Ilminster the next time that they were passing. Fred soon heard about the incident, and rapidly changed his instructions!
I had now been at Ilminster for over 6 months and was still on probation, – attending probationary training once a month. Many of the probationers that attended the same monthly training sessions found the whole process irksome, and as a result only did what was required. But in contrast, I found the study sessions helpful, realising that if I wanted to go further I would need to pass the Sergeants exam as soon as possible. The passing of the Sergeants examination and also the later Inspectors exam (if applicable), were required prior to promotion in all UK Police forces. However the exams were merely academic qualifications, and did not in themselves guarantee promotion. They did however allow you to perform temporary duty in the higher rank when there was a vacancy caused by sickness or leave etc. In that way you were able to demonstrate your readiness for a substantive promotion.
My point of two years service arrived in October 1970 and I was formally confirmed as a Constable in the Somerset and Bath Constabulary later that month. Not much changed of course and my duties at Ilminster continued as before.
As Christmas approached that year I was made aware of a tradition that existed in Ilminster that I had never experienced before. On Christmas eve the Police Officers serving in the town all took their turkeys ready prepared in baking trays, down to the local bakers shop where he placed them in his bread ovens on Christmas morning. We collected them later Christmas morning, ready for our Christmas lunch at home. Wonderful!
In the spring of 1971, I sat my Sergeants qualifying examination at the force training centre Cannonsgrove . Thanks to the excellent training regime during my probationary period I did not find it at all difficult. There were 3 separate papers Law, General Police Duties and Road traffic procedures, all of which required a high pass mark. Nevertheless I was stunned 3 months later to learn not just that I had passed, but that I had secured a level of pass mark that placed me in the top 200 in the Country!
To be in the top 200 position nationally, gave me an automatic regional interview for appointment to the next “Special course” at the Police Staff college at Bramshill. Selection for the year long Special Course, would have resulted in an immediate promotion to the rank of Sergeant, and further promotion to the rank of Inspector after 12 months of operational service as a Sergeant. However I was not ultimately successful, I did manage to pass the regional element, but sadly did not succeed in the final 3 day extended interviews at Churchill College Cambridge. Most successful candidates were university educated.
Nevertheless it was obvious that the Chief was very happy with my progress and I soon commenced an extended period of Acting Sergeant duties both at Ilminster, and Chard, and occasionally too back in Taunton. In addition I was awarded a 3 month “Aid to CID” attachment at Taunton and also a 3 month attachment to the Road Traffic Division. I was aware of it at the time, but several years later I discovered that despite failing the Staff College extended interviews, the Chief had placed me on the Force’s own High Potential scheme. I just though that I was lucky getting those attachments!
By the summer of 1971 we realised that Paula was expecting a baby, and our happiness was almost complete. We loved our life in Ilminster and everything was turning out well for us.
Police Regulations in the early 70’s permitted Constables who had already passed the Sergeants exam, to sit the Inspectors qualifying examination even though they had not yet been promoted to Sergeant. And so having continued with the required study, I took and subsequently passed the Inspectors examination in late 1971
By late February 1972 Paula’s condition was causing some concern in respect of raised blood pressure, and the condition known as pre eclampsia. A period of complete bed rest was prescribed and she was admitted to the maternity unit at Yeovil general Hospital.
By the 13th of March, It seemed that the baby might soon be making an entrance. I was scheduled to work the 10pm to 6am shift that night , but arranged to finish earlier than usual and drove immediately to the Hospital, arriving at 6.00am on the 14th. The hospital staff confirmed that labour had indeed started, but nothing was going to happen very quickly and suggested that I should go home, and come back at about mid day, to see how things were progressing. I did as I was told. Returning as instructed at 12.00 mid day, only to find that I was the proud father of a little girl! born at about 8.30am! I was really upset at missing the birth of my daughter, but the excitement of seeing her in her cot made up for it. Paula stayed in Hospital with “Julie for 10 days, before I was able to take my new family home to Ilminster. We were so happy to have Julie with us, and I guess that one of my abiding memories will always be of Paula standing in front of one of the windows in our flat overlooking the town, and whispering to Julie “Night night big world, see you in the morning!”
