Redhill Police Station in the 1960s

Redhill Police Station: Dave Vigar: Redhill Police Station stood in London Road opposite what is now the Memorial Park, and which in those days was the town sports ground, hosting a quite well-respected minor league football team. The building was previously the Redhill fire station and had pairs of huge double garage a door fronting the main road – inside this garage, the firemen's' sliding pole was still intact, leading down from the second floor. Even though this could still be accessed via a wooden trapdoor at the top, I never knew anyone brave enough to try a descent! Behind the station, another part of the building housed Redhill's public swimming baths – still in use at the time.

On entering the police station via a double door at the side, the enquiry office was immediately to the right and consisted of a wooden counter with a couple of tatty stools behind on which the Station Officer could perch. A telephone 'dolls eye' switchboard and some air raid siren equipment stood against the back wall and there was a small window looking out onto the street.

Working the switchboard was a black art – a vertical front panel held numbered sockets for all the extension phones, and also one for each exchange line. Beneath these were a double row of jack plugs on the end of spring-loaded cables and a double row of key switches.

An incoming call caused a little rectangular flap to drop on the front panel and one of the fly-leads was plugged in and a key pushed forward to answer it. Then the other lead of the same pair was plugged into the correct extension socket and the corresponding key pulled back to ring the phone at the other end.

When the extension answered, the keys were put back to their normal upright position. In times of stress, the board became so tangled, with nearly all fly-leads in use, that the best course of action was sometimes to just unplug everything and start again!

There was just one internal line connecting Redhill to the rest of the Force and, if this was already in use, you had to wait. The public number (Redhill 6) suggests that the police station telephone was one of the first in the district.

Speaking of telephone extensions, there was a little wooden box fixed to the wall next to Lloyds Bank in London Road which contained the celebrated Extension 6. In the absence of any other quick and reliable form of communication, this was often the 'hurry up' phone when World War Three broke out in the town centre. It was also a regular beat point.

To the left of the main door, three staircases led up, down and up. The first one went directly to the second floor, to a short corridor of offices which were the exclusive territory of the CID – I don't remember much else being up there. The front windows to these offices were a perfect grandstand to watch the Saturday afternoon football matches in the sports ground directly opposite.

The down staircase was very short and a few steps down were the cells and a PCs writing room. Part way up the third staircase, the inspector's office led off to the right, and then at the top of the stairs were two large rooms, one behind the other. These offices held the sergeants and the station clerk.

Who's who? Redhill was an inspector or sub-divisional station. On my arrival, I was told that I had just avoided working under Inspector Maurice Jackman. This name then meant nothing to me, but the many stories about his 'distinctive' reign reverberated round the station for years afterwards!

By now, the inspector in charge was 'Jolly' Jack Packham, who turned up every morning in an old Wolseley motor which had been hand-painted in a bilious green. Jack was a gentleman and I don't remember him ever raising his voice during the time he was there. After Jack, Francis Barratt arrived; a far more excitable character who lived for the Saturday afternoon football and would always go to the ground to watch.

Sergeants in those days tended to stick around in a place for some years and had often served since the war. There was dear old George Keeping, a man of very upright, military bearing who lived in Earlswood and arrived each day on a sit-up-and-beg bicycle, his mackintosh coat neatly folded over the handlebars, sported a neat moustache.

I think it would be fair to say that he preferred a quiet life, to the extent of using any pretext to keep us in the station during a shift, rather than let us go out and run the risk of arresting someone! On a 2-10pm shift I was often kept hanging around in the station for a couple of hours, before George would say " You can go as far as Extension 6, but no further, and then come straight back."

Brian 'Harry' Worth was another long-serving Sergeant, a nice chap who nevertheless had a very choice line in expletives when circumstances demanded. For much of the time I was there, Brian was the duties Sergeant. Several large sheets of paper would be taped together each week to make one huge chart, and on this all the duties for each officer at the station would be laboriously entered by hand in rows and columns, showing individual beats to be worked for each day. As circumstances changed, Brian would grudgingly amend the chart with squares of paper stuck over the top so, to change a shift, you had to brave his wrath!

Len Gay was much the same age, but a rather different character, often finding find fault and being generally less well-liked than the others. His eventual fall from grace was spectacular, but doesn't concern us here.

