The Village Bobby


Introduction by Bob Cameron


After reading the accounts by Jim Brown of traditional policing and the life of a city police constable, I thought your readers might be interested to hear about the rather different life of a police officer in a County force and especially the duties of the village bobby over the same period.

I joined the Hampshire Constabulary in 1952 and after service as a beat constable in Lyndhurst and Andover I was transferred to the country beat at Otterbourne in 1957. The garden in Andover was just coming into production so I had to leave rows of vegetables and a garden full of flowers to another constable which illustrates one of the aspects of life in a county force

In a period when many officers did not have cars or motor cycles, given the distances usually involved, a posting to another station involved a move of house by the officer and his family. Your posting came out, usually without consultation or prior warning, on General Orders, with perhaps ten or fourteen days notice, specifying the house you were to occupy.

The officer had to submit three estimates from removal firms for approval and as I recall, the cheapest one was always selected. If you were lucky the new dwelling would be well equipped with modern facilities. Many though lacked such things as bathrooms and well-equipped kitchens as I found on moving to the police house in Otterbourne If you had children of course they had to change schools and find new friends.

Another difficulty one had to face on transfer was usually buying new curtains and floor covering. Wherever possible we were expected to take these from the present house to the new one. When these would not to fit we could claim the expense in providing new but the claimant had to satisfy the County by providing measurements of the windows and floors concerned, submitting proof of the purchases. Such claims were checked to the last farthing!

Otterbourne, The Beat

Compared with other detached beats, this one was rather small, covering I guess about 10 square miles to the west of the River Itchen and including Shawford, Compton, part of Oliver’s Battery, halfway to Hursley at Silkstead and from the top of Otterbourne Hill in the south to the Winchester City boundary in the north.

There were five or six farms and small holdings, three public houses and a hotel, Elderfield House which later became a hostel for prisoners out on licence. The place had much publicity when the convicted killer Anthony Rice was inappropriately placed there in 2006 and killed a woman nine months later.

In common with other village bobbies I lived in the police-owned house on the beat with my wife and children. I patrolled on my own heavy , three-geared bicycle for which the allowance was, I think, five shillings (25p) a week.

The villagers regarded the house as their local police station (the council had provided a lay-by at the front gate)and would accordingly call at the door or telephone to report whatever they wished. People passing through could also see the large black notice board with POLICE prominently displayed. If I was out on the beat of course then my wife would have to deal with whatever it was by taking message or passing on the matter to the station in Winchester.

The Hampshire Constabulary and the community thus benefited from some unpaid service on her part! It was she of course who also had to organise a household of the two of us and four children around a husband who was on a different shift every day with the limited household equipment I describe below.

With ‘County Police’ on the house and my eldest daughter in her First Communion dress, this photograph helps to illustrate the strange mixture of domestic and official life which sometimes resulted from living on the job.

As I have mentioned above, the standard of the houses provided on varied greatly from newly built with modern facilities to rather older cottages with limited provision of offices, bathrooms and lavatories.

The Otterbourne house had no bathroom although there was a bath squeezed into the kitchen near the window and one morning the village grocer was delivering to the back door when he caught my wife in the bath! The lavatory was outside the back door and flushed into a cess-pit.

The electric cooker was very old-fashioned and I put in a report asking for a better one. This was refused until my wife started getting electric shocks from it and then the Superintendent sent someone from the Southern Electricity Board to show us how to use it.

On seeing the cooker she said “I thought these had gone out with the Ark!” adding that she did not know of another one still in use. Forbidding us from using it she switched it off at the wall and surprisingly, loaned us a portable two-burner cooker of her own. For perhaps six months this was all we had to cook on until the County supplied us with another (second-hand!) cooker.

Modern beat houses had an office but I had to use the dining room to type reports and file copies of Hampshire Crime Informations the Police Gazette and any other blank forms I needed to keep. If I needed to take a statement from a caller then they had to come in to the dining room for that purpose.

Each country beat had a Beat Book in which was recorded details of farms, licensed premises, size of population and acreage, names of previous constables and records of inspections by senior officers.

There was a telephone provided by the Police Authority which we could use for private calls but then had to keep a record of these and submit the payment.

