Having served in the Navy for sixteen years, at the ripe old age of 32 (ripe for a police recruit) I joined the West Suffolk Constabulary, and for the first two years served as a foot patrol officer in Bury St. Edmunds. At the end of this probation period I was told that I would be kept on in the Force and that I was to be transferred to a country beat, namely Thurlow. It was pointed out to me that the police house there was brand new, and had cost £2,000 to build and that I was to be the first occupant. My wife and I viewed the house and agreed that we should give it a go (not that I had much option). So in April 1954 we moved in. On my second day my Inspector came out from Haverhill and showed me round the “Thurlow Beat” in his car. This consisted of the two Bradleys and the two Thurlows, so the territory stretched from Sipsey Bridge to Wratting Hill, and from Hunts Park to Stradishall R.A.F. Gymnasium. His last words to me on that day were, “There you are, Auckland, it’s all yours; keep it clean and I only want to hear from you if anything serious occurs”. In those days country policemen worked discretionary duties, i.e. working 8 hours a day but split up to cover the needs of your beat. He forgot to tell me that I was available 24 hours a day, even on my one day off, to deal with any enquiries which came to my door; and if I was on patrol my wife would have to deal with callers, both personal and on the telephone.
So I started my life as a “Country Policeman”. My first few weeks were spent mainly patrolling round on my bicycle and getting to know the area and of course “the locals”. This I found very enjoyable, as the people were actually friendly, though as a town policeman I had found rather the opposite. I made a point of getting to know the local celebrities the vicar, the midwife, the postmaster, the schoolmistress, the road sweeper, and of course the local doctors. All these, I found, were fountains of local knowledge which certainly helped me to get to know the remainder of the villagers. As time went by I discovered that I and my family were ourselves becoming part of the village life. My three children had made friends and these often came to our house. In fact I got to know most of the villagers and was known myself as the “policeman with the alsatian” had it been a retriever or a spaniel I am sure it would have gone unnoticed.
I found out that as I became better known the number of callers at my office increased, and not only on police business. My office had become a place where people came to talk over any family difficulties and receive some sympathy, even if I could not always give them professional advice. And when I consulted perhaps the vicar or midwife I found that they too were involved in helping people out, so we all worked together.
In those days the beat policeman had many sides to his duties not only “keeping the peace”, but also such things as sheep dipping, pig licensing, tractor road licences, free licences for sheep dogs; and if he was unfortunate enough to have a case of suspected anthrax, swine fever, or foot and mouth reported to him he was responsible for disposing of the carcass by cremation or burying. Sheep dipping was quite enjoyable because while you watched the animals being dipped there was usually a good supply of liquid refreshment supplied by the farmer. Pig licences could be a nuisance since licences had to be issued from my office and nine times out of ten at a time I was relaxing when they were needed. Road licences for tractors were either free or reduced, according to the road distances covered. The Tax Office would send you the application and you had to confer with the farmer and then measure the distances to be covered. As I only had a 6ft. rule this was normally done from the comfort of the farmer’s car using the mileometer.
There were quite a few local characters that one eventually got to know, and I must say that they all turned out to be friendly. One was Jim, the gardener to Sargents the builders. I remember going to the Cock for a drink one night and sitting in his usual place was Jim. He was in a good mood and was pulling my leg about not seeing much of me round the village. I was too tied up in my garden, he said. I eventually broke into his conversation and said that the next time I passed his house I would call in for a cuppa. “You do that”, he said. It was about two days later when I made a late night visit to Melbourne Bridge at 12 midnight. Cycling back at about 12.40 a.m. and passing Jim’s house, I thought now’s the time. I knocked on his door and after a little delay the light came on in the bedroom and a sleepy voice from the window demanded to know who was there. I shone my torch onto myself and told him I was just passing and would like the cuppa he had so kindly offered. The language went a bit ripe so I left him to it. A couple of nights later in the Cock Jim was in his usual chair and on me going in he went to great lengths to tell everybody there how the Policeman had caught him out. He then bought me a pint.
Another time, my near neighbour Derek asked if I would help him to line up his T.V. aerial. That Sunday afternoon he got a ladder and there was I rather perilously astride his roof turning the aerial and listening to his shouted orders. On looking back towards the police station I saw my wife at the office door talking to my Superintendent, who I presumed was out for a drive with his wife and had decided to call in to sign my books. I could see from the expression on my wife’s face that I was needed so I came down and received a rollicking from the Super who appeared more concerned whether I was insured for such antics than for my safety.
P.C. John Auckland
So my time passed and eventually I was due for a posting, mainly because we had had another addition to the family, making four children, and I had asked about the possibility of a larger house. I was given Clare. When the time came for us to leave the Thurlows both my wife and I went with heavy hearts. We were leaving a place where for seven years we had been very happy, made plenty of friends and met some very fine people.I still return to Thurlow, mainly on Fete days when I meet many old friends those still with us, and I am pleased to say I am still accepted as a “Thurlowite”.
The former Police House, now 114 The Street