A Rural Policeman's Life by Alan King

Hoxne Police Beat, comprising of the parishes of Hoxne itself, Denham and Syleham, came into operation in the early 1900s (exact date unknown) and closed in 1977/8.

Until 1938 the resident Police Constable occupied a cottage in Low Street, Hoxne, but in that year a purpose built accomodation, comprising a dwelling house and office, situated on the Stradbroke Road, was taken into use. The dwelling is now privately owned by a police officer.

The first occupier of this 'new' accommodation was a P.C. Brewer with his wife and large family. In 1942, when P.C. Brewer retired, P.C. Joseph Cooper and his wife became the occupants. Due to illness P.C. Cooper left in 1951 and removed to Eye where he sadley died in 1955.

In July 1951 I took charge of the Hoxne Beat and occupied the house on marriage. My wife and I remained there until August 1956 and during that time our eldest daughter was born. I was succeeded, in 1956, by a P.C. Barker who remained until 1960, but, like me, he is now retired.

During its lifetime, and in common with all other resident rural beats within the East Suffolk Police area, the Hoxne Police Beat was solely policed, for general and routine matters, by the resident Police Officer. It was his particular responsibility and except in rare emergency type cases, he worked unaided. He was expected to patrol his area daily and to perform all manner of police enquiries within his area. In this he was responsible to his Section Sergeant at Stradbroke (in my time, Sergeant Ruffles) whom he saw, on average, twice a week and to his Inspector at Divisional Headquarters, Eye.

Theoretically he was supposed to enjoy 8 rest days per month but, because in those days Police pay was poor, Police Officers of low ranks could not afford cars and their only means of transportation was a pedal cycle, and because they were stationed miles from the nearest urban area, most of them spent their off duty hours at home. This of course meant that they were continuously at the beck and call of the public. The only time the officer could really 'get away from it all' was when on annual leave for 17 days a year.

The officer would have no set time for working, it was left to his discretion when to patrol etc., but this meant that he was responsible for his area 24 hours of the day and for 348 days in the year. His only means of communication with his supervisors, colleagues and, for that matter, the outside world, was by telephone. In those days there was no such thing as "Police Overtime" and I am positive that such working conditions just would not be tolerated by young policemen in this day and age.

Occasionally, (on average once per month) a rural beat officer would make a 'Conference Point' with his neighbouring beat constable colleagues. Such points wwould be made either very late at night or early in the morning. The purpose was twofold (a) To ensure that village policemen patrolled and were there to be seen at irregular times of the day and night and (b) to facilitate visits by supervisory officers eg. Sergeant or Inspector.

Occasionally a rural beat officer would be required for duty elsewhere eg. large shows, Royal visits in the County, Emergency incidents (1953 - the East Coast Floods at Felixstowe), and whilst the poor unfortunate man might have to cycle anything up to 8 miles to pick up motorised transport before and after the special duty, they were welcomed by him if only to break his monotonous routine.

Type of Work

It is said, and not without foundation, that since its inception, the Hoxne Beat has experienced every type of crime in the criminal calendar with the exception of treason and murder. Generally speaking however, the local residents are, and always have been, a law-abiding lot and the most serious forms of criminal acts successive police officers have had to contend with would be the classification of 'Breaking offences' - some houses but mainly other types of buildings, such as sheds, barns etc., theft and occasionally minor indecency offences.

As far as Summary Offences are concerned, poaching and the worrying/destruction of livestock by dogs are top of the list. In those days, motoring offences were not too prevelant simply because not too many 'country' persons owned or had access to motor vehicles. Drunkeness was spasmodically rife but because most of the habitual offenders were well known by the resident officer more often than not he would be assisted home by his friends (after suitable advice!) as opposed to being arrested.

Other duties rural beat officers had to deal with would include:

  • All forms of Disease of Animals e.g. Foot and Mounth, Swine fever, Fowl pest, Anthrax etc., and licensing the movement of animals to market and for slaughter. These duties are now largely performed by Ministry of Agriculture officials.
  • Actng as Coroner's Officer and thereby attending and investigating all sudden and unnatural deaths. These duties included attending and observing post-mortem examinations and arranging and giving evidence at Coroner's Inquests.
  • Enquiries into and being responsible for the renewing of Firearm and Shotgun Certificates, e.g. inspecting weapons and amounts of ammunition held and completing the persuant paperwork.
  • The registration of Aliens.
  • Being responsible for stray dogs and other animals.
  • Visits to public houses during permitted opening hours and being responsible for enquiries into, and reporting on, potential holders of a Justices' Liquor Licence when premises change hands or when applications are made for a different type of Licence.
  • Attending Magistrates' Courts on cases to which he was personally involved and, in those days, to Courts of Assize or Quarter Sessions either as a witness or for duty.
  • Dealing with all forms of road accidents.
  • A miscellany of other duties expected of a village policeman. For example: attending and endeavouring to give suitable and careful advice at 'domestic situations' - quarrelling between husband and wife or between neighbours. Reporting to the appropriate Authority factions of concern to his parishioners, e.g.bad road lay-outs, public nuisances etc.

In those days the village policeman was expected to be available at all times for the benefit of his parishioners. He was looked upon as a marriage councellor, as a poor man's lawyer, as a mediator and even as a medic - in my case I was once called to a farm worker's wife who was in the act of giving birth. The local District Nurse was late, but thank God, she arrived in the nick of time! He worked largely on his own, his only means of transport was a bicycle and he was without the dubious benefit of radio communication.

In common with all the rural beats in which I served I found Hoxne to be monotonous (because of its isolation) but exacting and most instructional and, I like to think, instrumental to my personal success in the Police Service. For, not only was I the local 'Bobby' there but later became the Sub-divisional Inspector, then Chief Inspector and finally the Sub-divisional Commander with the rank of Superintendent, but still responsible for policing the area - I hope with efficiency.

Information provided by Stephen Govier