A POLICEMAN’S MEMORIES, 1951
St. Benedicts Street, Norwich, runs from Charing Cross to St. Benedicts Gates. It wasn’t a particularly bright, cheerful street but it had its oddities. On the early shift instructions were on a weekday to perform point duty 8.15 a.m. till 9.15a.m., then patrol St. Benedict’s Street and Charing Cross from 9.15 a.m. until 10a.m. This was needed to deal with traffic obstructions caused by goods vehicles unloading at vegetable and grocery shops. On the late shift we did not get off lightly either as we were required to perform point duty at St. Benedict’s Gates from 5.15p.m. until 6.20 p.m. We were expected to act like human traffic signals, a most dangerous occupation especially dealing with a great number of tired factory workers hurtling down Grapes Hill on cycles many with dodgy brakes. With practice we learned to be somewhat agile when threatened with immediate danger!
At the junction with Westwick Street was Flore Cooper’s hat shop. I was always welcome there for a cup of tea or coffee and as it was on a corner, there was a good view out of the windows. At times the Patrol Inspector would stand on the corner deliberating which way to go to find me. Usually he would go down Westwick Street and I would move smartly along St. Benedicts Street and down St. Lawrence Steps to meet him at the bottom whereupon I would greet him with a salute and cheery ‘All correct Sir’. Usually this was met with a grunt. After a brief entry in my pocket book he would scribble in it to prove he had visited me and off to search for the man on the next beat!
I must explain that the other side of St. Benedict’s Street was not only another beat but also in the other Division. To be found there was a crime to be dealt with almost by hanging!
Heading out of the City on the right side a few doors along from Flore’s was Frank Kirby’s cycle shop. Frank was a short man, of slight stature and a keen cyclist. He would cycle to and from work from his home at Costessey. We would visit him regularly in case he had been offered a stolen cycle.
Further along, beside a piano shop was the convenient St. Lawrence Steps which went down to Westwick Street with St. Lawrence Church on the left. This church was apparently founded by Edward the Confessor and rebuilt in 1400s. The tower held six bells and there was seating for five hundred worshippers.
After the church were Little Lawrence Steps and then the premises of William Moore Ltd, drapers. We were welcome to shop there armed with a chit issued by the Chief Clerk at Bethel Street Police Station to give us a discount. At night the windows were always well lit. The shop assistants had an antique way of getting payments to the cashier on the first floor. This was by containers put into a chute. These somehow rattled some distance along a tube. Soon afterwards a receipt would arrive, and any change would be returned the same way.
A little further along past a bomb site was Reeves butchers with a passage leading to the back room. We were always welcome to a cup of tea but it was rather cold inside the premises. At the back of this shop was a bomb site resulting from the German Baedeker bombing raid of 29th April, 1942 when the father of one of my close friends was killed trying to rescue horses from Bullards brewery at Westwick Street.
I discovered in the middle of the flattened area a rather lonely toilet. Hard to believe, but the flush still worked and there was electric light – quite a comfort on night duty. After the night time meal break we could wander our beat as we thought fit. This little spot was a boon, somewhere to sit, smoke and perhaps write reports.
Just before St. Margaret’s Alley and the church was Bretts China store, selling as well as china items of glass and domestic hardware. Near the church was a police pillar phone from where we would ring in at appointed times. How a member of the public would importantly inform you that the beacon on top was flashing, especially if you didn’t wish to know at that time. On the opposite corner of St. Margaret’s Street to the church was a branch of Barclays Bank. A few premises after that was Taylors Fruit Store. Passing there on night duty it always smelled of fresh fruits especially oranges. Soon after that was the Queen of Hungary yard – obviously there had been a pub of that name there.
Next I remember there was another church, St. Swithin’s. In the yard in front of it was a bronze crucifix on which were the names of the parishioners who were killed in the First World War. After the church was St. Swithin’s Alley, interesting because down it were six old almshouses which looked quite picturesque in the snow. The mention of snow reminds me of getting ‘geared up’ in raincoat, leggings, galoshes (over shoes) to withstand the weather. Other memories of weather were on night duty standing in a shop doorway listening to the rain trickling down a drain, a pub sign creaking in the wind. In those days we had high necked tunic jackets, the collars of which chafed under the chin making it red raw.
The next premises of importance were those of Henry Jarvis and Sons, house furnishers. At the front was an arcade which would provide some protection against the elements and shelter for a brief smoke. After a few more premises was Ashworth and Pike Ltd, confectioners. This little bakers shop stood on its own just before Barn Road. Behind some of these last premises were the remains of Coleman and Co.’s Wincarnis Works where wine was produced. This area was dangerous to wander over especially in the dark as there were cellar openings. In the second Baedeker raid on 29th April, 1942 forty German bombers dropped 112 high explosive and incendiary bombs on this area. These raids were named after the German Tourist Guide to Britain and were in reprisal for the British bombing raids on the German city of Lubeck.
Just across the street from here stood all that remained of St. Benedict’s Church with its round Norman tower. There once stood a fine gateway into the City but this was destroyed in the bombing raids. The bottom of Grapes Hill was here, and there was a shop owned by Mrs.Howard and her son Ernie, dealing in second hand goods, mainly clothing.
Thinking back, there were so many yards and alleys named after public houses which were no longer. As well as the four churches I believe there were eleven pubs and several groups of almshouses. The numerous yards gave access to tenements and the like, small, close knit communities requiring a cautious approach by a police officer!
Bas Kybird, May, 2012.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE