by Robert C Davison

Extract from the January 2011 edition of History Lines (No. 17)

Forgive the ‘play on words’ but it did seem appropriate after reading Eddie Breakwell’s fascinating article on the Police posts he was aware of circa.1956! The mention of Snow Hill’s subway office reminded me of my first contact with BTP. From 1958 to 1963 I was an avid ‘trainspotter’ and Birmingham Snow Hill was one of my regular haunts. I was walking through the subway one Saturday and imitating as loudly as I could the sound of a GWR locomotive whistle (great echo in that subway). A door opened and I was ordered to get inside. Here I received an almighty ‘rollicking’ about disorderly conduct from a plain clothes Police Officer, who then escorted me off the premises, through the door at the end of the subway that lead into Livery Street. When I was a Cadet in 1964 and temporarily posted to the CID at Snow Hill, I mentioned this incident and the late D.S. Harold Fleetwood said “Yes I remember you, you little b****r” – in his own inimitable way!

With regards to the Birmingham Police offices that Eddie mentioned, when I joined as a Cadet in October 1963 (7 years after Eddie), fellow Cadets Keith Griffiths and Alan Smith and myself were based at the Divisional Headquarters, which were in a suite of offices on Smallbrook, Queensway. The British Railways Divisional offices were also here. Harold Wickens was the Chief Superintendent, the Chief Inspector Doug Selleck and Detective Inspector Stuart Asquith. P.C. John Stone was the ‘Chief’s Driver’ and Peter Hollingworth was Chief Clerk. Sandra (can’t remember her surname) was the typist. The old Leicester Division had only recently been closed down and it was thought that their Chief Clerk, Mr Cusworth might have been transferred but Peter retained his position. My first task of the day was to collect the correspondence bags from New Street Station to take over to D.H.Q. This could be a bit of an adventure at times as it wasn’t always possible for night duty or early duty officers to collect up the bags from the outlying Sub-divisions, and they could be lying in various Platform Inspectors offices all over the Station. The old signal box office on the Queen’s Drive (entrance through a small door set in the retaining wall of the Drive) was known as ‘53’ so far as I can remember. The Sub-divisional Office on Platform No.1 was ‘128’ and the Policewomen/Ticket Section (first floor of some railway offices accessible from Queen’s Drive) was ‘54’. These cryptic references were in fact the telephone extensions of each office!   Despite covering hundreds of miles on the railway system over the trainspotting and pre-BTP years, I seemed to have avoided further contact with BTP after the ‘run-in’ with Harold Fleetwood. Just as well really, as I was invariably trespassing whilst visiting Locomotive Depots and sidings where engine numbers were to be taken! However, I remember ‘spotting’ regularly at Rugby and the ritual ‘visit’ from one of the Rugby based officers; either Bob Lawton or Frank James. The ‘spotters’ would all congregate on the railway embankment south of Rugby Midland Station, where the old Great Central line iron bridge crossed the Trent Valley railway line, and the associated branch lines. The concrete fence here was easy to scale and there was usually a good crowd there from all over the Midlands, with their lunch boxes, fizzy drinks and Ian Allen’s ‘abc of British Railway Locomotives’ books. Around lunch time the cry would go up “Copper” and there would be a mass exodus over the fence and back on to the footpath of Abbey Street. A uniformed figure could be seen walking along the embankment, coming from the direction of the station and by the time he reached the bridge, everyone was safely ensconced behind the fence. The officer would occasionally give us the ‘hard stare’ but I can’t ever remember any words being exchanged. After making his presence felt for a few minutes, he walked slowly back towards the station. Then we all piled back over the fence! Happy days!

