Like the old time coppers

My grandfather’s farm lies on the road between Huish Episcopi and Long Sutton. It is deep within rural Somerset. The road that passes the farm is designated as the A372, but it never seemed like a “A” road; it was just a country road like countless others.

Perhaps it was the isolation and the quietness of the area that allowed a lax attitude to security. Anyone who should not have been around, anyone who should not have appeared in a yard, anyone who should have been calling at doors, would have quickly been spotted.

Perhaps the feeling that there was little need for security also owed much to the local policing, which was nothing if not attentive.

Farm work was hard, much of it was manual, machinery was limited in its functions and such machinery as was available was expensive for a small farmer. My grandfather would sleep well at the end of a day.

One night, as was his custom, he was sat in a front room of the farmhouse. The lights of the house were on and the doors were unlocked. My grandfather saw no reason to lock doors and was absent-minded about switching off lights.

He had a tot of whisky in his hand. It was after midnight and everything was quiet. Reflecting on the work of the day, he heard a voice from the back door.

“Mr Crossman, is everything alright? All the lights are on and the doors are unlocked? I would have thought you would be in bed by now?”┬áThe police constable from the local station in Langport was on his motor cycle, heading back to his house in Long Sutton.

My grandfather explained that he was having a glass of whisky after a long day, did the constable want a glass?

“Well, as I am off duty,” I might.

They sat and drank a tot together.

The calls after the evening shift must have become a common occurrence because there was a surprise one night when my grandfather had dozed off in his armchair. He woke to find the constable seated in the other chair, a glass of whisky in his hand. It is hard now to imagine such a feeling of ease at finding a uniformed police officer sitting in one your armchairs after midnight, happy to sit and share the quietness.

The constables in Langport must have had countless other counterparts around the country. Such policing seems unimaginable now.




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2 Responses to Like the old time coppers

  1. Doonhamer says:

    I can only speak for a small corner of Scotland.
    The local policeman lived in a local house. Everybody knew him, his family and where he lived. Very few arrests were made but a lot of crime was stopped. Unruly behaviour resulted in either being escorted home, or a night in the cell with release in the morning.
    By casual conversation he gathered “intelligence”. He knew the locals and the local roads like the back of his hand. If some outsider was a suspect he knew how that suspect would leave the area. He and his local colleagues were liked, respected and trusted. They were not part of some remote clique.
    I have witnessed the sudden appearance of police in a pub when trouble had just started.
    How they knew I have no idea. This long before mobile phones, or any other easy comms.

    • Ian says:

      I remember policemen in the 1980s talking about “tea houses,” places where the people would provide all the local intelligence over a nice cup of tea.

      The percentage decline in police budgets seems to be far outstripped by the percentage cuts in the numbers of officers.

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