Recollections of PC Peter PARK, a North Eastern Railway Policeman.


I was born on 4th August 1887* and was brought up on a farm at Leaholme, near Castleton, Yorkshire. My step-father used to supply oats to the local Superintendent of the North Riding Constabulary and I used to talk to him when we made deliveries. He interested me in police work and when I was about twenty I asked him if I could join. He said that I was too young and told me to wait another year. The local stationmaster knew I was interested in the police and suggested that I join the railway police. I did not even know that such a force existed but I wrote to York to apply. In those days the North Eastern Railway Police were organised into two separate divisions, York and Newcastle. The Superintendent at York wrote to say that there were no vacancies, I then wrote to Newcastle and received a form which I filled up. I passed the doctors examination and very soon I started at West Hartlepool as PC 139. When I joined the constables’ rate of pay was 23 shillings (£1.15p) a week. Some days we worked twelve hours, some ten but never less than nine and we had one day off in a calendar month, with one week’s annual leave. There were two Inspectors at West Hartlepool, a Day Inspector and a Night Inspector. One always worked days and the other nights, a common practice in most police forces at that time. The total strength at West Hartlepool was two Inspectors, two Sergeants and twenty-two Constables. There was no Chief of Police. Superintendent DARRELL commanded the northern division and Superintendent DOBIE the southern. On 1st April 1911 the two Superintendents retired and Captain W.T.F. HORWOOD took over the force as the Chief of Police with his Headquarters in York. Divisions were established at Newcastle, Darlington and York, but in later years Darlington was eliminated and a Superintendent was appointed at Hull instead.

Although we used to work long hours, after farming I thought it was a good job. I went to school until I was 15 which was exceptional in those days so I had a good grounding in arithmetic and grammar which stood me in good stead. The Day Inspector was not a good penman and I used to help him and the Sergeant with their reports. We had no training in those days, we used to work with another man on the beat and copy what he did, hoping that he was doing the right thing. I well remember my first case; I caught an old fisher-wife stealing timber and the Inspector let her off with a caution.

After I had been at West Hartlepool for about ten months a vacancy occurred in the Divisional Office at Newcastle when the Chief Clerk, who was an Inspector, retired. My report-writing had attracted attention and when I applied for the post of Police Clerk I was successful. There were two clerks and two uniform men in the office, but the uniform men were sworn in and did police duty as required. I used to do uniform duty for example, at race meetings, at week-ends and on other occasions. The post I held was designated constable/clerk and so I was able to join the Superannuation Fund. While I was at Newcastle I went to evening classes and learned shorthand and on 1st April 1911, when Captain HORWOOD became Chief of Police I went to York to work as “second clerk”. The North Eastern Railway Police Pension Fund was started by Captain HORWOOD with the assistance of Mr E.C. GEDDES the Assistant General Manager, and it was a wonderful thing for the force at that time. There was no other railway police pension fund like it anywhere in the country.

I was at Newcastle on Mafeking night in 1900. I was off duty when I heard the news and went into the city to see what was going on. People were wildly excited and there has been nothing like it since. I vividly remember a man standing on the bar of a public house in Grainger Street singing “Soldiers of the Queen” at the top of his voice.

Every Friday afternoon at West Hartlepool we used to have an hour’s drill in the stable yard. In fact, one man was made drill sergeant and he went round the division taking the drill. I used to enjoy it because it was quite a break from routine. When I was at Newcastle we had to deal with the famous train murder, the DICKMAN case. It was the sixth train murder in Britain, the first being in 1864. A colliery cashier named John Innes NISBET was murdered in the train between Newcastle and Alnmouth and robbed of the wages cash. The train was the 10.27am from Newcastle and NISBIT’s body with five bullet wounds was found by a porter. I well remember the hearing at the Police Court. The defence was that DICKMAN, who had been arrested, was not the murderer and that a mistake had been made in identification. The evidence against him was entirely circumstantial. The defence nearly succeeded, but DICKMAN was committed for trial and subsequently convicted and hanged. We assisted the Northumberland Police with all the enquiries and I well remember the gratuitous advice we got from all quarters. Suggestions were made for example that if we had photographed the eyes of the dead man soon after the body was discovered we should be able to identify the man who murdered him. Many people still say that the wrong man was convicted.

I remember many cases from those days at Newcastle, including one where thieves stole a large quantity of copper cable. They took it to Felling Shore to burn the rubber off. Even in those days we had the weekly trouble at Newcastle Forth. Petty pilfering was always going on but I used to think that this was the fault of the railway company because wages were so low. Thus a man would be locked up at Newcastle Forth, would be fined or do a term of imprisonment, and then get a better job at Armstrong’s or somewhere for more money. The railways just did not pay the market price for labour.

One case at the Forth I remember involved a checked by the name of COCKBURN, who stole goods to the value of five or six hundred pounds by re-labelling to an address in Newcastle. He then repacked it and sent it to Ireland, where he was going on holiday. It was not known COCKBURN was a thief, but the goods were intercepted and an officer went to an address in Ireland to make enquiries. Among the goods in Ireland was found an army pass which COCKBURN had accidentally packed with some of the articles when he had emptied a drawer. Detective Sergeant BAINBRIDGE was the officer who found it. He and Inspector RODGERS went to COCKBURN’s house to arrest him. He strongly denied having stolen any goods and nearly fainted when he saw the army pass. He made a dive for a razor, but was stopped in time by Inspector RODGERS, who was at the time the chief clerk at the Newcastle Office. RODGERS was a constable at Durham when I first joined. In later years he was excellent in court and could hold his own with any solicitor. He was a great friend of Mr. J. R. ROBERTS, the Magistrates’ Clerk at Newcastle, who was one of the early editors of Stones Justices’ Manual.

In the office with me, apart from RODGERS, at that time were TEASDALE and HAMMOND. HAMMOND had an interesting career. He went to America before the First World War and started work with one of the railways as a stenographer. In the following spring he applied to the Bell Telephone Company for work as a linesman and he was put to work digging holes for telegraph poles. Out of a gang of fifty he was one of only two men who could sign for their money and he soon became a foreman and later became an official in the company. He volunteered for the army in the First World War, rose to the rank of Captain, and, as one of the reserve officers, served in the Far East in the Second World War, retiring with the rank of Colonel. Five or six years ago he called to see me in York and was a most interesting man to talk to. His pension from the U.S. Army and the Bell Telephone Company was at least £1,500 a year. He well remembered his early days in the railway police.

We had some real characters in the Force. Superintendent DARRELL was a terror. When he had a defaulter before him he used to try the Sergeant too in front of the offenders, I remember one Sergeant fainting during a disciplinary enquiry.

There were some interesting links with the past. When I was at West Hartlepool one Constable named James CATTERICK had served originally with the Stockton and Darlington Railway Police. He was a first class policeman but was no scholar. He stood 6ft 3 inches, with a black beard and looked really ferocious. He rose to Sergeant, but got reduced in rank for drinking, which was the principal reason for disciplinary enquiries in those days. Looking back over the years, the job was much rougher then. When we took the women off the boats at the dock we used a push-cart to take them to the police station. We used to strap their ankles to the handles and hold them down on the cart. At Newcastle Central, especially at weekends there was always trouble drunks and there was a terrific day when the Durham Miners’ Gala was held. We used to have at least a dozen men on the main Durham Station and at least half a dozen at Durham Elvet, which was the terminus of the Murton and Durham line but was closed some years ago. I remember one of the Inspectors giving me some advice about dealing with a roughhouse. I had not been in the job very long when we had trouble with Swedish and Norwegian seamen. The Inspector told me that it was good policy to let the fight go on until the parties were getting tired, it was then much easier to deal with them. Afterwards I found what good advice it was.

During the First World War conditions were difficult and a lot of men went to the army. Captain HORWOOD left to become Provost Marshal and some of the North Eastern Railway Police were specially enlisted to help him. I remember in particular, TEASDALE and also CHARLTON who retired as Assistant Chief of Police in Scotland not long before nationalisation. CHARLTON and TEASDALE told some good stories about their work with Captain HORWOOD and we often pulled their legs about how they won the war between them. We were very short of men during the war and it was decided to recruit policewomen at Middlesbrough, Darlington, Newcastle and York. I objected to policewomen very strongly because I could not see that they could undertake the work as we wanted it done and there was certainly no economy. They patrolled the stations and goods warehouses, but did not work in sidings. They were paid wages that were approximately two-thirds of the wages of a policeman, and always worked in pairs.

Many members of the Force in those days were fine big men, but some of them were not so good on paper. In order to help them, especially after the First War, mutual improvement classes were formed and schoolmasters used to instruct the men on certain days in report-writing and other subjects. It was of great assistance and much appreciated by the men. I was at Newcastle when dogs were first used. Mr GEDDES, the Assistant General Manager, had been very impressed by the work of police dogs when he had been in Belgium. He suggested that we use dogs and an Inspector from Hull went over to Belgium to study the work. Dogs were later used with great success at Hull Docks and the North Eastern Railway Police were pioneers in this country in the use of police dogs.

Soon after the First World War there were many changes in the Force. General HORWOOD, as he was at that time, left the NER Police to become the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and Mr E.T BARRELL succeeded him. The railways were amalgamated by the Railways Act 1921 and the reorganisation was completed by 1926. The result was that a number of forces of independent companies were combined to become the L.N.E.R Police. Thus, Mr GLAZER, who was the Chief of the Great Central Police, retired and also Mr BERNARD of the North British. Colonel WEBB who was the Chief of the Great Northern Police took over the North Eastern Police and part of Scotland to head the Northern Area of the LNER and Major CHAUNCEY of the Great Eastern took over the Southern Area with his headquarters at Liverpool Street. Colonel WEBB had at one time been Commandant of the Military Hospital in Dublin and was related in some way to the famous Lord ROBERTS. In 1934 he was succeeded by Colonel COLE. I worked happily with all the Chiefs of Police under whom I served. The great thing that General HORWOOD achieved in his day was the establishment of the Force on a proper footing. I mean that the Force was able to do a police job and not be ordered around by all and sundry. In my younger days when you went out on special duty at stations you had to collect tickets and other work that would certainly not be regarded as police work today. I remember that at West Hartlepool one of our jobs was to knock up staff who started work early in the morning.

All through my service which covered a period of forty-four years, we had the same sort of trouble. There were raids on sidings, pilfering from the depots, ticket frauds, luggage thefts and trouble with card-sharpers and pick-pockets. There were not the busses in those days and there seemed to be more people travelling all the time by train than there are today. We had no transport ourselves. If we arrested a man on a station we used to get him to the nearest police station as best we could. In my early days the only police transport anywhere was the local police Superintendent’s pony and trap. After we had settled down following the amalgamation there were very few changes in the general organisation. One of the most important was the appointment of a Superintendent at Hull. There had previously been two separate sections, the goods and the docks. If thefts had taken place, one section used to allege that the thefts had occurred on the territory of the other and it was felt that if one officer were made responsible for both sections they would work better together. When I first went to York I used to think that the local City Police were a bit standoffish and there did not seem to be quite the co-operation that I had known farther north. There was of course very little crime in the city at that time and we had more interesting cases than the City Police did. I remember one case where a goods porter at York held up the cashier at the point of a pistol and got away with some money. He was wearing a mask at the time and one of our detectives named HOPPER was able to identify him as a result of his enquiries and traced both the man and the money.

I retired from the Force on 2nd October 1942. I had filled the post of Chief Clerk for twenty-eight years. I never regretted that I had joined the Railway Police. I liked the work, I was always very interested in it and although we had our worries and anxieties I look back on my service as a happy time.

by Peter Park


Postscript by W. O. Gay

Officers who attend Court regularly are well acquainted with the procedure which entitles the prisoner either to make a statement from the dock or to give evidence on oath in the witness box. Some, no doubt, have experienced a sense of frustration when the prisoner decided to remain where he was and so deprived the prosecution of the right to cross-examine, but others will remember the convictions that have been secured because an over-confident criminal went into the box and completely ruined any chance he may have had of acquittal. The Criminal Evidence Act, 1898, first enabled an accused person to give evidence on oath and opponents of the measure, and there were many, said that the prisoner would have the responsibility of proving his innocence. The appearance and demeanour of a man can tell heavily against him, and he may be slow to comprehend the purpose of questions put to him. On the other hand, a quick-witted liar may succeed in creating a favourable impression. In 1910, when John Alexander Dickman was tried for murder at Northumberland Assizes, many experienced people said that there would have been an acquittal if it had been possible to keep Dickman out of the witness box …

The case against Dickman depended largely on the question of identification. As has been said, Charles Raven knew Dickman by sight but not by name. He knew Nisbet quite well and he saw both men walk towards the platform at Newcastle. But he did not see them enter the compartment together. Hepple, the artist, knew Dickman but did not know Nisbet. He was able to say he saw Dickman on the platform but that was all. Hall, one of the cashiers, knew Nisbet but not the prisoner. In evidence later he said that on 21st March he was taken to the Police Station and asked to pick out the prisoner from nine other men. He said that he picked out Dickman, saying as he did so, “If I was assured that the murderer was in amongst the nine men I would have no hesitation in picking the prisoner out.” Counsel for the defence smelt a rat when this came out but nothing could be done at the time. After the trial enquiries were made on Home Office instructions and it appears that while Dickman was being questioned at the Police Station there were a number of policemen including two North Eastern Railway officers, in a corridor where Hall and Spink were waiting. An officer (never identified) suggested that Hall and Spink should go and have a look through the window of the room where Dickman was, and they did so. The door was also opened slightly for them to get a better view. In a report to the Home Office the Chief Constable of Northumberland said that Hall and Spink, when interviewed on the matter, denied that they had ever seen more than the back of the prisoner or that their identification had been influenced. There is not much doubt, however, that the evidence would not have been accepted at the trial if the circumstances had been known.

Mrs. Nisbet was also involved in a curious incident. When giving evidence before the Magistrates at the preliminary hearing she fainted twice. Eight days afterwards she explained that on looking at the prisoner in the dock she saw his face from the same angle as she had seen it in the train and the shock of recognition caused her collapse. After the trial it was learned that Mrs. Nisbet had known Dickman by sight for years and had seen him not long before the murder. If this had been known the defence would probably have been able to knock the bottom out of her evidence.


Article taken from the British Transport Police Journal Vol. 3 Number 2 published in July 1957.

Extract re-printed in the March and April 2014 editions of History Lines (No. 55 & 56)

Peter Park can be seen in this group photograph in the gallery.

Webmaster’s Update (December 2017):
*This was the wording shown in the original article published in 1957, however, recent (2017) research by Steve Beamon has confirmed that Peter Park was actually born in 1877. Whether this was an error in transcription or a mistake by Mr Park is uncertain.