Bill Murray was younger and quite go-ahead, but I never had the chance to work for him so can't really say much more.

Geoff Breckell was the youngest and recently promoted when I arrived. I suspect that his boundless energy and enthusiasm didn't go down too well with some of the older Sergeants, but he certainly got things done and was very well thought of by the younger officers.

The regular Station Officers were Ted Ransome, Don Bell and Brian King – unlike today, all front offices were open 24 hours a day, so other officers were drafted in to make up the numbers when necessary.

Poor Brian suffered from severe curvature of the spine and was almost bent double, but was still game and even went out on patrol from time to time, although he was mostly to be found in the office.

Ted Ransome one of the few officers to own his own house and also a car – a grey Standard Ensign that was his pride and joy. Ted's claim to fame was that his wife Ruby was the station clerk. You needed to be careful what you said when Ruby Ransome was around, or it would quickly reach the ears of the Inspector.

When Ted was working a 6 am to 2 pm early turn, there was a ritual they always followed. Poor Ted had to cycle to work from home in Horley for the 6 am start, whilst Ruby arrived by car around 9 am. " Good morning, Ted" , she said as she came through the front door and went upstairs. " Good morning, Mrs Ransome, and how are you this morning?" Ted would enquire from behind the front counter. This dialogue never varied!

Redhill, like many other stations, had just one policewoman (as they were then called) named Jean - I wish I could remember her other name. Until the 1970s a policewoman's role was strictly confined to dealing with women and children, so Jean was rarely seen on normal patrol duties. She left around 1967 and was replaced by Rose Morant (later Rose Murray).

Some of the PCs I remember from my time at Redhill were Stuart Donaldson, John Ayres, Ken Clarke, Tony Jackson, Andy Hasted, Bob Willis, Peter Pietrusiewicz, Eric Hunt and Peter Knight – I'm sure there were others.

Stuart has been mentioned in these pages fairly recently – a broad Scotsman, he had served in one of the highland regiments and was a real old soldier. He knew several ways to outwit the opposition (i.e. the Sergeant) and would walk into the local arcade empty-handed but always come out at the other end with pockets bulging with apples, pens, sweets or anything else he could scrounge from the various traders.

John Ayres lived in Merstham and had six or seven children – I think his police house in Radstock Way was actually two properties knocked together. Eric Hunt also lived in Merstham, but in Albury Road, and eventually transferred to Godalming on promotion. Ken Clarke (who incidentally sold me my first car) was also promoted soon after leaving Redhill and became the section sergeant at Frimley.

Andy Hasted spent time as the reserve divisional motorcyclist, which was a much sought-after job in those days, as you could find time between running around on various admin jobs and enquiries to stop and check vehicles and often make some good arrests. Andy later went to the Metropolitan Police, I seem to recall.

Tony Jackson reached senior rank in Surrey and eventually disappeared into the Dream Factory as a superintendent – I think in Training Department. Peter Knight soon became a learner DC at Redhill and later went to Horley CID.

Working at Redhill: Until the mid-1960s, policing at Redhill was entirely traditional, all officers reporting for duty at the police station at the beginning of a shift and then being sent out from there on the various beats. There was no formal parade, like I believe still happened at Guildford – we just turned up and the sergeant flicked through a clip board containing any relevant information for briefing.

We patrolled alone and on foot or bicycle, of course, and a young probationer seldom had the chance to act as observer on the area crime car – just when one of the regular crew was missing. This Hillman Husky covered Redhill, Reigate and Horley, usually with one officer from one station and the other from another, so much time was wasted dropping off and picking up your crewmate, or just getting to where the car had been left by the previous shift.

The only motor vehicles at Redhill were two unmarked Morris 1000 saloons, both with VHF radio, one light grey (5123 PE) and the other a darker of khaki colour – this was the CID car. If the sergeant didn't need 5123 PE, sometimes you were allowed to use it for general patrol.

Stopping vehicles was easy – you just waved a helmet out of the passenger window; after dark, you shone your torch at the helmet! Otherwise, any night-time vehicle stops were done on foot, standing in the road with just a torch, something sure to give apoplexy to a present-day health and safety officer. Another, slightly safer, method was to use our key to unlock the traffic lights at the town centre crossroads, which could then be worked by hand to stop vehicles.

