Two arrests, one mangled bicycle, one flattened police helmet!

Plain-clothes duty? No, Yarmouth policemen in "civvies" enjoying a social function decades ago.Pictu

Plain-clothes duty? No, Yarmouth policemen in "civvies" enjoying a social function decades ago.Picture: NORFOLK POLICE - Credit: Norfolk Police

There was a time, decades ago, when a policeman was almost part of the street furniture in Great Yarmouth’s town centre, his familiar presence hardly noticed as we shopped, strolled around the Market Place or hopped on and off Corporation buses outside Palmer’s department store or on Theatre Plain beside the Regal.

Civic duties: Sgt John Calthorpe (left) and a colleague escorting 1969 mayor John Malley and his may

Civic duties: Sgt John Calthorpe (left) and a colleague escorting 1969 mayor John Malley and his mayoress at a church parade.Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Mercury Library

They were a welcome and reassuring sight, unobtrusive but there at hand when needed. Nowadays we seldom spot a beat policeman, which is why I was pleasantly surprised in the run-up to Christmas when a sergeant and constable walked at regulation pace through the town centre. In the next few days, I twice noticed individual constables on patrol there.

All wore traditional helmets, presenting a touch of nostalgia harking back to dear old Dixon of Dock Green (Jack Warner in 432 BBC-TV episodes between 1955 and 1976, saluting the viewers with, “Good evening, all.”)

My recent column about our police HQ in Howard Street North facing downsizing work, and memories of visits there to enjoy its snooker table and licensed bar, sparked recollections for long-retired sergeant John Calthorpe: “I watched it being built as a replacement for the last station on South Quay,” he writes.

“We moved into what had been Ted Crowe’s furniture warehouse. Later this was assessed as being beyond restoration, and that was why we were going to have the new one built.”

John, a 90-year-old Gorleston resident, joined the police in January 1950 and was issued with a uniform “which sort of fitted - the station store only had bits and pieces of old second-hand clothing and it was going to be a long time before I got a new one.”

He went straight on night duty under the supervision of a qualified constable until there was a vacancy at the police training school at Witney, near Oxford.

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On his fourth night he arrived at 9.30pm, perusing with shift colleagues all the latest information and notices concerning crime before joining a PC Wortley and the others for the 10pm allocation of beats by Sgt Hector Hogarth.

Because John and his beat partner were detailed to cover the north area of Yarmouth from Fullers Hill, they had to walk there from the South Quay headquarters to begin patrolling their beat.

“We then wove in and out of all the roads to the west of Northgate Street, examining all vulnerable shops and premises as far as the racecourse and the school, and then we carried out the same zig-zag checks at all properties to the east side of Northgate Street (including beach huts and stalls) before returning to the station at 1.15am for a meal break,” John recalls.

“Afterwards we had to carry out the same beat pattern as previously. I was allowed to take my cycle for the second half because my feet had a lot of blisters by this time. We later worked out that we had walked about 17 miles on that beat during a shift.

“The sergeant accompanied us in Northgate Street, and when we neared the Coachmakers Arms public house, they went to the rear, leaving me at the front. A Vauxhall car went past and I noticed that it had the index number of a car that was possibly stolen and being used for crime in our area.

“It disappeared going north. When the sergeant came back, I told him and he checked his notebook. The car then returned , passed us and went south. PC Wortley grabbed my cycle and went to the telephone box on Lawn Avenue to call HQ and get our police car and driver to attend.

“At the same time as the sergeant and I joined the constable in Lawn Avenue, the car returned and came towards us. It narrowly missed us and turned into Tar Works Road which was a cul-de-sac, so it had to turn around.

“As we tried to stop the car, it ran over my cycle, and went towards the town again. Then PC George Brown arrived in our police car. I got in and we drove south along Northgate Street.

“We spotted its lights and we chased it through town and as, it turned into Deneside, the two occupants ran for it, so George Brown drove our car near to a wall at an angle so the men were trapped.

“Both were arrested, but in the operation our car drove over my police helmet and flattened it!”

John says that it transpired that both the arrested men were wanted by various police forces. “They were extremely worried because they were subject to a sentence of a long time for PD, which at that time meant a long period of Preventative Detention with a hard life at HM prison, Dartmoor.

“So, for one of my first duties, I was responsible for two good arrests, and went home without a helmet or cycle. I think the sergeant was commended for his action.

“It was a night to remember.”

When our police transferred in 1962 to the purpose-built headquarters on the corner of Howard Street North and The Conge, its responsibilities still covered only the old urban borough of Yarmouth and Gorleston. The self-contained borough had been policed by 111 officers under their own chief constable, and had a station in Gorleston, built before the war in 1938.

However, six years later Yarmouth and Gorleston were deprived of their borough force because it was forced to amalgamate with the Norfolk and Norwich constabularies to become part of Norfolk Joint Police.

The post was probably abolished decades ago, perhaps even before that three-way reorganisation into one force, but for years last century Yarmouth Police employed a matron behind the scenes, a role most people outside the judicial system did not know existed.

Long service in that position was given by Kate Masterson, followed by Nellie Brady. Their presence was invaluable to the constabulary. Nellie, a nurse and midwife, was responsible for looking after the prisoners’ welfare while they were in police custody; when she retired, her successor kept the role in the family - Alice Brady, probably her daughter-in-law.