FRED JEX getting the Hon. Freedom of the City, 1950

FRED JEX getting the Hon. Freedom of the City, 1950

Life as a clerk for Barclays Bank was not really me. My two years with the Army taught me there was something more in life than figures, and that I was more suited to the ‘outside’ life and people. Having ‘lived’ with the Police Service and had a fair insight in what to expect I decided to give it a go. As my father was serving with Norfolk Constabulary I had no wish to having him breathing down my neck, I wanted to make my own way. My father was very straight laced which could never be said of me! I learned later that senior officers in the City force who had a regard for my father treated me fairly. Others who for some reason didn’t, saw fit to take it out on me.

After a written examination and a medical by Doctor Hurn the surgeon for Norwich City Police I was sworn in by a magistrate on 29th December, 1950, it may have been by Freddie Jex J.P. Thus I became Probationer Police Constable 26. I was told this was a good number, previously borne by a Paddy Mulrennan who I never met. The sergeant in the general office, Fred Chenery, all 6’6” of him measured me for height with a ruler on a sliding stand which he crashed down onto my head and decided I was 6′. I was then issued with my full complement of uniform, a massive heap of helmets, cap, overcoat, high necked tunic, trousers, cape, strap, leggings, notebooks, truncheon, handcuffs, gloves, shirts. Boots I had to purchase myself.

I was given a list of what uniform and equipment to pack ready for a long train journey on the Sunday which was December 30th 1950 to Eynsham Hall near Witney in Buckinghamshire. This was the training centre for No. 5 Police District. I was also issued with a rail travel warrant from Norwich to Oxford. Also enduring the preparations for this new life were two other recruits, 134 Ted B and 137 John S. Ted was a bit of a rogue and John was a bit of a saint. Enough said. Me? Well I certainly didn’t have a halo! Unfortunately Ted thought he could work as a bricklayer during the day and then work full nights on the beat so he didn’t last long. Thus on the Sunday morning, 30th December, we met at Norwich Thorpe Station with our very large bags full of uniform and off we went. At Colchester I dived off the train to get cups of tea to establish comradeship. We changed trains in London getting another one to Oxford. Here we were met I think by the Drill Sergeant in a van. More of him later! After being allocated our quarters which I believe were in a large first floor room of the hall, we were provided with a meal in the dining room. We found we were with men from several different police forces. Essex seemed well represented. There were also recruits from the City of London, Brighton, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Great Yarmouth, and of course Norfolk County.

The next morning after breakfast, we were on parade in front of the hall. What a shower we were. Perhaps that is unfair because we were all ex-service, the older ones ex-wartime, so we knew what discipline and parading was all about. At some stage we were welcomed by the Commandant, probably when we were in a classroom. We were now faced with thirteen weeks of rigorous training to turn us into upholders of the law with the objects of preventing and detecting crime, and protecting the public. The instructors were a mixed bag, each taking a variety of subjects. The most striking was Sergeant Blackwell, seconded from the Metropolitan Police. He instructed us in P.T. And self defence; a fine figure of a man who had served in the Army during the war and just loved to sing ‘On the Road to Mandalay’. A man to be respected. The Drill Sergeant, Sgt. Howkins, was a different kettle of fish, in my estimation anyway. On one occasion when we were on parade one afternoon he stood behind me and informed me I needed a haircut in no uncertain terms. Fair comment I suppose This matter was to be corrected by parade the next morning.

A smart salute from a Norwich City policeman, 1950.

A problem arose as the nearest hairdresser was in Witney, at least two miles away. To get there and back after lessons and in time for tea was virtually an impossibility. One alternative was going without my meal to satisfy the whim of the drill sergeant, or accept the offers of some of my classmates. I was surprised to find how many had been Gents hairdressers. The liars! Still, they were anxious to get me out of a muddle so I graciously accepted the assistance of two or three. Next morning my haircut was accepted on parade, doorsteps and all!! Another clash I had with Sergeant Howkins was in class. He took it upon himself to change my name frequently to Skybird, Flybird, whatever else came to mind. After a while I got rather fed up with this. On an occasion in the classroom, he asked me a question, using a derivative of Kybird. I stood up to answer. He told me to sit to which I replied that I preferred to stand also that I had gone there to learn and my name was Kybird. He wasn’t too pleased to be ridiculed but I made my point and he had a certain respect for me after that. Sergeant Kenny from Norfolk, was different altogether, among other things trying to teach us about animal diseases and the requirements of the law in relation to the movement of animals. One of his little sayings was something about ‘diseases wafting in on zephyr breezes’. We City men weren’t over interested as the movement of animals or their diseases weren’t going to be a problem to us!

Our training was spread between classroom and outside lessons. Much was in little scenes enacted, usually humorous, by the instructors set up to illustrate various offences and how we should deal with them. We learned the formal caution, how to take statements from both offenders and witnesses. I did not shine too much at some subjects but at tests of powers of observation I was supreme, in fact top of the class! At weekends it was too far for us to get home and back again. Some of our colleagues had cars and lived in striking distance. The site seemed very quiet and we would spend time ironing our uniforms with soap at the inside backs of the creases down in the basement of the hall or polishing our boots in our billet. Saturday afternoons we would venture into Witney, perhaps do a little shopping or have a cup of tea.

There was a bar of sorts at the training centre but it didn’t have much to offer. After six weeks we were allowed a long weekend pass. Ted B hired a car from somewhere and drove us to Norwich and of course back again by Sunday night. Thus the course progressed for another few weeks, thirteen in all. At the end there was a grand passing-out parade with chief constables from most of the forces present. Norwich City Chief Constable, Alan Plume was there, no doubt most impressed by the efforts of his men! So back to Norwich City. For the first two weeks I was to live at the section house on Unthank Road. I wasn’t too keen on that, it was a bit gloomy. I remember Freddy K being there with his stinking pipe, also Sid G. from Dereham, I think Peter E. also and there were others. Some of us would go off to duty at ‘B’ Division on our bikes, sometimes with our capes flapping as we rode furiously down Grapes Hill. On the Monday we started night duty which was 10p.m. to 6a.m. for two months. Norwich was split into two divisions, A and B. I was posted to B Division which was the northern half of the city and based at a small police station at Magdalen Gates. Each night we were attached to an older or at least more experienced officers to take us round the various beats and show us the intricacies of each. There were twelve beats in each division, made up of four walking and eight cycle beats. At the beginning of each day the Duty Inspector had the momentous task of deciding on the Schedule, A,B,or C. These schedules, designed to confuse criminals, were set out in beat books which were like bibles. They instructed us what time and which pillar phone or police box to ring in from every hour and twenty minutes, and where to keep a conference point at alternate hour and twenty minutes in case the Inspector or Sergeant wished to give us a visit. Each pillar phone and police box had a flashing light to summon us as required. Further, for night duty, the beat books set out the routes to be taken on the walking beats, every street, road, and yard. Many a time on walking and trying to follow the requirements of the beat book I walked into a lamp post, the peak of my helmet colliding with the obstruction causing it to fall to the ground, rather undignified, and followed by a rather surreptitious look round to see if anyone witnessed my dilemma.

