Memoirs of George William Almond

1933: From the family memoirs of George William Almond A Policeman's Lot is not a Happy One, written in 1983.

Fifty years ago on the 18th March 1933, Bill Leahy and I and two others joined the Guildford Borough Police. The occasion was an increase in establishment bringing the strength to forty seven, when the Borough was extended to take in Burpham and Merrow and "so much of the area of the Chantries as lies to the North of the Tillingbourne Stream", or words to that effect. I am writing this account of Guildford, as we knew it and the way it was policed.

There was a chief constable, an inspector, five uniformed Sergeants, one CID Sergeant and three plain-clothes constables. The remainder were constables. One sergeant and two of the constables were permanently on office duties. The whole of the Borough was divided into seven beats and an additional patrol was employed at night and on occasions when shops were closed in the central area. The High Street, the extra patrol and the beat that encompassed the area along Woodbridge and Stoke Roads to Joseph Road were worked by foot patrols, with the remainder worked by constables on bicycles. During the day and occasionally at night one motorcyclist was employed.

Our training consisted of a few talks from the inspector and patrolling with senior constables. We were fitted out with second-hand uniform and sworn in during an ordinary session of the court in the Guildhall. In the main the patrol sections worked a straight eight-hour shift, the tours lasting a fortnight. The hours were 6am to 2pm; 2pm to 10pm; and 10pm to 6am. Superimposed on the day shifts was a section engaged with traffic control, which worked 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 6 pm.

The Borough employed RAC scouts to control the traffic at the Railway entrance, the junction of Portsmouth Road with High Street, Quarry Street junction with the High Street, Waterdon Road and York Road junction and York Road and Sandfield Terrace junction. There may have been others. The beat constables had to relieve at these points as required.

As a rule the men had six weeks on day duty and then a fortnight on nights. We worked the first six weeks of our service on nights without a Rest Day and at the end of it the inspector told us we had done quite well and he was going to give us a day off the next week.

Our future training consisted of writing out Moriarty's Police Law from cover to cover in exercise books and submitting them for inspection weekly. We also had to study Sir Howard Vincent's Police Code. Our pay was three pounds ten shillings a week. The sergeants got five pounds, the inspector six pounds ten shillings and the chief nine pounds. The increment for constables was two shillings and sixpence a week each until a maximum was reached. There was an additional two shillings and sixpence on passing the promotion exam to sergeant.

Parading for duty and for dismissal was in the officer's own time outside the eight hour shift, and this entailed arriving at the police station about twenty minutes before the starting time so that "Information" could be recorded. Additionally pay parade was in one's own time and had to be attended on Friday afternoons. This was usually followed by a "pep talk" from the chief.

Inspections of uniform parades were held twice a year and all the uniform had to be taken in to the Police Station for this purpose. We had to use cabin trunks and hire a taxi at our own expense to get it there. Our issue consisted of two greatcoats, four helmets and a night belt, two gabardine raincoats, four tunics, eight pairs of trousers and two pairs of waterproof leggings and two cloth capes. The tunics fastened up to the neck so we had no issue of collars and ties then. All this was in one's own time.

All reports had to be written after duty and we had no proforma to fill in. Even accident reports were written on plain lined paper and statements were attached. I well remember on many occasions commencing to write a report after 10 pm and not being finished until 1am then having to be back on duty at 6am the next morning.

One of my first cases in court was the result of a call from the workhouse where the master gave a vagrant into my charge for "that he was a refractory pauper refusing to perform his allotted task". This was not an infrequent charge and the penalty was usually that he was ordered out of the Borough. This also rendered him liable to re-arrest if he returned.

The Relieving Officer was a very important person in the Borough and we often had to contact him and work with him. He was able to dispense the limited amount of aid to the very needy and he also dealt with lunacy laws and those who were mentally deficient.

The Good Intent in Quarry Street and Mill House in Mill Lane were "Doss Houses" and in addition there was Vaughan House, and the Workman Home in Chertsey Street. At some of these establishments we were introduced to fights where knives were flashed and blood spilled and great hobnailed working boots were sunk into soft flabby stomachs. Nor was the smell too good. There were By-laws affecting these places and I remember the walls had to be white washed once each year.

I think the most important lesson we learned was the order of priority in which the precepts governing the policeman's duties fel:.

  1. The preservation of life
  2. The prevention of crime and the protection of property
  3. The detection and apprehension of offenders
  4. The preservation of the Peace.

With hindsight I can say that whatever rank a policeman held there were times when decisions had to be made quickly and the above sequence would help to get one's priorities right. I believe the "protection of property" is now further down the list.

At night beat work in the residential areas consisted mainly of checking unoccupied properties, and as each beat was supposed to be covered in four hours this meant we were expected to examine all such properties twice during the night. We had to work the beats to a prescribed plan and the points given would either take you round the beat working right or left or figure of eight. Only an emergency would excuse any change from this.

We had half an hour meal break round about 2am. The night reserve constable would have the kettle boiling and there was always a good fire to thaw out by, and chat and plenty of laughs with good mates. There was a camaraderie engendered by the strict discipline imposed and the harsh conditions under which we had to work.

If anything untoward happened during the night, which was not found by the constable on the beat but was reported the next morning, the constable was called out from his bed and made to attend at the police station. And report when he was in that area and what he saw or did not see, and there was always the fear of a misconduct form and a fine following such a happening.

The Annual Leave entitlement was one day per month in each year and in the first calendar year we had eight days. There were no concessions for inclement weather. The beats had to be worked whatever the conditions. Trying to wheel a bicycle up Pewley Hill on frozen snow was a task almost as difficult as trying to descend it.