One evening in late 1972, whilst once again “acting” at Ilminster, I was called to an incident which tested just about all of the skills that I had accumulated in recent months. It was a really foul night, very high winds were bringing down a number of trees, and the rain was lashing down. Then at about 10.00pm I received a call to a house in woodlands near the border between Chard and Ilminster. The call suggested that a shooting had occurred there. It was a house that I knew well as It was the home of a very disturbed young man, who I had had dealings with before. I was met at the door by a woman who was hysterical. I entered and immediately saw the body of the young lad lying on the floor he was clearly dead, there could be no doubt of that. In the corner of the room sitting in a chair was his father holding what i knew to be a 4/10 shotgun. I secured the scene moving both adults to another room after advising the father that he was under arrest on suspicion of causing the death of the deceased youth. I then used the radio in the Sgts car to summon Senior Officers, the CID and Scenes of Crime Officers. They very soon started to arrive and took over from me. Then I heard that the Chief Constable was on his way!
It might seem unusual, judged by today’s standards, but In the early 1970’s Chief Constables did still quite often, attend significant incidents like this one. However I realised that due to the dreadful storm that was still raging, the Chief, coming from the direction he was, would not be able to get past some fallen trees. So I arranged for a car to meet him, and to bring him to the scene via a different route. He stayed for about 20 minutes, seemed happy that all was being properly managed and left. I remained at the cottage for some time to ensure that everything was secured, and then made my way to Taunton Divisional HQ, for reports and statements etc. It was dawn before I got home to Ilminster Police Station.
Two days later I received a personal note from The Chief Constable Kenneth Steele, (or KWL as we all called him), congratulating me on my handling of the incident. I was very relieved!
In January 1973 I received an invitation from the Divisional Detective Chief Inspector, to accompany him whilst he gave a drugs talk to a group in Wellington, I asked Sgt Parks for permission, and was somewhat surprised when he readily agreed. My shift was changed to 6pm to 2am to accommodate it and Fred advised that I should do a foot patrol of the town centre on my return. In the event however, I never did that foot patrol because the DCI insisted on us going for a drink after the talk, and he got me well and truly plastered! As a result I went straight to bed as soon as I got home.
At 8.30 am the Phone rang beside my bed, and I immediately recognised the voice of the HQ administrative Chief Inspector, ordering me to attend the HQ in Taunton at 10.30am in my best uniform. It appeared to me that somehow they had found out about my state of intoxication the night before, and that I was on the carpet and facing the high jump!
I arrived at HQ 15 minutes early, and was made to wait nervously in a small office until 10.30. Then without warning, I was marched in to see the Chief Constable Kenneth Steele. He informed me that he was promoting me to the rank of Sergeant, and that he was transferring me to Weston Super Mare division, with effect from the 1st March 1973. Paula and I were to be allocated a Police house at 30, Manor Road Weston Super Mare. He shook my hand, told me to sit down, and spoke to me for 20 minutes about leadership, and what he expected of me. Then, still in a daze I was then ushered out!
It didn’t dawn on me immediately, for I had not been expecting it to come quite in the way that it did, but I eventually realised that my promotion was one of the fastest involving someone who had not been part the special course system. I felt extremely humbled, for I realised that many of my colleagues were at least as competent if not more so than me, but had not had the lucky turn of fate that I had experienced.
Patrol Sergeant Weston Super Mare.
Looking back on it now, the next few months at Weston Super Mare, were probably some of the most difficult of my entire Police Career.
Weston Super Mare Division, being very close geographically to the City of Bristol was probably the busiest Division in the Somerset And Bath Force area. The 1970’s was the period of the Mods and Rockers problems, at several seaside resorts, and Weston super Mare certainly had its fair share of the disturbances.
At Ilminster I had been used to patrolling alone, but now I was in charge of my own section of eight men, and was responsible for their welfare, proper development and for their operational deployment. The section, or Group as it was now being called, comprised of two or three longer service Constables but the remaining 5, were all probationers of varying lengths of service.
The Divisional Senior Officers had anticipated that i would need a period of acclimatisation and had arranged for me to spend a full week of night shifts working with a very experienced and older Sergeant, Sgt 479 Sam Seaman!
And so feeling very self conscious in my new uniform with its dazzling woven silver Sergeants stripes I paraded for duty with Sam’s section as he briefed them for their duties. He read out all the recent crime reports, missing people, local stolen cars etc, and then gave each man his area of patrol and refreshment time. The patrol area allocation sounded a bit like this, “ 223 Town Centre North, 994 Town Centre South, 78, sea front, 118 Anti Violence unit, with 998, 326 Oldmixon area, Bill -Front Office, Harry -Control Room”.