One little item which I found most useful was a copy of Norwich Streets Pocket Directory, costing 6d and available from the East Anglian Trustee Savings Bank. It only measured 3” x 4”. Not only did it contain the whereabouts of all the Norwich streets but also a host of other information invaluable in helping a young and inexperienced police constable to answer all sorts of questions from members of the public. The night before a night off we performed a 6p.m. to 2a.m. duty, providing a few more hours off. It was easier to get off to sleep after a night’s duty in the winter than in the summer months. It appeared that in the lighter mornings everything seemed to wake up in spite of me having just completed eight hours of tiring duty. Usually I would sleep until about 3 p.m., have a meal and then fall asleep again until about 8.30p.m. when I would have another meal. By this time I was rousing from a zombie like state and it would be time to get ready for work again now becoming fully awake and full of expectancy as to what excitement there might be in the following eight hours. Often nothing exciting did occur but who could tell, the anticipation was still there. There was a duty called a ‘Special’. Some special as far as I was concerned! This happened when we were on nights and extra men were needed to help man the football traffic at Carrow Road. I never could see much in watching football matches, I preferred something to be involved in myself. Having completed a full night’s duty, gone off at six a.m. we were then expected to parade on at Carrow Road at about 12 or 1p.m. And remain there until perhaps 4.30p.m. To go home for a meal and short sleep until off to work again for another full night starting at 10p.m. Financially it was worth about one pound! Unfortunately the Inspector who usually allocated these duties thought he was doing me a favour. How wrong he was, I much preferred my bed!

We were expected to examine every door and window of business premises to make sure they were secure, also stand on tip toe to look inside to see all was well and that no electric fires or extra lights had been left on. We also had a list of unoccupied private properties where the occupants were away on holiday and these required a thorough examination as well. Should anything untoward be found we telephoned in to report the matter and then wait while the key holder was contacted. In most cases we then returned to the premises, waited for the key holder and then entered the premises with him which made us late on our schedule routes. Should we miss anything wrong we were in trouble. On one occasion I was on an ‘A’ Division beat for a night. Premises I was unfamiliar with, a builders on City Road, were found broken into the next morning. During the morning I was roused from a fitful sleep to appear before the Superintendent and give an account as to why I had not found the burglary! He accepted my story that with net curtains up the windows the house looked like a private dwelling rather than offices.

The beat book also set out the refreshment times for each beat, a ‘generous’ forty five minutes. On entering Bethel Street Police Station we had to sign in the time of arrival and later the time of departure. Visits to the boxes had to be recorded similarly. The meals in the canteen were prepared during the day by a lady, can’t remember her name, but she was an excellent cook, and served up by one of the War Reserve Constables, Jack Cates, Alfie Salmon, Joe Elsegood or ‘Fagin’ Andrews. My favourite meal was an ample portion of hot minced beef patty with vegetables and gravy accompanied by a pint mug of good strong tea. I consumed this as quickly as possible and then with luck got my feet up on the bench seat under the window and back against a partition for a few minutes snooze. Some of my colleagues would get involved in a game of cards or snooker but I preferred to rest up. Often a meal period would be disturbed by a burglar alarm going off at a wholesale tobacconists premises in Pottergate Street, fairly close by. A phone call would be sent from the switch board to the canteen and we would be expected to abandon everything and run to these premises in response. Not good for the digestion! Always it was a false alarm but we had to go just in case it was genuine. Of course return to the canteen would be return to a cold meal and cold mug of tea! After the night time meal breaks patrolling our beats was discretionary but the ring-ins and conference points remained.

Some of the constables designated to show us round the beats were only too pleased to demonstrate their expertise and local knowledge whereas others resented having a novice at their heels all night! On one occasion I was being shown round 15 beat by ‘Curly’ S. Having reached St. Georges Bridge there was a fine view of windows of the Art School overlooking the river. A light was on in one room. The light globe was circular and suspended from the ceiling on electric cable. Immediately behind it was a door with rounded top. ‘Curly’ with no hesitation decided someone had hung himself, said so in his cockney accent and with orders to me to stay and keep watch, was off at at a fast pace to seek assistance. Who was I, a novice, to suggest the obvious?! Curly returned with the Duty Inspector Frank N. who after weighing up the scene quietly had a few words of advice for ‘Curly’. After one month in one Division the whole procedure was repeated in the other half of the City and then guess what? I was on day duty, a ‘proper’ policeman entrusted to be on my own! The duties now were 6a.m. – 2p.m., 2p.m. – 10p.m. on allocated beats and 10a.m. – 6p.m. on odd patrols in streets to prevent vehicular obstructions. I wasn’t too keen on the early turns. It meant getting up about 4.30a.m. I would listen to A.F.N. – the American Forces Network – while I shaved and had something to eat.

