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Law and order: Fleetwood police nostalgia and scandal at the market…

It was not long after the demotion of the west side of Victoria Street that the Police station came under the bull-dozers, along with the old prawn shop. The Police station was transferred to a new building in Claremont Terrace behind that monstrosity of a Magistrates court. It may look very nice inside, I haven’t been in to look around, but the outside of the building is absolutely dreadful, and I bet some architect thinks it is the bees’ knees, and who on earth thought of putting it on a prime site on the promenade?

Before the station in Victoria Street came down I went inside to photograph the interior and was struck by the completely Victoria atmosphere of the building, it really should have been preserved as an encapsulated piece of Police history of nearly 100 years ago, and would have fascinated and possibly served as a salutary lesson for today’s youngsters. The bench in the courtroom was a magnificent piece of polished mahogany and had silver fittings on it, silver ink-wells and ornate light fittings which had originally been gas-list and then covered to electricity. There were beautiful curved wood beams in the roof and a narrow winding staircase led to the cells down below, giving a pungent meaning to the phrase: “Take home down, Constable” after an unfavourable sentence had been passed. I don’t suppose many prisoners in the dock surveyed the scene with as much pleasure as I did, though.

The cells themselves were small, and extremely uncomfortable looking and one (kept specially for drunks) had a narrow hard bunk bed which was tilted at an impossible angle. I think many a drunken seamen must have thought he was on a ship with a permanent list to starboard!

Not a lot of people know that Fleetwood is now on its fourth Police station. Even four and a half if you count a temporary period in North Albert Street while repairs and redecorations were being carried out to the main station. The first one was in Flag Street and was, in fact, where the local bobby lived and before they pulled down Flag Street you could see where a window which had been barred was bricked up, presumably the room where prisoners had been held before being taken to court, which in those days was probably in Poulton. When the constabulary was transferred to the County a handsome new station was built in Lord Street on the same side as, and not far from, the Testimonial School, and you can still see the County crest on the wall. But as the town grew and more police were taken on larger premises were needed and the station in Victoria Street was built on the site of the old cattle market and incorporated court-rooms at the back overlooking the “desert” area of the open market.

One of our customers was a bobby who lived near the football ground and one night when he was on night duty and was out on his beat, he began to feel cold and wished he had brought his overcoat with him. Being close to his house he decided to hip home and get his coat, but when he got there he found he had left his keys at the station and, although the house was in darkness and his wife obviously in bed, he thought she would not mind being wakened, so he threw a few small pebbles at the bedroom window and when she opened it and leaned out he called up in a loud whisper so as not to waken the neighbours, “Throw my overcoat down, love, it’s cold out here.” A few minutes later a coat landed on his head and with muttered thanks he put it on and continued on his beat. When he got back to the station for his break, a young colleague looked at him and said, “Congratulations, Tom. I didn’t know you’d got made up to Sergeant!”

When we were making road safety films and training programmes we worked a lot with the police and always found them very dedicated and helpful, tolerating far more from the public than I would have done. Time and again I have been amazed at the amount of aggravation they have put up with and I sometimes wonder if a return to the approach of the old time bobbies, such as that I mentioned a couple of months ago, wouldn’t hurt again for a while (coupled with a bit of good strong parental control, of course). I appreciate that sometimes a heavy handed bobby went a bit too far, but the pendulum seems to have swung too much the other way nowadays, and unfortunately the kids know it, often taunting the police with their ineffectiveness. I, myself, have often complained about the vandalism of the Mount Pavilion at night by youngsters, but as the police say, if they catch the kids what can they do with them? And, of course, the kids know that. As I am writing this the Mount Clock (which is a memorial to the men of Fleetwood who lost their lives in the first world war, men who gave their lives so these youngsters could live) is out of order because it has been vandalised.

However, I digress. We made one safety programme at the request of the police force warning children not to speak to strangers and we wanted a man to play the part of a “stranger” presumably with evil intentions. We had quite a job persuading someone to play this part as no one wanted to, thinking they may be recognised in the street and thought to be a villain who molested children! A local bobby, George Dunn, a charming man dedicated to his family, played one of the main parts and played it very convincingly. Later he took up community work and did a great job. Many of our local bobbies work with handicapped people and youth groups and do a wonderful job under what are often extremely difficult circumstances.

For a long time there were discussions and rumours about what would happen to the old police station of what would be put in its place, but eventually the matter was settled that it would be demolished and the space used for the new market making it, I would think, now one of the largest markets in the north of England. From the customers’ point of view, the new market is very much better, with more attractive stalls and wider aisles and even the outside section looks nicer. But from what I hear not all the stallholders are that enchanted with the change, but there must be pros and cons and they are at the receiving end after all, aren’t they?

