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Exeter folk and friends in their own words - << Previous story │ Next story >>

Peter Hinchliffe - Policing during 1959


The Waterbeer Street Police Station

This film of Waterbeer Street captures the environs of the area perfectly. It shows the old property occupied by the Force, and the old “bacon factory” with its series of cellars in Trickey Lane. One cellar was used as a cycle shed, and shared with Devon General Bus drivers who worked from Paul Street Bus Station. The bus men had a canteen next door to the cycle store.

The whole area, long since demolished, was very run down and dirty. Strange smells were common place, but one summer they were even more repulsive than usual in the cycle store. Some brave soul decided to investigate the dark area at the rear of the store, (when) to his surprise he found a badly decomposed body which had apparently lain there for months. Fortunately the pathologist saved a lot of red faces by declaring that the body was an elderly "roadster", who had died of natural causes

Conflagration at Cowley

A firm called Norwest Construction were erecting the National Grid bringing electricity to places such as Witheridge, Rackenford and generally brightening North Devon. Their headquarters base was in Tiverton, and many Irish labourers were employed. Each week these Irishmen developed a wondrous thirst, of such proportions that it could not be satisfied up stream in the Exe Valley. Every Sunday they caught the bus down to Exeter, and spent all day in pubs, which in those days were supposedly closed, all afternoon. 

Sundays in the City were always very quiet, the cinemas opened mid-afternoon and closed mid-evening, the pubs closed at ten, and the buses stopped running early, in fact it was very boring. Imagine our surprise when having just paraded for a night shift, we were called to a big disturbance at Cowley Bridge.

When we arrived, there were men all over the road fighting each other. One man was dancing about waving a naked foot in the air, whilst trying to put out his trousers which were on fire! All the men had come off a double deck Devon General Bus that had just left Paul Street for Tiverton. There was a small fire on the bus, which the "Panzers"  from the Fire Brigade at Danes Castle had been called to deal with.

Our enquires discovered that a local lad sitting on the top deck had been sharing a seat with a man from the Emerald Isle, who had been smoking a cigarette. It seems that the smoker had dropped the butt end, but instead of falling on the floor it had gone into his neighbours shopping bag, setting fire to the contents, and spreading to the man’s boots and trousers.

Stan Cole was the Sergeant i/c; after much pacification and limited advice, the Irishmen, who had been fighting amongst themselves, due to the lack of local opponents, were persuaded to reboard the bus and proceed peacefully North to Tiverton.

Helmets

There will not be many who would not agree, that the City Police had the finest headgear in the country. The helmet was made by Christie & Co, the surface was made of barathea cloth, with a silver plate cross piece on the crown.
The helmets were fitted to the man, by PC Tom Cork the storeman, several helmets were tried until the correct one was found, it had to be, one inch above the ears, the peak two inches above the bridge of your nose, the skirt at the back level with the top of the ears, and the chin strap adjusted to the point of the chin. Tom used to mess about with bits of cork and the lacing in the leather internal hat band, until all the criteria was reached. What a difference with today, some men appear in helmets which are several sizes too big – they look like TV Coppers!.

Peter Hinchliffe is a retired police.officer.

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