I recall one morning feeling thirsty and partook of rather a lot of ginger wine. Not a very good idea when access to a toilet on duty was rather limited! I left at 5.30a.m. To arrive at Magdalen Gates police station for 5.45a.m. Parade on. Sometimes a 10a.m. to 6p.m. shift would entail being clerk at ‘B’ Division H.Q. Typing reports from officers notebooks into the Occurrence Book. What revelations it contained, some most ridiculous! Unfortunately these books were not saved. One seemed to constantly be making teas, beat men popping in on some pretext or other, or bowing and scraping to the Superintendent who liked to examine every book that he could and sign his initials and date in red ink with the obvious note ‘Seen’. Sometimes he would find an obvious discrepancy in the cycle register and would want to know why the man on 16 beat took the cycle for 24 beat, all serious misdemeanors! However he meant well, at Christmas there was a mince pie for each of us baked by his wife Lucy, carefully guarded by Philip S, the clerk, to make sure no one had two!

Of corse there were visits from the public to be dealt with, usually very trivial but still requiring attention. This Divisional H.Q. was a very small building comprising of a general office with space to attend to the public, a toilet, very small sergeants room and a small room in which we paraded on and off duty. We were obliged to parade on duty fifteen minutes before the hour. We would stand, in a rather squashed line, producing our appointments – truncheon and handcuffs for the Sergeant to see that we were properly equipped to face any problem that arose. Of course these items were supplemented by a whistle worn in the left top tunic pocket and chain straight across to the right pocket with which to summon assistance. I doubt if many would have been of use as they were inclined to collect fluff in the mouthpiece. In all of my thirty years service I never resorted to using any of these although once on nights when I was showing a younger recruit round fourteen beat covering one side of Magdalen Street we came across a soldier who had broken into a jewelers shop and my companion handcuffed him to some church railings while we waited for transport. The screw handcuffs were most difficult to apply if the prisoner wasn’t cooperative. The story behind this was that a Territorial soldier, on training in the Battle Area near Thetford, had come to Norwich for a night out. He got drunk, spent all his money and broke into Jacey Jem Jewelers by smashing the display window and stole some watches. He sold these in a pub. He was returning to the jewelers for more watches and this was when we found him. One hand was badly cut from breaking the window. This occurrence was in 1951 and the soldier, Leonard Thomas B. appeared at Norwich Quarter Session in September of that year when he was fined.

Sometimes the latter part of a 6p.m.-2a.m. duty would be spent in St. Augustines Street where there were two late night cafes. The object of our presence was to keep noise and obstruction down. One in particular called John’s, was frequented by American airmen and taxi drivers seeking to take the Americans back to base at Lakenheath or Mildenhall or have deals on uncustomed goods. There would also be some of their lady friends. On a warm still night with windows open noise from the clatter of crockery and cutlery together with voices fired by alcohol was quite loud, especially when arguments broke out. The smell of cooking, especially fry-ups, wafting out of the front window was most tantalizing. Once we were on day duty there was more training to contend with, First Aid, Civil Defence and of course studying for promotion exams. Point duty was a bit of a challenge at first but once one had developed a rhythm it worked out alright, in fact there was a certain pride attached to seeing the traffic flow smoothly but one was always on the alert ready to jump out of the way of some dozy motorist. We performed these duties at G.P.O. Plain, Thorpe Station, Grapes Hill. Another duty was at Magdalen Gates seeing blind persons across the road, also there were some schools where we helped out if a police woman was not available.

Awards to Special Constables from the Lord Major Mrs Ruth Hardy. Chief Constable A.F.Plume looks on.

