Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Law and order in Dewsbury
Bobbies on the beat kept us safe and secure
We all remember with fondness the days when we were young and when we felt secure in our towns because there were policemen everywhere.
We went to bed secure that the bobby on the beat (what’s that?) would be patrolling the area.
And, we could walk home after a night out at the pictures or pub without worrying about being mugged. The word “mugged” wasn’t even part of our vocabulary.
Of course, when we got home at night, we knew beyond doubt that the house would be exactly as we’d left it, even though we hadn’t locked the door.
Burglaries didn’t happen to ordinary working people in those days, perhaps because we hadn’t anything of value to steal.
Our deep sense of security came from knowing that most people in our community were law-abiding and also that every night police patrolled the area to protect us.
It was a comforting sight watching our bobbies checking shop doors to make sure they were secure, and looking into dark places to see if anything suspicious was going on.
We took all this for granted because there was little crime in those days and communities had their own bobby to watch out for them.
Even when you went on holiday, you could ask the police to check your house every night, and during Dewsbury Feast Week special patrols were put on to keep an eye on vacant houses.
Can you believe that this really happened and please could someone high up in the police hierarchy explain to me why this kind of policing has stopped?
Most of the bobbies in Dewsbury, and I’m sure it was the same in Batley, were local lads who had attended local schools and they stayed here all their lives.
They saw children across the road, patrolled the park, visited pubs to ensure there was no under-age drinking, and there was always a couple on duty at dances to make sure there was no rowdy behaviour.
I remember as a teenager seeing police officers standing at the top of the steps of the Ben Riley Dance Hall keeping an eye out for trouble-makers.
The presence of two burly police officers was enough to make the toughest teddy boy shake in his blue suede shoes.
Policing in Dewsbury has changed dramatically since the 1950s when all the policing was done on foot and when there were no motor patrols at all – and Dewsbury had its own chief constable.
The police station was situated in Dewsbury Town Hall, and the number of police officers for the town totalled 70.
This number included one chief inspector who prosecuted at the local magistrates court, three inspectors, six uniform sergeants, one detective sergeant and 57 constables including two policewomen.
Out of this establishment were four detective constables, 53 uniform constables, and two civilian telephone operators, as well as a civilian matron who looked after any women prisoners, and was also responsible for cleaning duties!
I remember how awestruck I was as a young journalist attending the local magistrates’ court and being told by my editor that I must address the chief constable as “sir” and treat all police officers with the utmost respect.
Also every Friday, one of our senior journalists had a face to face meeting with the chief constable to talk about what was happening in Dewsbury and what their policing plans were.
The entrance to the police station was in Railway Street, and upstairs was the chief constable’s and the chief inspector’s offices, while downstairs there was the general office.
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 nearby cafe or from the fire brigade canteen across the road from the police station.
The police garage was also situated nearby but in the 1940s all it contained was an Alvis car, the police van, which 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.
The Alvis was used for little else other than the chief constable’s duties, and only used for other duties in dire emergencies. All policing was done on foot.
The main vehicle in general use was the police van, and I can still recall as a child when I saw the ‘Black Maria’ hurtling through town at great speed, I knew it meant big trouble somewhere.
There was little sentimentality in those days for animals, and sad to say, the police took a tough attitude to the question of stray dogs.
If any were brought to the police station and not claimed within seven days, they were destroyed.
Special duties were worked by officers in their own time, such as at dances and rugby matches when they had to police the ground, car park, playing area and perform traffic duty outside the ground.
They then had to go and work their normal night shift, and their pay was collected from the organisers of the functions they had been overlooking.
I look back on those days and I think why I always felt secure and safe was because I knew the police station was here in the heart of town and manned 24 hours.
We could always see police officers coming and going from the town hall and they were always on foot. Always within easy reach. Happy days!
If you have any memories or old photographs of how things used to be, please email [email protected]