Policing in Alton

From, “A History of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary 1839 – 1966
Compiled by Ian A. Watt

Original Alton police station in Butts Road

“The previous police station in Alton (in Butts Road) was slightly older than that at Petersfield, but was originally of a similar pattern. It was built in 1845 at a cost of £1,400, and contained a house for a superintendent, accommodation for a sergeant or single constables, and three cells for the temporary confinement of prisoners.

The outbuildings consisted of stabling for two horses, a carthorse, and a harness room. Since then, of course, the station has been enlarged and improved, and in particular more modern cells have been constructed; the original ones still exist, but are no longer used.

(Top floor was for accommodation originally. Up until the 1960s the Station Office was heated by a coal fire which burnt 24 hours a day 7 days a week during the winter)

At the time of the building of the previous station the petty sessions for the division were held at the Swan Hotel on alternate Tuesdays. Subsequently a court house was erected at the rear of the old police station.
It is interesting to note that long before the establishment of the Hampshire Constabulary, Alton possessed some sort of police or prison structure. An old map of Alton, dated 1666, shows the “Caige” as standing on the north-eastern side of Normandy Hill, approximately on the site of the present assembly rooms.

This “lock-up” was in use as late as the beginning of the nineteenth century, and is described as a sort of shed with an old door and a window with no glass, but a wooden shutter. According to The Town of Alton by William Curtis, a first police station in Alton was situated at the foot of Normandy Hill, now known as Crown Hill. For many years past these premises have been used as a butchers shop, but at the rear two cells can still be seen.

For a reason unknown the police station was moved from the Normandy Hill site to a house next door to the Red Lion Inn in Normandy Street. Many years after this building ceased to be a police station it was a second-hand shop, and the daughter of the then proprietor remembers a room at the rear of the premises with an iron grill in it.

Pete Colston writes:

I was born in Alton in 1933. When I left Eggars Grammar School my first job in 1947 was as a boy clerk in that the old Alton police station in Butts Road, earning £2.10s per week. I sat in the station office, the ground floor window nearest the car park.

Inspector Miles was the officer in charge and he lived in the station with his family. Sergeant Baldock was station sergeant and the desk officers were P.C.Howard Keel and P.C. Cox. some of the constables were P.C.’s Terberville, Gabriel, the May brothers and Hildreth.

Yes the open coal fire did burn 24 hours a day in winter.
My job was to operate the telephone exchange a bullseye and cord job with a red bulls eye for the 999 line which took precedent over all other calls.

If it rang, I took the details and pulled a large switch which set off an siren at the fire station. Simultaneously I telephoned the fire station and the first man in answered the telephone and I gave him the address.

My main job was to receive messages passed from boy clerk Bob Garland at Aldershot regarding crimes. These I wrote in a large ledger as he dictated them (Using a pen with a nib and an ink in an inkwell) and on the right hand side of the page were the numbers of all the officers.

As each officer read an noted the message he initialed his number. Once I had entered the message I telephoned the station at Whitehill and relayed the message to a young lady whose name I have forgotten.

I recall that one message was regarding a stolen load of sausages. I wrote it as sosages. Inspector Miles circled this in red and each officer was instructed to listen to me spelling sausages correctly. As you can see I haven’t forgotten how to spell it!

Our station transport, apart from every Constable’s bike, was a Ford Prefect motor car and a BSA Gold Flash motor cycle which P.C. John May rode. Unfortunately he was killed riding it when taking some urgent evidence to Winchester Crown Court.

Police Constable George May
Died 14 January 1950, aged 43
Fatally injured on motorcycle patrol when he fell from his machine.

Police Roll of Honour Trust

Speaking of evidence, when a poacher was apprehended his catch was listed and we signed as having seen it, the evidence was then distributed between us to take home to eat. No refrigerators in those days.

Also urgent letters were handed to the driver of the No 14 bus which ran from Winchester to Aldershot hourly. I would hand the letters to him, take his badge number and then on return to the station telephone either Aldershot or Winchester and tell them which bus to meet.

Part of my duties also were to look after the stray dogs, we had a pound with kennels which I kept clean and fed the dogs morning and night. The worst part was when they had been with us the statutory period of, I believe, seven days and were unclaimed.

I was required to put the dog in a tank with a glass panel in the lid connect it to the gas pipe and put the dog to sleep, Sergeant Baldock declared the dog dead and we took the body to the saw mills down the road where they burnt it in the boiler which produced the steam to turn the saws.

The front door of the station, which lies in the corner behind the wing with the station office, opened into the enquiry office where the desk officer sat on a high stool behind a long desk, the door was normally kept shut but not locked and the public normally just opened the door and walked in.

One very hot summers day, the bell on the front door rang and I went to answer it, without first putting on my jacket (I wore civilian clothing of course).

Who should be standing there but Mr R.D.Lemon the then Chief Constable of Hampshire in full uniform. He just happened to be passing on his way to a function and decided to look in. I was very close to being sacked and the Inspector and Sergeant were both reprimanded. I never moved from my desk without my jacket after that.

I do remember helping with the scenery for the “Cop-optomists” this was a variety show put on by the station and outlying police beat officers. We used to take it to the villages where the constables taking part had their beat and perform in the village halls such as Selborne and Bentley.

One of the stars was Inspector Bob Cass and his performing dog. Bob was the station boss until he retired. He took a fancy to one of the strays which he trained to do tricks,

In 1949 I left the force to join the Royal Navy to learn a trade.

With thanks to: Peter Colston

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