The North Street market on Saturdays was a high spot of the week. The stalls stretched from Jeffrey's Passage to Swan Lane and sales continued until 10pm. Many of the stalls were lit at night by oil lamp flares. The street market drew crowds and a By-law prevented stallholders from selling to people on the roadside of a stall. The stalls faced the footpath on the police station side of the street.

However, there was the occasional prosecution of stallholders causing obstruction by causing a crowd to collect on the road by selling from the back of the stall. Obstruction by cars was a big problem and there were many prosecutions for this offence. The Mayor was usually in the chair on the Bench and as an example of the lapse of formality there was an occasion when the Mayor turned to an old policeman in the witness box and asked "How long did you say the car was there Reg?" The Guildhall played a great part in our life.

It was the Guildhall bell, which was rung by one of us whenever there was a fire warning. There were only one or two regular firemen and the others were volunteers. They were contacted at their homes or place of business by bells, which we rang from the police station by inserting a plug into a socket and turning a handle. There was a separate socket for each fireman. If the town bell was sounded for one series of rings, it indicated the fire was in the Borough. The first policeman arriving at the fire had to do the report. This gave rise to the belief that the police dash to a fire amounted to a "slow" bicycle race.

The Guildhall was also the scene of the Borough Quarter Sessions and on one occasion I was to deputise for the Usher who was sick. I had to go to his sick bed to ask him the wording of the various proclamations and charges to the jury, as no one seemed to know the exact words. I borrowed a gown from the Town Clerk and I think I must have managed the job fairly well as I received a smile of approbation from the Recorder. At least, I fondly imagined that it was!

The Guildhall was also the scene of our assembly for the Government Inspection. About that time there was one Government Inspector who was in the eyes of most policemen, the embodiment of the worst evils which hell could produce. He was a colonel, but he would have been at grave risk if he had acted on the battlefield as he did at these inspections. He would quite unjustifiably try to humiliate every officer of whatever rank to whom he spoke, even the chief. We had a good laugh over a story from the county.

His moustache was freshly waxed and he rapped on the desk imperiously with his cane in a village police station in a good class retirement area of the county. "I'm Colonel …" announced the government inspector. Without looking up the sergeant is supposed to have said "Oh yes, well they're all colonels or half pay sea-captains around here. What can we do for you?" I never wanted to know the end of the story. Perhaps there isn't one. It is only fair to say that most of the gentlemen holding that office had quite a different approach to inspections.

The weekly cattle market in Woodbridge Road was quite an event. Two PCs were engaged on special duty from 9am to 1pm and two more from 1pm to 5 pm. This at 1/6d per hour earned each PC an extra 6/-. There was a minimum rate of 4/6d for special duty so that an afternoon at the City Football Ground enriched us by 4/6d.

We had to supply our own bicycles for which we drew a small allowance for upkeep. However, there was no compensation for the initial outlay and no means of saving for a new one.

All constables had to become proficient at Life Saving and obtain the Royal Society's medallion as well as the medallion for the St. John's First Aid. Those on duty during first aid lectures attended in duty time, but the rest in their own time. We wore a silver badge on each forearm to show we possessed these qualifications. We were required to practice in the indoor baths in Castle Street at 6am after night duty.

Our free time was not really free. We had to ask permission in writing to go outside the Borough at any time. To become married an application was necessary giving full particulars of one's fiancée. The Police of the district where she lived checked these details, and permission was then granted. I never heard of anyone being refused either of these requests and fortunately by the efforts of the Federation the regulations were eventually relaxed.

During carnivals and processions where crowds were collected we were very proud of our "Mounted Branch". The harness was kept at the Police Station and the two "Mounties", ex Horse Guardsmen, polished it up to be placed upon a couple of hacks from the local horse riding stables. However, their skill at riding made the whole thing look very impressive and it was most effective. Before the Queen's Royal Regiment received the freedom of the Borough their church parade at Holy Trinity church usually meant that they carried with them their colours and so had the traditional escort with bayonets fixed.

It was necessary on these occasions for the Civil Power (often in the shape of yours truly) to exercise the right to escort the whole battalion. We always had good relations with the Queen's Regiment. By now you probably will be wondering how on earth they found enough men from a total of forty two to meet the demands of a seven beat system as well as a traffic section, a CID, and administration, not to mention coping with the rest days, annual leave and sickness. However, by coupling beats, and switching hours of duty to meet contingencies the problems were solved, but it was not long before more men were recruited and by the time the war broke out in 1939, the chief constable's pay had gone up to ten pounds a week.

But back to the early days when Guildford town centre was well known for its narrow passages, the main one being Swan Lane. In those days Chaplin's and Pickford's were agents for the Southern Railway and the horses and vans brought the goods from the station to the shops. The brewers also had horse drawn vehicles for delivery of beer to the pubs.

When on traffic duty we wore white celluloid armlets and after eight hours they weighed about half a hundredweight instead of a few ounces. I was walking through the wider part of Swan Lane wearing such a pair of armlets and one of Chaplin's horses decided that he didn't like me and grabbed at my arm with his teeth. I was glad I had the armlets. They showed teeth marks for a long time.

There was a great deal of horse traffic and cattle were frequently driven through the streets in herds. In fact I dislocated my thumb on one occasion and the police surgeon kept me off work because he said I couldn't possibly stop a runaway horse whilst my thumb was in trouble. I didn't tell him I couldn't stop a runaway horse anyway.

I remember an occasion when a maverick cow escaped from the market and ran up the High Street. It charged several people and a young constable on duty had all the buttons ripped off his greatcoat. It eventually went into the large park, which is now off Paynters Close Estate, and Sergeant Proffit shot it. I believe an old lady was either killed or seriously injured in the High Street by this cow but the details escape me.60

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60 Originally published in Old and Bold.


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