Eddie’s list of Police posts presents a fascinating snapshot of the railway scene before Beeching, but it occurred to me that there were two other locations that might have been included in what can broadly be termed the ‘Midlands area.’ The first is Woodford Halse and you may be puzzled as to the significance of this obscure and out of the way location. The villages of Hinton and Woodford Halse are in deepest Northamptonshire and were on the old Great Central railway line from London Marylebone to Sheffield and other points north. Woodford grew from a village to become a small railway town as it had the good fortune to be a railway crossroad, connecting with the Stratford & Midland Junction Railway; the GWR at Banbury and the LNWR at Blisworth. Over the years a large marshalling yard (remember those!) was established along with wagon repair facilities and a Motive Power Depot for 30 plus locomotives. I remember a conversation with the late Frank Henson (Sgt., New Street in the 1980’s) who had been on the old Leicester Division and as a DC had visited Woodford Halse in its declining years. He thought that there had been a Police post at one time and particularly during the Second World War when it had been a strategic location for ammunition trains and troop movements. Sadly, Beeching was the undoing of the railway connection with Woodford, as the old GCR was closed in stages and Woodford was an early casualty. Now there is nothing left but the houses built for railway workers, and the distinctive blue brick bridge arches over Station Road where there was an entrance and steps going up to the passenger station. Does anyone know of a railway police presence at Woodford Halse? The other location is Wolverton in Buckinghamshire. The Carriage and Wagon works of the London and Birmingham Railway, later the LNWR, was established there, and its growth from a village to a railway town would have mirrored that of the development of Crewe. The ‘railway police’ would have been the predominant force in the town, but when did they cease to police the extensive railway holdings in the town? The History Group faces a monumental task in identifying and documenting former railway, dock and canal police posts but I see this is an important role for the Group as a legacy for the future.

Eddie Breakwell and Colin Bryan’s reminiscences of Police Posts reminded me of my one and only visit to the Curzon Street Office, as a Cadet, to scrounge old helmet plates and buttons that were known to be in desk drawers! The office was on the first floor of a railway building in the yard at Curzon Street Depot. No doubt it could be pinpointed on an old map but it was at the eastern end of the depot, past the old ‘train shed’. Along with the grand arch, the ‘train shed’ was all that was left of Birmingham’s first railway passenger station, and in the 1960’s was being used for parcels traffic. A public road ran alongside the northern wall of the depot and this had to be crossed to get to the ‘banana yard’ where fruit and vegetable traffic was dealt with. A single railway line ran into the ‘banana yard’ and I think that wagons were hauled over by rope and capstan, but I don’t ever remember seeing any wagons use it. There was a huge expanse of old stables with cobbled ramps leading up to the upper stories. They should have been preserved! The old train shed was eventually demolished and a Parcels Concentration Depot, just a metal shed with a ‘deck’, was erected in its place. I think that replaced Central depot which Eddie referred to.

As I passed Curzon Street on a train recently, I was sad to see that the site had been levelled and that even the grand arch had its windows boarded up and was looking decidedly forlorn. Many years ago it was used as an office for ‘The Prince’s Trust’ which seemed quite appropriate. Hopefully it will not be allowed to decay. Curzon Street was part of the Lawley Street ‘beat’ back in the 1960’s and I was seconded to Lawley Street from New Street for a month as part of my Probationer duties. In those days (late 1960’s) you worked alone, even as a Probationer! The Lawley Street Police Office was of a concrete prefab type building which could be seen all over the railway system. Lino flooring, desks, chairs and uniform lockers, and a metal, coal fired stove for heating. It was a different type of policing being seconded to a Goods Station and it was a huge site to patrol. On late turn I used to cycle around the yard on my own bike, on a last patrol before handing over to the night duty officer. I’m not aware of the Force issuing cycles, but some of the ‘old hands’ may know better.

Although I never visited it, I was reminded of the Stafford Police Office the other day after changing trains at Stafford and having 10 minutes to spare. I stood at the south end of platform 4 looking up at the balcony offices above the south end of platform 1. I don’t know where the Police Office was in the old station, but when Stafford, along with many other stations, was rebuilt for the West Coast Electrification, the new office had a great elevated position. There were 2 officers posted there. Peter Hollingworth (Chief Clerk at Birmingham) once told me a tale about the Chief of Police, W.E.N. Growden, coming down to Stafford by train from Manchester where the Area H.Q. was situated in the late 60’s. The officer on duty (who shall remain nameless!) was known for his rather ‘eccentric’ way of wearing his uniform, and was on the platform as the ‘Chief’ got off the train. Apparently the ‘Chief’ took one look at our man and got straight back on the train!


History Lines Editor Bill Rogerson adds his own memories:

I’m not sure if I met the same officer at Stafford. One day whilst at Birmingham I was sent up to Stafford, with a colleague and as we were walking along the platform,  a certain officer in an open neck police shirt, Police trousers and carrying a basket of vegetables was seen walking along the platform. Apparently he had an allotment next to the railway lines, where they divided for Birmingham and London.

Back in 1985 whilst stationed at Crewe as a Duty Sergeant I was posted to Stafford as the officer in Charge, which re-opened as a Police Post for six weeks during the Summer of that year, whilst Crewe was closed for remodelling. The temporary Police Office was situated on the balcony offices at the north end of platform one. I believe its previous use was that of the flat of the manageress of the refreshment Room.