The briefing carried on in similar fashion each night with some variation so that the officers did not get stale. However on the last two nights of the week I noticed that the Constable who had previously been known as 78, had now become Tony! This seemed very strange to me and so on our last night together I decided to ask Sam why PC 78 had suddenly become Tony?
He looked at me as if I was daft, and said “its bloody simple innit ?” My reply was “No – not to me its not!” He grinned and said “ Well them’s with numbers they’re not real Policemen, they’re just probationers, but young Tony he got his two years in on Friday, so he’s a real Policeman now, so’s I can call him Tony”
Life was simpler then!
Weston Super Mare took a lot of getting used to, after South Somerset. One thing that Paula and I never accepted, was that the sea was brown, not blue as we had known on the Dorset Coast. From a Policing viewpoint too it was very different. Summer weekends were very busy indeed. Sea front and esplanade patrols were a vital element in our planning.
At that time the Policewomen were not integrated into the normal section or group staffing, but instead were organised into what was known as the Police women’s department. They were supervised by a female sergeant and specialised in dealing with Women and Children who for one reason or other had come to Police notice. However when not primarily engaged in such duties, they could be loaned to the Section Sergeant on early or lates, and patrolled in company with male constables. Generally speaking they did not work full night shifts, but did quite often work 4-midnight or 6pm – 2am shifts. They were great to have with us and their presence often calmed down domestic disputes and even pub brawls.
One aspect of Weston Super mare that did take a bit of getting used to was the annoying rabbits of the sea gulls! You could do a foot patrol of the sea front and town area just before dawn, and then half an hour later after it got light the sea gulls would have emptied the contents of all the rubbish bins all over the roads, in an effort to find the food left by late night revellers!
By the late summer of 1973 all the sections at Weston were carrying a significant number of vacancies. But the summer rush was still on, and at the busy weekends our ability to deal with disorder in the town was often stretched to the limit. I was forced to use bluff tactics to boost our numbers, by telling my guys to drive around in one car for 30 minutes or so, and then come back to the station and take out a different one for a while, and keep swapping them around. This tactic was very effective with the anti violence team. We would put out 6 officers in the anti violence long wheel base Land Rover, then bring them back in and send them out in three double crewed cars etc.
It was of course all bluff, but it did seem to work, it certainly gave the troublemakers the impression that there were loads of us about.
By the end of that first summer I had grown used to Policing Weston Super Mare, and was enjoying being part of the stations establishment. One oddity that the Division was noted for was the number of officers bearing animal names in their Surnames. We had PC’s Doe, Fox, Badger and Beaver. Sgts Pigeon, Rabbits and Bullock. A hard act to follow. I noticed too that exposure to the elements of sea, salt, sun and rain had now tarnished my overly bright Silver stripes to a much more experienced dull rust colour.
Like every seaside town Weston also had a high proportion of retired and elderly residents, they as you would expect brought with them, a requirement for sympathetic attention. In particular the station was constantly visited by an elderly lady who had a very unusual problem!
“You see” she explained, her house had been built a few years ago directly over the Hot Line which ran between No 10, Downing Street in London, and the White house in Washington USA. And whenever the Prime Minister was talking on the phone to the President of the USA, it set off dreadful vibrations in her house, and what were we going to do about it? At first the front office staff were very sympathetic and polite, but after a while they were clearly starting to find the need to be sympathetic a bit wearing! The problem was brought to me the next time that she came in, and I took her into my office and listened to her story. She was lovely old Lady but clearly had a bit of a fixation on this perceived problem, and so I promised to look into it for her. She left obviously in a happier frame of mind.
I had remembered that 223 Doe was a dedicated “roll your own” smoker and that in his locker he had loads of empty tobacco tins, some of which he had scraped the paint and advertising off, and as a result they we very bright! I persuaded him to give me one and in it I placed a large red battery out of one of our radio transmitters and a smaller yellow one out of one of the receivers. A few coloured wires completed the Job.
Two days later I called on the lady and explained that I had a friend in the Home Office in London who understood her problem, and that he had given me this machine which I had to bury in her back garden and it would stop all of the vibrations. She was delighted, and so with great ceremony I produced a spade which I had brought with me, and dug a foot deep hole in her garden. The tin was buried and the soil returned as before. And it worked!
She didn’t come in again for over a year, and even then just to ask for the batteries to be changed!