The house is in now private ownership and the picture shows it as it is at present. It conveys a false impression, at least as my memory tells me as it has clearly had some extension on the left hand side and the garden has been landscaped. I doubt if the present owners lack a bathroom and indoor loo!

Tours of duty were governed by a complicated chart which was in use for all detached beats in the county. Which shift was to be worked on any one day was decided by a code letter which was published periodically in Routine Orders.

Given the code letter and the date I could see what my hours of duty would be. Some shifts were the straight eight hours while others were split into two four hour periods.

I would find myself therefore working for example, 6am to 10am then 2pm to 6pm one day, 8pm to 4am the next day then say 10pm the next day. Every day was different. I think we still only had one rest day a week which rotated through the week so that one worked seven days between days off.

There were no personal radios or mobile phones then so that once I had reported on duty by telephone to the Sub-Divisional station in Winchester and been given any necessary instructions or information by the sergeant or the station duty officer, I was out of contact while out on patrol.

There was a laid down number of “points” which had to be made once an hour, on the hour usually, when I could be contacted. These were at telephone boxes where possible but where these were non-existent I had to be at specified premises such as farms or pubs where the telephone number was known in the station in Winchester. The procedure was to wait outside the appointed place for ten minutes and then resume patrol.
Typical Day

Let’s say the chart shows I am 6am to 2pm this day so I telephone the station in Winchester at 5.50am (which was then on the ground floor of the Guildhall, not at North Walls) and speak to the station duty officer. He, and it would have been he, would give me any information about local crime or pass on any instructions from the sergeant and then I was on my bicycle and out into the village.

There always was the temptation of course to stay in bed, ring in from there and go out in time for one’s first point! I admit trying it once and I heard the sergeant say, “Is that Cameron on the phone? Tell him I’ll meet him outside his house in ten minutes!“ I don’t know what happens now but then the sergeant would have met me, conferred for a while and then said, “I’ll give you one here!” which would have carried not the modern meaning but meant he wanted to sign my pocket book!

Starting cycle patrol then my first stop might be at one of the many unoccupied houses which the owners would have told me would be empty while they were on holiday. At the height of the summer I had sometimes up to forty of these to visit and check their security. On arrival on the beat I had been given strict instructions by the superintendent that whatever else I did during a tour,

I had to check every one of these. Apparently the chairman of the Winchester County Bench had returned from holiday to find his place ransacked and that the then village officer had failed to find it! Many were substantial good class houses in isolated positions up on Compton Down and in Shawford which were attractive to burglars. Resident on the beat were an Assistant Chief Constable, the Clerk to the County Council and other prominent people working in Winchester.

This picture shows a typical example of the kind of property I had to check.

After checking a few of these in passing, I visit a farm to sign the cattle register in order to show I have checked for unlicensed movement of cattle. All officers at that time were Inspectors under the Diseases of Animals Act and if animals had been moved to the farm from market a copy of the licence would have been given to me so that I could endorse it as necessary that the conditions had been complied with.

One farmer did not like my calling at milking time as he said it reduced the milk yield if a stranger was present. On a country beat therefore one had to learn something about farming. These “extraneous duties” as they were called were all logged and we had to make a periodic return.

I return home for breakfast probably at 9am and telephone Winchester again to say I was resuming patrol at 09.45. I’ve only pedalled a few yards down the road when a passing motorist stops and tells me she has just passed what seems to be a road traffic accident (R.T.A.) down in the village. She was not involved she says but I take enough of her details to contact her later if necessary. When I get there I find a motor cyclist has gone into the side of a car emerging from a junction.

The rider of the bike went over the handlebars and he’s nursing what looks like a broken collarbone. No one has yet called an ambulance so I ask a bystander to knock at the door of the nearby house and ask the occupants to call an ambulance. No radio or mobile phone remember so we have to rely on the help of the public.

My experience as a medical orderly in the R.A.F. during National Service helps me to give first aid until the ambulance arrives then I deal with other aspects of the accident. I have now missed my next point so I am out of contact for two hour.

I should say that dealing with accidents on this beat formed a very large part of my work. There were only something like nine or 10 crimes per year but in one period of six weeks I remember dealing with seventeen accidents. Procedure then was that all accidents reported to the police were recorded whether or not allegations of bad driving were made.

