Cats Hill and Traffic Duty

By John Weeks

When I was a village bobby in the late 1960s the A414 still ran through the High Street and Roydon Road and traffic was a constant source of problems.  Probably the worst problem was Cats Hill where there were regular difficulties with very slow moving lorries or lorries which had broken down as they could not get a run at the steep gradient because of the bend at the bottom.  I recall having to do traffic duty quite often as a half shaft had broken under the strain of hauling their load up the hill.   

   Because of the slowness of lorries it was a regular occurrence to have cars overtake in contravention of the double white lines up the hill.  In order to prevent this I would, if I was not busy, park in Kitten Lane, halfway up the hill, and watch the traffic.  Usually it didn't take long for a slow moving lorry to come into sight at the bottom of the hill, only to be overtaken by a car.  As the lorry was slow moving it was no problem to pull out ahead of it and then continue up the hill so that I could stop the offending vehicle and report the driver: the fine was usually about £10, not an inconsiderable amount at that time.  As an aside, you can image my delight when I sat the "Traffic" paper for the police promotion examination; the first question was all about double white lines, one of my "bread and butter" offences.

    There were also accidents on the hill.  On 9th May 1969 I started work at 2.00 p.m..  Another of the Ware Rural officers must have been off as I was picked up by a Sergeant from Ware who was accompanied by a probationary Constable.  As we got to Ware High Street to drop them back at the police station a call came in for a serious accident on Cats Hill.  The Sergeant told me to drop him there and for the two of us could return to Stanstead to deal with it.  When we arrived we found that two lorries had collided and one, a tanker, had gone partway down the slope above Hunsdon Road, almost blocking the road.  As you could imagine, it took some considerable time to recover both vehicles during which time there were frequent showers.  My colleague was soaked by the time we had finished so, on the way back to the police station, I asked him why he had not taken a coat with him.  "I was told we'd only be a few minutes" was his reply.  A valuable lesson learned as you never knew when something would come in over the radio.

    The most tragic accident which I dealt with took place at the end of 1967.  Christmas Day was on a Monday so the last working day was on Friday.  In the late afternoon I was sent to Cats Hill where a 62 year old lady had been knocked down by a car.  She and her husband were staying overnight with her brother-in-law who lived at the top of the hill before continuing to stay their son at Sandhurst Military Accademy for Christmas.  She had been walking along the grass verge when a car veered off the road after travelling on the wrong side of the road and hit her but had failed to stop.  Fortunately the following driver had stopped his car to let his passenger assist the lady whilst he chased after it and obtained the registration number.  Obtaining details of the registered owner in those days was labourious.  The car had a Norfolk registration so I had to telephone the police in Norwich and ask them to visit Motor Taxation to find the details (it was normal for the police to have access to Motor Taxation offices out of hours).  They rang back later to say that the records had been transferred to Essex so I had to telephone Chelmsford with a similar request.  In the early evening we received a message to say that the lady had died.  By the time we reached the car owner it was about 8.00 p.m..  He denied being involved in an accident.  Three hours had elapsed since the accident so there was no way in which we could administer a breath test and we could not arrest him for driving under the influence, although he had been drinking heavily.  We seized the car which had slight damage and upon closer examination in daylight we found threads of material on the front of the car.  I spent almost all of Christmas preparing a file for a charge of causing death by dangerous driving and failing to stop after an accident for the Director of Public Prosecutions and, in due course, the man appeared at the Assizes where he pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

    I suppose almost all of those problems were resolved with the opening of the bypass some years after we left the village to move to Somerset.

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