That October another an incident occurred which almost had the potential to get me into trouble! I had been sitting in the Control room one afternoon when a 999 call came in from a Mrs Fish living in Sand bay to the effect that there were bones sticking up out of the sand in sand bay. I looked at the message and wrongly assumed that I was subject of a wind up by one of the officers – Mrs Fish, complain of bones on the beach? Oh yes, a likely story! and I screwed up the message. Some time later I answered a second call from the good lady, now somewhat cross that no-one had been to see her!
Conscious that this could cause a complaint I went to see her myself and she took me around a small headland to where there were indeed 3 large curved bones sticking out of the sand. I set too clearing some of the sand and within a fairly short time had revealed 2 skeletons! Clearly this was serious and once again I was calling for the CID and Senior staff. My Inspector arrived to check all was in order and then pointed to the middle finger of my left hand that was bleeding. I commented that I had cut it on the eye socket of one of the skulls and he became very concerned insisting that I went immediately to Weston General Hospital which at that time was in the centre of the town. I did as I was told and was seen by a casualty nurse who enquired when I last had a tetanus jab. I jokingly said “Probably 4 years ago at least” and she said I’ll just give you a booster! I started to role up my sleeve and she grinned and said “Oh no, – trousers down, bend over! I’m sure that that syringe was as big as a double barrelled shotgun! I’ve never trusted nurses since!
The origin of those skeletons was never resolved, the bones were sent to the University for carbon dating. The result that came back was not terribly helpful in that we were advised that they were probably not less than 50 years old, or more than 500 years old! That really didn’t give us a lot to go on. There was nothing to suggest the cause of death and the only remnants of clothing was what appeared to be the sole of one leather sandal.
The matter was referred to the Coroner and it was finally decided that they were probably fishermen who died at sea centuries ago.
Weston Super Mare was the location for my second arrest for murder! Very late one night, I received a report of a stabbing at a club just behind the sea front. Other units had also been dispatched but this was clearly one where a Supervisor would be required. In the event I recall that I was the first Police unit to arrive, although there was an Ambulance already in the car park.
I saw a small crowd of people bending over a body lying in the car park, and immediately went over, there were ambulance staff treating the victim but from the amount of blood on the floor this was very serious indeed.
A trail of blood lead into the club premises and I followed it into the main club area where a lot of people were standing around talking quietly, many appeared to be in shock. I asked who knew what had happened and who was responsible for the attack on the young man I had seen in the car park. No-one really said much but several pointed up a circular iron stairway that gave access to the floor above the club premises. It was clearly down to me to go up! I climbed the staircase and found myself on a darkened landing looking down a dark corridor, to where I could see a light coming from what looked like an office. I walked down the corridor and looked through the open door. Sitting in a chair beside a desk was a man dressed in dark leathers, he was in his late 20’s early 30’s. I told him that I had found a man lying in the car park outside who was clearly very seriously injured, and that I had followed a trail of blood into this club. Did he know anything about it?
He leant forward and pulled quite a large knife out of the top of one of his motorcycle boots! At this point my mouth went dry and I was wondering what best to do, when he put the knife onto the top of the desk and said “Down the station I suppose!” I initially arrested him for committing grievous bodily harm, but as soon as I got him downstairs I was advised that the man in the car park was deceased. So the arrest was for one of Murder!
I was tied up dealing with the aftermath of that one for several days.
By now Paula and I were really enjoying Weston Super Mare. Our house in Manor Road, was fine, although it had suffered from a very long period of low expenditure once it had become a Police House. Built probably immediately after the 2nd World War the semi detached house had been purchased by the Police authority as the divisional Superintendents house. Accordingly it was in a very nice area and stood alone as a Police House amongst many privately owned properties. But now it had been downgraded to a Sergeants House and expenditure had dried up. In contrast, our attached next door neighbours had maintained their own house to a very high standard. The comparison between the two houses was therefore quite stark. But even though there was that problem, we did love our time at 33 manor Road.
By mid 1974, despite now being very happy at Weston Super Mare, We were both becoming increasingly concerned by the increasing age and vulnerability of our two mothers now living in council flats in differing parts of Yeovil. So at my next annual staff review I put in a welfare request for any vacancy for a Sergeant’s position on Yeovil Division.