As the A33 road ran right through my beat, many years before the by-pass and then the M3 were built, all traffic to Southampton from London and the North used this road which was thus very busy.

RTAs often involved allegations of bad driving and as those involved or witnesses often came from distant areas and had left the scene, much of my typing was sending off requests to other forces for these people to be interviewed. Then I had to compile the prosecution file for court so my typewriter was worth the allowance I was paid for it! I did not deal with any ‘fatals’ during my time here although there was more than one very bad smash with serious personal injuries.

Resuming patrol from the RTA I decide it’s time I visited one of the three pubs on the beat where I haven’t showed my face lately. At 11am in the morning there’s unlikely to be any offences revealed but I’m duty bound to visit periodically and record the fact so I go in and chat to the licensee.

This one sometimes is forthcoming as to happenings in the village so he’s worth talking to anyway. There are only a couple of regulars in the bar so I leave after a few minutes

My next stop is at the extreme south-east corner of the beat, almost in Brambridge, where I like to liaise with the water bailiff for that stretch of the Itchen. He told me when I first met him that as a water polo player of County standard if he could not get the better of a poacher on the bank then he would throw him in the river where he was supreme! The house of his employer is one of my points so I wait there for the required ten minutes and then resume.

There’s a big house in a secluded spot on Compton Down I haven’t visited today and as my next point is that way, I’m off to that end of the beat. When I go round the property I find an upstairs window has been left open which can be reached from a flat roof. Householders invariably left a key with the cleaner or a neighbour so I contact the keyholder and wait while they check the property and secure it.

Another extraneous duty in those days was the periodic checking of the movement of “aliens” as they were then called. There is a Polish family living on my beat who settled in the village after fleeing from the German invasion at the beginning of WW2 so, knowing that my return is due I call on them in passing just to confirm they are still resident.

My next point is at a well-to-do farm where the butler/handyman was a one-time member of a U-boat crew captured by the Royal Navy. After his release he decided to stay in England and married an Austrian girl who had also fled from Europe during the war. She is employed as the cook by the farmer and I can testify to the quality of her cooking! I got to know this couple well and they would often invite me in for a cup of tea and maybe a tasty morsel of something. After my ten minutes on this point I can confirm they are still there.

I have some typing to do regarding the accident which clearly involves a “due care” so I go back to the police house to make a start on that and finish my shift at 2pm. One of the good things about being on a country beat was that while on duty, as long as you kept the necessary ‘points’ you were free to decide where to go and what to do. I had to tell ‘Winchester’ that I was at home typing and therefore available for any emergency.

This leads me to recalling a very untypical duty day one Sunday lunchtime when I had just sat down to my roast beef and Yorkshire pudding when a phone call from the station duty officer in Winchester who told me I had to go to a traffic accident at Pitt! This was not on my beat but on the northern edge of Hursley beat.

I tell him that it will take me at least half an hour to cycle across to Hursley then up the long hill roughly to the Winchester City boundary. I’m told there is no one in the City available to attend and no traffic cars (R.P.U. now) in the area so off I set, my wife putting my lunch in the oven!

You might guess what happened. I find marks on the road and verge and as it was a damage-only accident the parties have obviously exchanged details and left the scene!

Duty in Winchester

As with other country beat officers, I was occasionally called into the town to cover shortages of staff. It was unusual for constables to possess motor vehicles so at first I had to cycle into Winchester and if on a cycle beat in the town, cycle for an eight hour shift there and home again afterwards. After a while I bought a motorcycle combination but if I used that to travel into Winchester there I did it at my own expense.

Motor cycle duties in general then were carried out by officers who had been tested by one of the traffic sergeants and approved for police duties and I was one of those. The machine we rode was a 500cc Triumph Speed Twin which was garaged in Winchester.

Most of these duties for me were in the city when the Assizes or Quarters Sessions were sitting and I was detailed to act as ‘Judge’s Escort’. I had to liaise with the Judge’s chauffeur, meet him outside his lordship’s lodgings and then escort the car either to the Guildhall or to The Castle. (This was before the Crown Court complex was built).

