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Thurrock Local History Society: My time on the beat – when policeman had feet

Essex Police Cuts


Thurrock Local History Society

My time on the beat – when policeman had feet
by Peter Layzell

21 Sep 2018

FOR our first lecture of the season we invited ex policeman Peter Layzell to give a talk on what it was like to be on the beat in the Essex Police. He had started as a cadet, training in Oxfordshire in 1960, aged 19. He joined the regulars at Colchester, was promoted to sergeant and served at Billericay, Basildon, Corringham and finally Southminster on the Dengie peninsular where he was the longest serving sergeant in the county, declining promotion.

There were 120 police at Billericay and he was one of three men working on C shift. He walked long distances or cycled everywhere, with no radios and only one police car. There was only a whistle for help and a truncheon (known as a stick); this was kept in a special trouser pocket, which was not good on a cycle! When a constable arrested someone they had to get them to the station. Officers were given a pair of handcuffs which were difficult to use, although the ratchet type are now provided. The prisoner had to be compliant or physically subdued and it was a disciplinary measure to lose a prisoner. Sometimes miscreants went to the police station of their own accord.

As there were no radios or police boxes like those in London, he had to report to a telephone box at pre-arranged times, to obtain new information. Sometimes a fight was over before he got there.
Most constables were ex seaman and wore similar uniforms. The tunic was worn in all weathers and used to have a high collar; one pair of trousers and two shirts with 8 separate collars were provided, together with a tie, which was later changed to a clip-on one. They were also issued with a gabardine raincoat, the lining of which used to crack and let in rain. PCs also had a greatcoat which was warm as toast in winter, but absorbed water in the rain, and a cape. The cape was nice to wear but had to be removed when making an arrest and could be stolen. The helmet showed authority and Peter said he lost his in the road on his first day on his own when it got knocked off by a low shop blind.

A humane killer was provided at each police station for badly injured animals. He had to help at road accidents to stabilise casualties, although they were given no training for this – the last one being just as bad as the first – but now there is help. He also had to deal with ‘domestics’, the attitude to which has changed over the years. He felt he was lucky to have had a life in the Force, although it was difficult dealing with suicides, accidents and death. They were told to ‘pull themselves together and get on with it’.

This was a very interesting lecture, an eye opener as to how the police force operated in the past and Peter Layzell told of many incidents in his career like arresting celebrities and chasing a lad in a stolen car who went round a roundabout four times, just to get chased!
Our next meeting is at 8pm on Friday 19 October at the Adult Education Centre in Richmond Road, Grays, when our speaker will be Kevin Diver, giving an illustrated talk on Coalhouse Fort WW2 – The story of the Wrens and Naval detachment. Visitors are welcome.


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