Police in Rye


by Arthur Woodgate

One day towards the end of July 2003, I was going for my newspaper at the Spar shop in Peasmarsh. To my great surprise, I saw a young lady dressed in a Police uniform. I said to her “Have I seen a mirage, or are you real?”. She assured me she was real and that she would be around from now on. Haven’t seen her or any of her colleagues since but I understand, there is a uniform still around. Its a long time since we saw our own village Policeman walking our roads as a regular thing, so lets hope we are on the verge of seeing the return of the village Policeman in ours and all the other villages, of the old Rye Union of Parishes. With our Rye Police station the nerve centre of our little corner of Sussex, acting as it were as a solar plexus for 24 hours a day, independent of the brain at Lewes, but able to go back to the brain if extra serious matters arise.

We had heard, in recent years that we once had a very large Police force operating out of Rye Police station and this has puzzled me, so I have been searching through old Rye directories and can’t find any evidence of a mass group of policemen operating from the old Rye Police Station in Church Square. However, in 1920 (and I suppose for a while before), we had our own Superintendent William Whitlock, who ran our law keepers with two sergeants, David Sinclair, (stationed at Rye) and Henry Meads (stationed at Beckley) from Monkford House in the Mint (now destroyed with other properties in the Mint by bombs).

Rye Police Force 1911. Seated Supt. Whitlock and Sgt. Sinclair Seated
Rye Police Force 1911. Seated Supt. Whitlock and Sgt. Sinclair Seated

By 1925 we had lost our own superintendent, who was replaced by Inspector Albert Clarke, assisted by one Sergeant Walter Anthony (stationed at Beckley). Sergeant Anthony was with us for many years, and was so public spirited that he contributed to the smooth running and success of the Hospital Church parades, held annually in The Rye Union villages in aid of the local hospitals before the days of the National Health Service. In time Constable Henry became a Sergeant and this team, with nine Constables, were a formidable force from Broomhill to Batchelors Bump and from the coast to Northiam. I don’t know how many Detectives were about because they couldn’t be seen with any uniforms. But when a greater presence was necessary many uniforms appeared on the many specials to assist the regulars, this situation continued into the 1930s. It would be impossible to remember what happened in the first half of the 1940s as history shows.

It would take a very big book to do justice to our wonderful Police persons, so one can only sort out some samples of individuals, and incidents and this is what I’m trying to do, so that is why Its taken 2 years to satisfy myself that I have some idea of the Policeman during my younger life and later, as we knew them as part of out society.

In the 20s when I was at School, there seemed to be a Policeman in the Street as well as a School attendance Officer at all times. We were not exactly frightened but we were aware they were there to keep us from being naughty boys, but I also realised they were there to protect us as well.

When Longleys Corner still had Longleys Stores sticking out into what is now Road, some of us saw a violin case open in the roadway and as well as a fiddle it had some coins in it, the silly travelling musician had left it there and gone into the Crown. We boys didn’t see pennies, shillings, and florins. We saw Clark’s hard bakes and gobstoppers (not drugs) so it was fortunate for us that a friendly copper (I think it was P.C. Henley) came and took charge of the case and sent us on our way. What he said to the musician I don’t know.

With the Police Station in Church Square always open, and the main schools just around the corner in Lion Street and Mermaid Street, it was easy to keep us in line. The Grammar School was regarded as less rowdy but one wonders.

Drifting into the 30s we started much the same and as we boys became men, we got to know our Policeman personally, when we built the First Regent Cinema in 1931-32 the ornaments, in the garden behind The Bijou and Cinque Ports Hotel (which was where Police Station now is) were stollen. This was one occasion when we were not too pleased with our Local Police because they took one of our team in as a suspect because many years before he had ridden away a bike without the owners permission. It was not him of course, and the ornaments came back during the night. We were very pleased we had plenty of Police around on the day a 5 ton girder was delivered from the rail depot. There were none of the tall construction cranes then, Cinque Ports Street would have been chaos without Police control (I must record the events of that day some time). Much the same construction team moved on to build Freda Gardham School and were victims of a large weekend robbery. No one was every caught. The Police cannot win every time.