As it happened there was soon a vacancy for a Station Sergeant at the Yeovil Division HQ at Petters way Yeovil, and I was offered the position and accepted. We were allocated a Police House in Westland Road Yeovil, making the move in September that year. By now Paula was expecting our second child.
From a social & family welfare viewpoint the move to Yeovil was excellent. It allowed us to ensure that both our mothers were well looked after in their later years, and also allowed us to re kindle old friendships that we had not been able to easily maintain for a number of years.
However from my point of view the role of Station Sergeant at Yeovil Police HQ was not very demanding. The shift patterns were a much better 8-4 and 4-12mn pattern with the very occasional full night shift because of sickness thrown in. But Yeovil was very quiet after Weston, and if the truth be known I was not getting the challenges that I needed to maintain my interest. I was coasting.
Our Son Jeremy was born in Yeovil Maternity wing and this time I was there! I was not going to be cheated this time. It was a fantastic experience and I really needed that cup of tea after it was all done!
We look Jeremy home to Westland Road a few days later, the family was growing!
But then a new opportunity presented itself, and it was one that I went after with great enthusiasm! It had come to my notice that Sergeant Eric January was about to retire as the detached rural Sergeant at Wincanton! The post of rural section sergeant in the force in those days was a very important one. Each rural sergeant was in sole charge of a geographically large section, with a staff of usually about 10 officers and a civilian clerk. Occasionally the section also included a traffic warden.
In the case of Wincanton section the area covered included the two small town’s of Bruton and Castle Cary, plus several villages too. The twin A303 and A30 trunk roads both passed through the Section in similar fashion as they had at Ilminster. Geographically the Section covered all of the territory from the Wiltshire and Dorset Boundaries in the East, almost to Yeovil in the South West. The Western boundary was the main A37 road to Bristol.
The area covered by the section also included the strategically important Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton near Ilchester. The air base was the main training establishment for Fleet air Arm fixed wing pilots!
I applied for the forthcoming vacancy and was delighted to learn very quickly that my application had been successful. Wincanton section was mine!
I was not to know it then, but the next four years were to become probably the most satisfying of my entire career!
Part 7 Rural Sergeant Wincanton Section
We had been allocated the Sergeants House at No 7 Locks Lane Wincanton, just about 30 yards away from the Station. The whole complex was only a matter of a few years old and the four Police Houses were of quite modern design, certainly nothing like any of the others that I had seen previously. we considered ourselves to be very lucky.
The Police Station was also quite new, It featured a front enquiry desk and a general office for the civilian clerk. Behind that was the Sergeants Office and then up a few stairs to a slightly raised level was a large parade room with a conference and briefing area. At a lower level was the rear station yard with garages for two cars and a van. There was plenty of room.
On my first day at the station, Sergeant January who had already effectively retired, had come in civilian clothes to hand over to me, and to go through the station books in some detail. He introduced me to PC 349 Ron Stingemore the senior man on the section, who was also soon to retire. PC’s 249 Bonham, 1139 Tony Clifford, PC 1175 Trevor Thomas and PC 1209 Alex McCartney made up the 4 man response team.
The small towns and Villages in the very large section were covered by a team of residential beat officers each living in a police house with a dedicated Police Office attached. PC 602 Gerry Hawkins looked after Bruton, PC 257 Gwyne Phillips looked after Castle Cary, PC 675 Dave Cranmer looked after Bayford, PC 172 Mike Stanton, was at Templecombe, PC Malcolm Baker at Marston Magna, and PC1091 Rod Allen at Milborne Port. In all 10 Constables and one traffic warden were allocated to Wincanton Section. They were supplemented by an extensive group of Special Constables, – mainly local farmers who tended to work with their detached beat officers on a regular basis.
One of my first tasks was to meet the Local Magistrates, because one of my responsibilities as the Town sergeant, was to prosecute cases before the Magistrates Court each Monday morning. I recall that the Chair at the time was Mrs Montgomery. Captain Cunningham RN was I believe the Deputy, Others were Mrs Hobhouse, and local Undertaker Mr Harold Miles. The Magistrates Clerk was I believe Peter Clarke.
I also had the pleasure of meeting the Coroner for South East Somerset. He was a highly regarded local solicitor Mr John Fenton-Rutter. I formed the opinion that he was an outstanding man, blessed with a skilled and enquiring mind. He was one that I always enjoyed serving during the many Coroners Inquests that I attended during my time at Wincanton.
