Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: There was so little crime in Dewsbury and every community had their own bobby on the beat.
Margaret Watson writes: We went to bed knowing that our bobby on the beat would be patrolling the area, and we knew we were safe.
And when we went out at night to the pictures or the pub, we knew we could walk home without fear of being mugged. In fact, the word mugging wasn’t even in our vocabulary.
We could also go to bed without even locking the door, but then we didn’t have much to steal did we?
I’m sure our deep sense of security came from knowing that every night the police were patrolling our neighbourhood on foot to protect us and our property.
It was always a comforting sight watching our local bobby checking shop doors to make sure they were secured, and looking into dark places and passageways at night to see if anything suspicious was going on.
We took all this for granted because there was so little crime and every community had their own bobby on the beat.
When you went on holiday, you could ask the police in your locality to check your house at night, and during Dewsbury Feast Week, extra police patrols were put on duty to keep an eye on vacant houses.
In fact I didn’t know one person who had a burglar alarm in our neighbourhood, not even the well-to-do, who, unlike us, had quite a lot of stuff worth stealing.
Most of the police officers in Dewsbury were local lads who had attended local schools and they stayed in the town all their lives.
They saw children across the road, patrolled the park, visited pubs to make sure there was no under-age drinking and there were always a couple of officers on duty at dance halls to make sure there was no rowdy behaviour.
I remember seeing them standing at the top of the steps of the Ben Riley Dance Hall in Dewsbury on Friday and Saturday nights keeping an eye out for trouble makers.
Their presence was enough to make the toughest of Teddy boys shake in their blue suede shoes.
Policing in Dewsbury has changed dramatically since the 1940s and 50s when all the policing was done on foot and there were no motor patrols at all.
Dewsbury had its own chief constable and he was chosen not by a distant police authority but by the local Watch Committee of the old Dewsbury town council.
Some time ago I told a young constable in Dewsbury that the town used to have its own chief constable and he wouldn’t believe me. He said I’d imagined it.
Many reading this column will remember when the police station was situated in Dewsbury Town Hall.
It wasn’t a separate building as police stations are today, but part of all the other offices connected with the running of the town, including the magistrate’s court.
The number of police officers totalled 70, including one chief inspector, three inspectors, six uniform sergeants, one detective sergeant and 57 constables, including two policewomen.
Out of this establishment there were four detective constables, which left 53 uniform constables, and there were also two civilian telephone operators and a civilian matron who looked after any women prisoners, and was also responsible for cleaning duties.
Readers may think I am looking back through rose-coloured spectacles at how things used to be in Dewsbury, but I certainly am not.
As a young reporter I saw exactly how things were and remember being told by my editor that I must always address the chief constable as ‘sir’ and treat all police officers with the utmost respect.
Also, every Friday morning our chief reporter would have a face-to-face meeting with the chief constable to talk about what was happening in Dewsbury and what their policing plan for that week was.
The entrance to the police station was in Railway Street, and upstairs was the chief constable’s and the chief inspector’s offices. The general office was downstairs.
The telephone room next door was manned by two women operators who worked in shifts, and at night the telephone was manned by a police constable.
The prison cells were also on the ground floor, and the food for prisoners was obtained from a cafe nearby or from the fire brigade canteen, which was just across the road.
The police garage was also situated nearby, but in the 1940s all it contained was an Alvis car, a police van, which in those days was called the Black Maria, and an ambulance, which was in the care of the police until the National Health Service was established in 1948.
The maintenance of these vehicles was looked after by two constables, and whenever necessary they drove the chief constable wherever he wished to go.
In fact the Alvis was used for little else other than the chief constable’s duties, and was only used for other duties in dire emergencies.
All policing in those days was done on foot, and the only police vehicle in main use was the police van.
Special duties were worked by officers in their own time, such as at dances and rugby matches. They had to police the ground, the car park, playing area and also perform traffic duty outside the ground.
Then they had to go and work their normal night shift, and their pay for special duties was then collected from the organisers of the functions mentioned.
Numbers of police officers in towns like Dewsbury were dramatically reduced in the mid-1970s when police forces merged, and most of the bobbies on the beat were replaced by patrol cars with radios.
I still miss seeing police officers on the beat, especially those we used to see regularly walking through Dewsbury town centre.
They really did give people a sense of security. Perhaps one day they will return regularly. We live in hope.