On one embarrassing occasion the P.C. who should have been on point duty at the top of Wharf Hill was absent and in trying to stop the traffic myself I stalled the engine. Luckily the bike started with one kick and we were under way again.

Once a month there was a Divisional Parade for which officers were called in to Winchester from all over the Division which then included Andover. We formed up for drill and then came the order, “Fall out the over-forties!” I used to wonder why officers who seemed perfectly fit were thought incapable of a little marching up and down and now of course it seems a bad case of ageism! More duty in Winchester came when I passed the promotion examination for the rank of sergeant when I sometimes did shifts as Acting Sergeant.

Point Duty

In the summer, southbound traffic on the then A33 past my house became so heavy that the Avenue and Winchester Road in Southampton become blocked. A scheme was devised to divert traffic via Poles Lane across to Hursley which meant a right turn across northbound traffic.

When this was necessary a sign was unfolded to indicate to southbound drivers that they needed to divert and then I was needed to do point duty at the junction, stopping northbound drivers.

This often lasted a couple of hours at a time and a woman who lived in a house on the corner got into the habit of leaving a glass of orange squash on the top of the Keep Left bollard which I could drink when there was a brief lull in the traffic.

On one occasion I was busy concentrating on what I was doing when I heard a voice close behind me saying “I’ll take over here while you have your drink!” When I turned round I was very surprised, to put it mildly, to find Mr. Broomfield, an Assistant Chief Constable there. As good as his word he put on my white sleeves and directed the traffic while I had my squash!

Interesting Incidents

There were a few incidents I dealt with during my time in Otterbourne which I thought might be of interest. The villagers did regard me as their personal policeman to the extent that one senior naval officer who lived in one of the side roads asked me to be at the junction every Sunday before Church as he and his neighbours had great difficulty emerging on to the man road due to the heavy summer traffic.

I refused although adding that I would of course help out if I happened to be passing at the right time. I later found he had asked my Superintendent to instruct me to do this but had received the same answer.

What seemed like a tricky incident at the time came up when at 10.50pm one night I went to the Bridge Hotel in Shawford and found that customers were still present. I had previously noticed the landlord was lax about permitted hours and was about to go in when I saw in the car park a car belonging to one of the Assistant Chief Constables..

The dilemma for me was do I do my duty and possibly embarrass the A.C.C or pretend I hadn’t noticed and go away? He of course might be wondering where the beat officer was to allow drinking after hours! I went in, reminded the landlord of the time and asked the customers in the lounge car to leave. As the customers filed past me at the door I wished the A.C.C. “Goodnight Sir” and had, “Goodnight Cameron” from him, I thought with slightly gritted teeth!

One afternoon I saw a man behaving strangely on the main road and on speaking to him formed the impression that he must have escaped from somewhere! On my invitation to come home for a cup of tea he followed me co-operatively to the house and drank tea with me in our sitting room.

A phone call to Knowle Hospital at Wickham established he had absconded from there and the staff sent an escort for him. Another example of how police duty occasionally invaded my family’s privacy.

One final tale concerns the time I was woken by a phone call about 1.00am one morning by the occupant of Otterbourne Grange, a big house at the southern end of the beat. He said someone had been prowling round the house, peering in the windows and trying all the doors. I rang Winchester but no one was readily available so I hurried into my uniform, leapt on to my motor cycle combination as my official transport, the bicycle, would be too slow and attended.

On a seat at the side of the road near the Grange I found a man who admitted being the culprit, saying he was looking for somewhere to sleep. When I searched him I found a screwdriver in his pocket and arrested him for ‘possessing housebreaking implements by night’ which was then contrary to The Larceny Act 1916! I cannot remember how I got him into Winchester but perhaps I shut him in the sidecar of the motorbike

I had been the village bobby there for a little over two years when my promotion to Sergeant came out on General Orders. I had enjoyed my time there so much that I told the Superintendent that I wanted to forgo promotion and stay where I was. He made two points – I was being promoted earlier in my service than he and second, what made me think I would stay there if I refused the promotion. That decided it and I accepted promotion and a posting to Fareham.

So ended what I have always regarded as the happiest time of my service in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary as it then was. As I live in a village in retirement I know the locals still wish they had their own policeman living among them.

Bob Cameron