Paula and I settled into life in Wincanton very quickly, it helped that I still remembered the area quite well. I had not previously worked with any of my officers before, but they were all clearly dedicated to providing a good service not only to the residents of Wincanton, but also to the other communities spread over the vast section. The crime rate was remarkably low, and the detection rate commendably high. I was conscious that I should be very careful to maintain that standard.
The Sergeants car was a Hillman Avenger, and a second Avenger was also available for use by the 4 Wincanton officers covering the full 24 hour shift pattern. Unlike my Ilminster days when the detached residential beat officers each had a motorbike, my 6 RBO’s spread across a much wider section, now each had a Ford Escort van.
I found that my days were often quite busy keeping on top of a considerable amount of administration. On this section there were more firearm and shotgun renewals than had been the case at Ilminster, and each one had to be allocated to the most appropriate officer for action. It was pleasing to note that all ten officers were active in enforcing the law, and as a result a number of prosecution files had to be examined and decisions taken as to prosecution or caution.
As the Officer in charge at Wincanton, I was also responsible for prosecuting all cases coming before Wincanton Magistrates Court, except of course where a defendant was represented by a solicitor. that being the case a suitable legally qualified solicitor acted for us.
My direct supervisory officers were Chief Inspector Fred Sandy and Inspector Jim Bowler, both based in an office at Yeovil divisional HQ. They were responsible for all the detached sections in the division including Wincanton, Somerton, and Crewkerne sections. Both took a low operational profile, concentrating on administrational matters, leaving their experienced section Sergeants to get on with their job.
There was one additional duty that was the responsibility of the Wincanton section Sergeant. That was of course Wincanton races! The very racecourse that years before I had walked past twice a day on my journey to and from school in Wincanton, now fell under my responsibility to Police on race days.
Fred Sandy explained that there was one small but important perk that came with my role as the section Sergeant at Wincanton. I must always ensure that one of my allocated rest days would fall on each scheduled race day. The Wincanton Sergeant was always required to attend at the racecourse on race days, and so as a result would claim overtime payment for working a rest day!
He explained that my role as a detached section Sergeant meant that I now carried a full 24 hour responsibility for the section, 7 days a week throughout the year. I would receive no extra payment for the additional responsibility, and so the ability to claim overtime at the races was classed as compensation for the unpaid heavier responsibility. The new role also required that on at least two weekends per month, I was required to work 9am to1pm and 9pm to 1am Split shifts. This was outside Police regulations and a downside of having the extra responsibility of being a rural detached section Sergeant!
Soon after we arrived at Wincanton I was delighted to receive a very kind invitation, from Major and Mrs Davie to join them for dinner at Charlton Musgrove House. We were very happy to accept! Even today nearly 40 years later, I still find it strange to describe my feelings when entering that great house again, but for the first time through the front door!
Obviously both the Major and Mrs Davie were much older by then, than as I remembered, but they were still lovely people, and they seemed to be delighted that I had been appointed the town sergeant in Wincanton.
From the day I joined the Police Service, our social life had become quite limited. The initial period away at the training centre, and the subsequent posting to Taunton had dramatically reduced the amount of contact that both of us had with our old friends. Since then any social life had tended to be with fellow officers and their families. I knew that Paula especially was feeling quite cut off.
Then quite suddenly, and within a few months of our arrival in Wincanton, I received an invitation from one of the two Veterinary surgeon’s in the town, to accompany him to a meeting of the local “Round Table.”
This group of local farmers and professional men met on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month to enjoy a meal together, to plan charity fund raising events, and also social events such as dances, Skittles matches and any other event that they believed might assist in the charitable enterprises.
I found them to be great company, and very importantly, were unlikely to cause me any embarrassment in my position as the Town Police Sergeant.
Crucially too, their wives became members of a group known as the “Ladies circle”. they too met regularly for meals and to arrange their own social events and fundraising. Paula joined them quite soon and immediately formed some firm friendships.
Quite soon after I arrived, work commenced on the important Wincanton bye pass. The A303 had long since become the main trunk route from London to the far South West, and the parallel A30 had been downgraded. However the result of that was a dreadful bottleneck at Wincanton as heavy goods traffic and ordinary motorists crawled through the town. Work on the bye pass was going to take a couple of years, but it would all be worth it in the end!