Included in our local training was to attend a post mortem at the mortuary carried out by the police surgeon and aided by the Coroner’s Officer Billy Hoskins. Not a pleasant experience for the uninitiated! The mortuary was next to the boat house in which was kept the Norwich City Police river patrol boat. There were regular crew members, ex navy men, but we probationers would be given a day out on it. The extent of the patrol was down river to Hardley Cross just up from Reedham and where Norfolk County took over.I spent very little time on ‘A’ Division beats but I do remember a couple of items. One was on seven beat which included the Victorian Royal Arcade. On nights the beat man had care of the keys to the grill gates at each end and another entrance off White Lion Street. Obviously this arrangement was so that the premises within could be checked. Having been on this beat for the first time I went home with the keys in my pocket. Not long after I had laid my weary body in bed than I was awakened by a P.C. demanding the keys! I didn’t forget again.Another item of interest was that the licensee of the ‘Walnut Tree Shades’ public house in Old Post Office Court off Gentleman’s Walk at closing always put a bottle of beer on his doorstep. This ensured his premises were visited by the beat P.C. albeit it was not unknown for the man on the next beat to nip across from his side of the Walk and pinch it! On one of the beats, number fifteen I think, the last ring in on nights and was at St. Augustine Gates at 1.50a.m. followed by refreshment period at Bethel Street at 2 a.m. resulting in a brisk walk to the police station. However, a friendly taxi driver would give me a ride in for which I was most grateful. I believe nineteen beat was the most dismal of the ‘B’ Division walking beats. It laid mainly between St. Augustines, Pitt Street across to St. Benedicts Street and had more than its fair share of old yards such as Unicorn, New Mills, White Lion, Howmans, Bath House, Ragged School, Key and Castle, and many more. In reality the whole City was riddled with ancient yards places and alleys.

At the Gildencroft was a pleasant and enclosed bowling green. The Park Keeper was an elderly gent who I had first met when I moved to Norwich in 1946. He had an unfortunate large and ugly growth on the back of his neck. He imparted to me that the history of the Gildencroft apparently went back to the 13th century. One part was termed as the Jousting Acre and the Black Prince was there in 1340. Part of it was at one time owned by Sir John Fastolf. No doubt in those days it was open agricultural land covering a much larger area. Along Pitt Street was a row of small, derelict cottages due for demolition. I found that one was being used by someone to sleep in. I kept an eye on this and eventually found it was being used by a pathetic little man who worked in a coal yard. He looked as if he never washed. His wife had kicked him out of his home on the Mile Cross Estate. Further along, near St. Mary’s Plain was a bomb site on which at night was parked a coach. I found it unlocked which meant another warm place for a little respite, and it had a radio! Further along Pitt Street was the crossroads with the last part of Colegate. To the right along here was a cafe and above it two flats, one occupied by ‘Big Pearl’, all of six feet tall, who regularly ‘worked’ a night shift round some of the pubs. To get to her flat she nipped up Queen Anne yard. Just past the cafe was St. Miles alley. Instead of turning into Colegate one could go straight up Duke Street and turn right into Charing Cross. Here on the corner was a book shop of ill repute. On the opposite corner stood the Central Public Library, typically Victorian, but as this was on ‘A’ Division I did not visit it. Further along was another of those ‘oddities’ which seemed pointless, a narrow footpath between two high walls at the end of which was the river! Nothing else, no access to anything, a sort of no-man’s land but which had to be inspected all the same. I recall that a certain tall, thin and humorless Sergeant once tried to catch me out for not going down it.

Along St. Benedict’s Street were two ‘Emporiums’, William Moore Ltd, Drapers, and further along Henry Jarvis and Sons, House Furnishers. I believe it was the latter who would allow us 10% discount off purchases if we obtained the appropriate trading chit from the chief clerk at Bethel Street. After about a year we returned to the training school to ‘polish’ up what we knew. This time we were allowed to wear our caps instead of helmets to show we were ‘superior’ to the raw recruits. After our two years of the probationary period we were accepted as fully fledged policemen and ready for the fray!



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