Cranleigh in the 1970s

1973-76: Rural Sergeant at Cranleigh: Bob Bartlett: A small town that had to be referred to in the presence of locals as a village, bordering Sussex, in the centre of a large rural area that included parts of the Surrey Hills. This was a very wealthy area; oozing wealth in fact, with several famous people living on the section that stretched from Ewhurst in the east to Dunsfold in the west. To the north we covered up to Shamley Green just to the south of Guildford and to the south there was the boundary with Sussex.

Ten or twelve miles from the inspector stationed at Godalming, the sub-divisional station who made weekly visits, unless they were trying to escape the office or get their mileage claims up. Neither of the Godalming inspectors at that time wanted any hassle and prepared to let us get on with the work. There was one other sergeant Mick Horne who lived on the section; a good man. There were twelve PCs, a DC, traffic warden and a part-time cleaner.

There were also two cars, still the round Morris 1000. Later we were to lose one of the cars, when someone decreed that the PCs would patrol on their bikes at all times. How many miles is it from Ewhurst to Dunsfold? Did they have personal radios that worked? Common sense was not allowed to prevail, and so the supervisors lost their wheels for much of the time in an attempt to let the patrols do what needed to be done.

This was to mean that I spent a great deal of time walking about Cranleigh, gossiping and drinking tea. We had an old police station which had a house attached to it. The house was incorporated into the office, which gave us plenty of space. There were a couple of cells that had not been used as such for years and were used as a store, and as an office for the Criminal Investigation Department officer.

Personal radios would only work in the High Street at Cranleigh, if in direct line from Guildford from where they were operated. There was an additional problem with this in that we worked to Godalming and not Guildford. Fortunately there was not a great deal going on, although I was to attend some of the most serious incidents of my career whilst being stationed in Cranleigh.

When the Shere section sergeant Larry Rhimes was off duty the Cranleigh sergeants covered his area, which adjoined ours. Out on car patrol on the hills one sunny afternoon, probably taking in the air and dreaming of arresting a team of armed robbers single handed, I was sent to the home of Mary Quant (or Plunket Green her married name), one of the most famous of 1960s clothes designers. She had a house at Farley Green a village close to Shere.

When I arrived at the house I found Mary by the swimming pool obviously upset. As a result of what she said I went into the house where I found the dead body of an electrician. There on the floor was a large man who was obviously dead. The workman had been drilling a hole in the wall when he had struck the mains cable and was electrocuted, dying instantly. The poor man lay on his back still clutching his drill, which was pointing up to the ceiling. It would have been a shock for any householder to come home and to discover such a tragic scene.

I was also to deal with Eric Clapton the mega-pop star on a couple of occasions. My first contact was when Eric had a guitar stolen. It was a particular and special guitar that was being used during the completion of a recording contract in Florida.

Eric lived in a large house on the top of Pitch Hill above Ewhurst with Patty Page, the estranged wife of the Beetle, George Harrison. Eric was not over happy with the police and was very sullen and reticent towards me which was annoying as he had called me to help. Patty was bouncy and sociable and very welcoming. The house had a swimming pool with the mosaic of a guitar as a base. There was also a full-blown recording studio in an out-building.

After a party at the house the guitar was missing, most likely stolen by a guest who was a hanger on more than a friend. They had the name of a suspect, but it was not known where he was living. Many enquiries were made, including with Ginger Baker of the Cream (another famous band) and eventually I was given the address of a squat in north London where the suspect was believed to be.

I went off to north London and with the help of the Metropolitan Police raided the squat and recovered the guitar and arrested the suspect. The prisoner was taken to Kentish Town, a police station of the old type, in a rough part of London. It was incongruous later that evening to see a large Rolls Royce pull up at the front of this dilapidated police station and out came Robert Stigwood one of the great impresarios of that time. He came to identify the guitar and was, rightly so, very pleased with the result.

The recordings in Florida could continue and several million dollars had been saved. He offered my wife and I to go for dinner wherever we liked in London, and to go to any show that we chose. This was a very kind offer, which was well meant but declined.

Eric was pleased in his own way. He gave me an unsigned photograph of himself. Some weeks later I was sent to a road accident at the bottom of Pitch Hill where a car had hit a tree. On arrival I found Eric Clapton in the front seat. I spoke to him and he was obviously fully conscious and was not hurting. I checked his legs and other bones, and given the nature of the damage I got him out of his now battered Ferrari.

It turned out that he had just returned from America, and someone had given him the bright red and shiny Ferrari as a gift. It had just eleven miles on the clock before he jumped in and drove off down the steep hill.

Return to main text


Surrey Constabulary badge