However once the work commenced we experienced a problem that I don’t think anyone had expected. The route of the new bye pass looped around to the South of the town but there were two or three places where it had to cross the A303 itself. The actual crossing places had been well designed but inevitably where the huge earth movers crossed the main road, they did leave some mud on the road surface. The contractors had anticipated the problem and were going to great lengths to wash the surface down! But however hard they tried a fine layer of slippery mud and clay remained. Suddenly we were finding that HGV’s heading east and climbing the steep incline towards the town centre, were losing traction and not getting up the hill. The problem mainly occurred on damp days, Dry days were not a problem, neither were wet days, but on damp days chaos quickly reigned!
It often required the local authority and the contractor to work together to reduce the problem by gritting the road surface.
We had a low crime rate in Wincanton but just occasionally things went awry! Despite having the Giant Cow and Gate Milk factory in the town, there was actually only one milk supplier to the residents, and over the years in order to ensure that they didn’t suffer from people not paying their bills on time, the dairy had developed a system whereby people had to put out a tin each night, containing the correct money for however many bottles of milk were required that morning. Apparently the system had existed for years and despite being a nuisance twosome it worked. Until suddenly people were not getting the number of bottles they had expected. Apparently the problem started slowly but gradually got worse and very soon it was brought to our attention. The dairy was losing money and residents had dry cornflakes!
An investigation was mounted and several milkmen were spoken too, but it clearly wasn’t down to them. I think it was Dave Cranmer that sorted it. He normally worked an 8-4 day shift but decided one day to book on early and to keep observations. He found that two paper boys had discovered a way of supplementing their income, by taking small amounts from each tin they found whilst posting the papers through letter boxes. Major crime outbreak solved!
But now I found myself in dispute with the Divisional Chief inspector over crime statistics! Whilst the crime had remained undetected he had insisted that it was one continuous offence. But now we had culprits, he was demanding that each individual theft was recorded and shown as detected!
That would certainly improve his Divisional crime figures, but as far as I was concerned it would show a huge rise in crime in Wincanton, and I was there to keep it down!
In the end my spirited resistance won that battle, but I wasn’t very popular with the DCI for a while!
The section straddling as it did, both of the main trunk routes to the the South West, was frequently required to deal with a number of very serious road accidents. Sadly many of those accidents were fatal ones and In each case the Coroner John Fenton Rutter, would later phone me, and ask me to arrange for a Coroners Inquest Jury to be assembled on a particular date. The venue was always the local Magistrates court in North Rd.
I had realised soon after my arrival at Wincanton that such requests were to happen from time to time, and so set about compiling a list of local people who were willing to give up their time to attend Inquests acting as the Jury. It soon became evident that there were a number of local dairy farmers who were ideal for the task. Dairy farmers were by their very nature worldly wise and although very busy in the early mornings and late afternoons could often spare some time in the mid mornings and early afternoons. there were also several local business men that I knew would help.
Each Inquest would normally follow the same agenda, witnesses were called, or statements would be read out, and the facts surrounding the incident recorded. Then John Fenton Rutter, would sum up the facts to the Jury and clarify the verdicts open to them, usually Accidental Death or on occasions Death by Misadventure. Once the verdict was reached, JFR would reach down under his desk and produce a brown calico bag tied up with a draw string. He would thank the Jury for their deliberations, and then say, “Now – Ive got your conduct money here, £1-25p, but you don’t want it do you? – You want me to give it to the Sergeant, for the Police benevolent fund don’t you!, Yes that’s right.” In the four years I was at Wincanton, I never saw anyone actually collect their conduct money. However the section’s contribution to the Divisional Police Benevolent fund, was always the best in the area!
There was one occasion however that I will never forget, and which firmly cemented in me, the admiration that I held for the character of JFR.
He had called me in the usual way to arrange an Inquest on a particular date and for me to obtain the services of a Jury which I did. However on the day of the Inquest, the keys to the Magistrates court, which were normally hanging on a hook in my office had gone missing! I searched the station and put a call out to all my staff, but no-one could throw any light as to where the missing keys might be!
So fearing a very serious complaint from JFR I duly attended the Court at the appointed time 10.00am and waited in the rear car park with the witnesses and the jury. All attempts to get in had failed! JFR drove into the car park in his large Mercedes and I went over to meet him. I explained about the missing keys and my failed attempts to gain access and he said “ Oh dear that’s a bit embarrassing isn’t it? Everyone’s here now anyway. I’ll tell you what, its a nice day, so I will sit in my driving seat, with my feet outside the car. You arrange everyone around in a big semi circle, and we will hear the case out here! And that what we did! The facts were recorded, the jury came to their verdict and everyone went home quite satisfied! I never heard another thing about it from JFR, but I still shudder to think about the fuss that a lesser man might have made. Nothing ever fazed him.