Much crime-related work came down the A23 from South London (as now) in the days before the M23 motorway and Surrey gained a reputation as a place to avoid if you didn't want to get caught, so we stopped suspect vehicles whenever we could. Most drivers were totally compliant and stopped without question – another sign of the times.

Anyone arrested was simply walked to the police station and locked up – prisoner transport was only really necessary for quite violent individuals, who you had to cram into the back seat of the Husky or the Morris.

Prisoners' meals were quite a performance. A wooden carrying box with two flaps was carried down to Lattys café in the High Street, where the appropriate meals were supplied on account. Lattys café and sweet shop was a local institution – brothers Jim and John Bridger ran this for many years, and Jim later opened a new shop in Reigate.

We had a stock of enamel plates, dishes and mugs in which to carry back the food in the box. Most meals were a variation on a theme of sausages, beans and chips and a mug of sweet tea with bread and butter – invariably, not all the chips and sausages made it as far as the cells. Normal metal cutlery was provided – something else that would be quite impossible today.

Some of the cycle beats took in Merstham and South Earlswood – in some cases both during the same shift. The 'H' beats, in particular, were notorious, taking you alternatively north and south along the A23 and leaving little time for anything but pedalling. Thank goodness the trains between Salfords and Merstham were pretty frequent and had large guards' vans, ideal for bicycles!

Normal duty shifts tended to be 6-2 pm, 2-10 pm and 10-6 am, but the odd low-ball was thrown in from time to time, like 10 am-2 pm and then 10 pm to 2 am. Eventually, the Federation managed to get these very disruptive split turns abolished. Court appearances usually had to be fitted in regardless of your normal shift, so often followed a night duty – just the luck of the draw.

The southern limit of Redhill town beat was at the junction of Brighton Road and Woodlands Road, where there was a large bus shelter – an ideal place for a little rest and to sit and watch down Brighton Road for any untoward activity in the small hours of the morning.

Having sat there about four am one morning, I was mortified to wake up over three hours later, in broad daylight with passengers waiting there for the next bus. Although I was due to finish work at 6 am, no-one at the police station appeared to have missed me and I was able to slink back and go home without being caught!

One duty that was carried out religiously in those days was attendance at polling stations. Not the most exciting day's duty – just standing there in a school or church hall, ensuring that the various laws concerning the conduct of polling stations were rigorously enforced. As none of us knew any of these regulations in any detail, this was a pretty pointless exercise, although a few hours of paid overtime were extremely welcome.

At one time, each polling station had a police officer present throughout the day, but some relaxation was allowed by the late 1960s and it was normal for one officer to be responsible for a group of stations. On one such duty in 1968, I met my future wife at a polling station, where she was working as a poll clerk – this changed my perception of the democratic process for ever.

The recording of key-holders to commercial premises was also once an important facet of police work. Each station held voluminous files for each street, listing who to contact in an emergency for almost every building in the district. Keeping these files up-to-date involved regular visits to check our information or distribute leaflets – very labour-intensive, but a good way to press the flesh and meet people in the various shops and offices.

Before burglar alarms were almost universal, commercial premises got a bit of a bashing and were often attacked at night. One building that was always being screwed was the big Co-op store just a few yards from the police station, as intending burglars would keep watch until they saw the town PC going in for meal break around two am.

This was the signal for them to break in at the rear and steal cigarettes, mainly, knowing that no police were likely to be around – once he came back out, and the thieves had gone. We finally got wise and staggered our meal breaks!

The CID officers I remember at Redhill around this time were DS Eric Pole and DCs Archie Newman, Eric Anderson, Alf Bourne, the urbane and gentlemanly Ken Parish and Bill Spencer, who was another larger-than-life character.

When someone rang the switchboard asking for Bill, you didn't need to find out if he was in, as you could hear him quite clearly, even though his office was two floors away. His speciality was inserting expletives in the MIDDLE of words.

Redhill town was essentially a creation of the London-Brighton railway and grew up in the mid-19th century. Many of the 99-year leases began to run out together, therefore, leading to wholesale redevelopment.

Notable losses were the Market Hall, the Colman Institute and much of the High Street, including most of the old pubs and shops. Eventually, the police station went too, being replaced by the current Reigate police station in 1972. Nothing now remains of the old building, or of an even older Redhill police station that once stood alongside the Market Hall which is rather sad.

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