It was very comforting, when as a motor ambulance volunteer driver, I was flashed down in the pitch dark at three am, whilst running to get the Ambulance, we were being well looked after at night. Policemen used to attend our St. John First Aid lectures, so we got to know them very well, some of them joined other organisations and clubs, so altogether they got to know everybody locally and I think they all became very fond of our little town. One of them who had a surname of Constable married a Rye lady and stayed with us even after retirement. At a time like this, all sorts of faces come to mind but I suppose the one I got to know best was Constable Ted Von Det Hyde. I can see him now, a tall man ambling along Cinque Ports Street, when the small wall in front of the car park, was a tall wall guarding a market garden, with a helmet and a cape held together with a large brass lion badge in spite of his formidable look he would wait if he heard footsteps behind him and chat along with who ever it was going in the same direction. In common with all his colleagues he figured that the more he spoke to people the more he knew what was going on and who was who on the beat. He could be humorous without forgetting why he was around, I remember him once at a first aid lecture, when the doctor asked us what we would do when approaching a patient, the voice of Ted came forth, suggesting that we should run through his pockets, this was accompanied by his infections laugh, I’ve chosen Ted as a sample of our 1930s Policeman, but they all had much the same outlook. Even though they stayed with us for several years, there came a time when they were moved on, but they never forgot Rye. I had occasion to go to Lewes in the late Thirties and as I drove through the Village of Laughton, towards Ringmer in my 1934 Austin Seven, a Policeman waved me down, I mentally went through my documents as I wound down the window. In came the face and unmistakable laugh of Constable Von Der Hyde, he said “How is Rye looking”.

Don’t imagine that our 1930s Police were only for show, for when toughness was called for they were up to it alright, when the great storm that took away the Ship Inn and many houses as well as a large chunk of land at Winchelsea Beach, a new sea wall was built and Constable Bilbeam was responsible for law and order in the whole Winchelsea area. He had an army of illiterate navvies to deal with P C Pilbeam was a great person both in stature and character and he was wonderful in the way he kept these powerful navvies in some sort of control in spite of the fact they were getting some white methylated spirit from somewhere and getting drunk on it, there were all sorts of stories going around about how he was man handling four or five of them single handed, but I do know that if you were having trouble with them, the mention of PC Pilbeam calmed them down. I did witness an incident when he had decided that five of them should be arrested, he held them in some sort of control whilst he sent for help, and in due course four of his colleagues turned up with a big black van, one of them was our friend Ted Von Der Hyde. Constable Pilbeam grabbed one of the navvies and frogmarched him to the back of the van, the others followed shouting abuse. So the other four Policeman followed up and as they got close the other four Police picked up a navvy each and threw them in the van and off they went, with lots of noise, to the Rye Police Station cells.

As the upheaval of the 1940s began to settle down to a more normal existence, some colleagues and I were repairing farm cottage in Main Street Peasmarsh, there came into the Village a helmet and cape inside of which was Constable Ivan Cottingham whose company we enjoyed for several years. He walked up and down Main Street twice a day as well as the other village roads. If he came by any of our jobs when we were having our morning break, or our mid day lunch, he would come in, take off his helmet and join in our conversation. This must have greatly helped him in learning about we for whom he was responsible. It seemed to work because there were several youngsters around who had no regard for other people or their property I once said to him “We don’t seem to hear from you with many cases in court” he replied that is was his job to try to keep the peace, not to persecute the public.

We are now drifting into 50s and beyond, so patrol cars were beginning to float around, although we kept our Helmet and cape for a while, and we still have him (now retired) and his wife still with us, in our village he served for eighteen years. Not only did David Evans patrol the village, he lived in a Police house with an Office beside it, and to us it was our little Police Station, form which we could get almost immediate help, for what ever the problem, large or small. I remember one very wet day my wife and I found a small dog, lost, wet and shivering. We took it to our local Police Station, Constable David Evans was not in, but Mrs. Evans was and she took the poor little animal in, and looked after it until its owner did the right thing by going to the local Police Station (cant do that any more) and claiming it. Although retired, Mr. and Mars Evans are still in our village in what was the Police house, and in line with Sussex Police humour, they have named it Peelers Retreat, so although we have grumbled from time to time and will continue to do so no doubt again let us through Dave and his wife thank all those who used to wear the five little birds, and to put our hope and support in those who wear it now through our two new Chiefs Joe Edwards and Geoff Williams.

The Rye Area modern day Police Community Support Officers.

The Rye Area modern day Police Community Support Officers. L to R:- Richard Perchard (responsible for Westfield, Udimore & Brede); Chrissy Locke (Guestling, Fairlight, Pett); Debbie Henkie (Winchelsea, Icklesham) Dione Powell (East Guldeford, Camber, Iden & Peasmarsh) and Dan Bevan (Rye, Playden & Rye Harbour). It was probably Dione that Arthur saw at Peasmarsh inspiring him to write this article.

“Rye’s Own” April 2006

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