The keys miraculously re-appeared on the hook two days later!
Natural progression brought about a number of changes to staff during my period as the section Sergeant. Ron Stingemore retired soon after I arrived, and PC Malcolm Baker left Marston Magna station on a new career in the Force training department, PC 1209 Alex McCartney moved from Wincanton to Marston Magna to replace him. PC 1097 Johnson arrived to replace Alex and 243 Woods replaced Ron Stingemore.
To our delight, there was also to be a new member of our family, when baby Esme Jean arrived in early 1978.
By then the new Wincanton by pass had opened and overnight had turned the town centre from being a dirty bottleneck into a much more pleasant place. However in mid March that year we had a most unusual incident.
Despite it now being early spring, the weather had turned very cold, and as the day wore on it had started to snow quite heavily. At about 6.30 I walked the 30 yards or so across to my house and noted that the snow was already quite deep, but didn’t really give it much thought. Then at about 10.30, my phone rang and it was 249 Bonham ringing from the station and asking for me to come over to see him.
I said something to the effect that I was just going to bed, and he replied “I really do think that you’d better come over Sarge!”
There was something in his voice that warned me that there was definitely a problem, and so I went over immediately. By now the snow had been falling steadily for some hours, and until I stepped outside I had not realised that it had got as bad as it was. When I entered the station I was amazed to find it was literally full of women! Roy explained that they were a Women’s Institute group from somewhere near Okehampton in Devon. They had earlier been on a coach trip to the Ideal homes exhibition in London, and were at the time on their way home, when their coach had run into a snow drift and had become stuck. The snow was now so deep and drifting, that it had closed the new by pass. Their coach was going nowhere now, and so Roy with the assistance of two of the others on duty, had used their cars to ferry 35 Women and the Coach driver back to my station. Little did I know it then, but the group were going to be camping out on emergency mattresses for 3 days and nights in my parade room!
Luckily we had an emergency store which contained about a dozen mattresses and blankets, and by trudging around the town we managed to get enough to ensure that they all could lie on my parade room floor. Our wives managed to cook up food etc, and make sandwiches, tea and coffee etc. the Coach driver bedded down in my office.
All of the section’s officers and myself spent much of the next few days out side scrambling over huge snow drifts, prodding into the snow fearful that motorists might still be trapped in the large numbers of abandoned cars. Luckily everyone was fine and there were no casualties.
After that first heavy snow storm, the weather did improve, but the storm had been so severe that the deep drifts took 3 days to melt to the point where the A303 could reopen again. Our plight and that of my stranded ladies did featured on several news items!
One bit that adventure I will never forget! It is a bit indelicate, but nevertheless true! My station was stocked with enough items like Toilet paper etc to last 11 men for about a year! That group of ladies exhausted my stock of Toilet Rolls in 48 hours! As a result I had to go begging for fresh stocks around the town!
1978 was also a year of other firsts for me! Whilst I had been stationed in Yeovil, I had joined the Westland Aircraft sports and social club, and had taken up .22 rifle shooting as a sport. I had actually become quite good at it, and now had an average score in competition of 99.5/100. This was of course on a covered indoor range.
On arriving at Wincanton I had progressed to “Full Bore” 7.62mm Rifle shooting on open military ranges. I was now shooting at County level. Somehow the powers that be in the Force had picked this up and I, with another Sergeant from Bristol, were being sent as an experiment to the Royal Marines training Centre at Lympstone in Devon to train as Snipers!
One Sunday Night in April 1978 I reported to CTCRM Lympstone to commence the Royal Marines Snipers Course. The force had equipped me with a 7.62MM Snipers Rifle fitted with Telescopic sights. This was going to be interesting!
As a Sergeant I was allocated a cabin in the Sergeants Mess area and as I entered the cabin I noticed a note pinned to the door which said “if you want tea or Coffee in the morning put a tick in the box” So I did.
At 6am there was a loud knocking at the door and I said “come In” The door crashed open and a voice said “Where’s your Mug?’ I answered “I haven’t got a mug! ” The voice said loudly “Sorry Sir no mug – No tea!” and the door slammed shut!