At one time when 8mm films were popular, we used to hire out films for customers to show in much the same manner as video films are now hired, but we would never touch “naughty” or pornographic films although we were often asked for them. A customer of ours, and very much a “character”, who was a market smallholder and knew our views on the subject came in the shop one day to hire a screen and projector, saying he had bought in Blackpool – and here he winked and nudged – a film to show his fellow stallholders – men only, of course – in one of the nearby garages. He charged them £1 a head (a lot of money then), and eagerly he carried off the screen and projector for the afternoon’s entertainment. When he brought it back, he slammed the equipment down in disgust, clearly very cross. I asked what was the matter, had they not enjoyed the film? “Enjoyed it?” he exclaimed. “The film started off with one minute of gorgeous dancing girls and then went on to be a Mickey Mouse film for the rest of the half-hour! I nearly got lynched and had to give everyone their money back, and what with the hire of this stuff and the cost of the film I’m very much out of pocket.” And he stamped of in a temper, but I later heard that the wives of the market workers who had paid to see the film fell about laughing!

Every now and then I like to dip into a book I bought some long time ago which was printed in 1851 and, in addition to listing the inhabitants of Fleetwood at that time, it also contains a description of the town which is delightful to read: “The town is laid out with much taste and elegance, and the public buildings, hotels, private residences, and lodging houses are built in a style of grandeur and the convenience scarcely to be surpassed…” (I don’t know if that included Thompsons Lido, otherwise known as the Doss House!) “… Before the railway enters the port of Fleetwood it is carried over the ‘Wyre Water’ or a portion of the bay, by an embankment of stone and immense piles of timber for a distance of about two miles, and at the influx of the tide the trains appear as if to be passing through the sea, a sight by no means unpleasant to the nervous passengers”. And I bet there were a few of those!

Among the residents listed were John Gardner, Barrister; Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell from Manchester (of Cranford fame?); Rev Thos Gibson, Catholic Priest; John Oswald, Head Captain, Harbour Master and Bath Proprietor (bath proprietor?); John Laidley, and Benjamin Whitworth, Gentlemen; James Stott, Station Master; Ambrose Worthington, Lighthouse Keeper.

As there were so few residents I cannot see that a barrister would find much local work but he was probably a wealthy man from Manchester who kept a holiday home here, just as Benjamin Whitworth did. There was a Catholic school in Warren Street with Michael Connor, Master; and there were two boarding schools for ladies, one in Mount Terrace run by the Misses Crompton and Goodier; and the other in Dock Street run by the Misses Warbreck. And they, too, would presumably be for the daughters of wealthy residents. The list of residents and traders is not very long for the population of the town in 1851 was very small, but it makes interesting reading because it included many names which are still known today and even some who are remembered in street names, and some who are probably the ancestors of today’s residents. Incidentally, I did not see any mention of any police officers in the director. Perhaps there were not enough people here then, and perhaps the few who were here were so law abiding, no police were needed. One wonders what prompted them to be needed eventually?

Talking of the police, the camera club each winter had a full programme of visiting lecturers, most of whom were very good, and one speaker we were expecting was an officer of the Liverpool police, who was going to talk to us about crime prevention and accompany his talk with slides he had taken himself. We had heard he was a very competent photographer and good speaker and we were looking forward to hearing him. Unfortunately he arrived late and in apologising, said he couldn’t show us his slides on crime prevention as they had been stolen from his car!

Although the members used to grumble about slide shows and said we had too many of them they were, nevertheless, the best attended nights and a good speaker was always well received and asked to come again. The big firms used to send some excellent lecturers with first class pictures and we usually had full houses for them. One who was very popular was Charles Clarke from Kodak, a first class humorist with some good slides. He usually stood at the front of the room near the screen while the projectionist projected his slides from the back, but because he disliked saying “next slide please” to the projectionist he delightedly came one year with a little from from a Christmas cracker which when pressed, made a clicking sound indicating to the projectionist when to change slides. All went well until one of our members who had been given for Christmas a cigarette lighter which needed the flint flicking, tried to light a cigarette. Unfortunately, he was not used to the action of the lighter and kept flicking it, and the projectionist hearing the constant clicking noise kept changing the slides in rapid succession, leaving both the audience and Charles Clarke in utter confusion! Next time Mr Clarke came he brought a large “No Smoking” sign with him!

First published in Life in Fleetwood issue 15, December 1991.

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