Policing the village in the 1960’s
by John Weeks
As one of the two village bobbies at Stanstead Abbotts between 1966 and 1970, I was used to having callers at our house: people seldom went next door as the office was adjacent to our house. Regardless of what clothes I was wearing almost without exception the first thing I was asked was, "Are you on duty?" During the day it was not too much of a problem but it was very annoying to have someone call at the house at "unsocial hours" because they had been given a ticket to produce their driving documents at a police station. There was some excuse when the ticket had been issued outside the county but it did annoy me when local officers put Stanstead Abbotts on the ticket. If I issued such a ticket I would always ask, "Is that a police station, not just a house?"
I recall one such occasion when a member of the R.A.F. called at the house to produce his documents when I was out. He spoke to my wife who told him that she could not take the details as she was not a police officer. He insisted and so, when I returned home, I had to contact his base and say that he had not produced them to a police officer and he would have to go to his local police station.
Night time callers created their own problems. About midnight one foggy and frosty night a young couple arrived on the doorstep. I spoke to them wearing my dressing gown, having been dragged from my bed. They explained that their car had broken down somewhere near Hoddesdon Road (I think). They had been to the telephone kiosk in the High Street intending to ring her father but they could get no reply from the operator. They went to one of the nearby pubs as lights were on as they were tidying things after closing but still could get no reply from the operator. The licensee sent them to the police house, although what magical influence he thought I had over the telephone exchange I know not. However, the operator did answer and they were able to arrange for her father to come from Barnet. I got dressed and took them back to their car. I started work at 6.00 a.m. and later, once the pub was open, I called in and spoke to the licensee who said that he thought sending them to me was the best thing. "You realise I was in bed as I had to be up at 5.00 this morning? I said, "Oh, were you." My reply was "No, I was sitting in the office waiting for them!"
Another night, about midnight, the son of a family who lived further along Cappell Lane got me from my bed to ask if he could telephone for a taxi to take him to a hotel in Ware. To put it mildly I was a bit annoyed but said that before ringing for a taxi it made sense to ring the hotel and see if they would take him at that hour: they would not. I knew that he worked for British Railways so suggested that he made his way to the station and slept with the signalman who would be getting his head down about that time as the last train was about due and he would be sleeping until the first train in the morning. I returned to bed. About 10.00 the next morning I received a telephone call from Ware Police Station, although I was not due to work until later in the day. I was asked if I had seen my nightime caller recently. When I asked why I was told that there was a warrant out for his arrest for failing to appear at court in Hampshire. My reply was, "I wish I'd known that last night!"
We also ran a free unofficial bed and breakfast establishment. Late one evening I came across a young couple whose car had broken down and they were preparing to sleep in the car overnight. The lady was about eight months pregnant so I rode my motorcycle home, collected them in my own car and they slept in our spare bedroom. In the morning I drove them to their home at Stevenage. Late another evening I came across a group of French scouts who had one car and several motorcycles. They had managed to fix a puncture and asked if there was a farm where they could sleep: they had all their bedding. It was too late to disturb people so they came to the police house and slept in the office and garage, leaving the place spotless when they left early in the morning to catch the ferry at Dover.
Ah, such were the joys of being a village bobby in the 1960s!
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