Memories of Stoke-on-Trent people - Bill Carr

   

Bill Carr

 

Early Days:

Although most of my life has been spent on Stoke-on-Trent, I was born at Cheadle, just outside the Potteries, in 1922. The 1920s and 1930s were a time of economic depression in England. My home was a small terrace house, whose facilities would  make today's  social security benefits look like the height of luxury. The sole means of heating and lighting was a small coal fire and lighting was by oil lamp, the wick of which had to be constantly trimmed. The toilet was outside and I have vague memories of it being emptied by night soil collectors before a flush toilet was installed. I recall being taken to Harewood Road. Where the J.C.B. factory now stands, to watch the miners outcropping for coal during the 1926 coal strike. 

I attended local schools and spent most of my playtime outside of school, in the nearby fields and woods. Our childhood games consisted of rounders with apiece of wood and a rubber ball, hoop-la, whip and top, Jack shine a light, cigarette flicking and collecting. There were two cinemas in Cheadle I remember seeing the first talking film at the Osbourne, Al Jolson singing Sonny Boy. This film was released in 1929 and probably it was about 1932 when it arrived at Cheadle.  Prior to this silent films were accompanied by a lady on the piano.

In the 1930s Meir Airport opened and we used to walk from Cheadle to see the planes taking off.

I left school at 14 years and went work at a local shop for six months for a weekly wage of 6 shillings (30p). I then went to Thomas Boultons copper works at Froghall.

When war broke out I went a firm in Derby which made webbing. On one occasion when the bus failed to turn up on account of snow, myself and a friend walked all the way to Derby for a ten hour shift

 

Royal Naval Patrol Service:

In February 1942 I joined the Royal Naval Patrol Service, distinguished from the Navy proper by the daily issue of rum being served neat, instead of two parts water (grog). I served in home waters, then in Iceland and the Artic. In 1944 on the way back to England, the boat I was on was sunk halfway across the Atlantic. The crew ere picked up by a whaler and taken to Kirkwall in the Orkneys. The to Weyms Bay at the tip of Scotland, then a two day journey by train to our base at Lowestoft, where we were given two weeks survivors leave Back at base, I sat and passed an exam for Petty Officer and spent the rest of my service at base until I was demobbed in 1946. Between 1946 and 1949 I visited the Potteries quite frequently, never further than Hanley. One of the busiest pubs at this time was the Port Vale, still plenty of sevicemen there including Americans and almost every cinema, of which there plenty, had queues a mile long, you had to wait for someone to come out before you get in.


Stoke-on-Trent City Police:

In February, 1949 I joined the Stoke-on-Trent City Police. After a training period I was  posted to Burslem. A different Police Force than today. The majority of Officers were on foot, on the beats, or specific areas. When you went out at night, there was no contact with anyone, only via public telephone, if you had problems in between, too bad, you were on your own. At Burslem one of the first duties at night, was to the Nile Street Brickworks,  The kilns that had just been emptied and were still warm, were the haunt of the local down and outs, including the best known character, Vincent Riley, of methelated spirits fame. If the kilns were cold, they would light a brazier fire in the middle and close off the vents with  metal sheeting. When this was pulled away and you went in the kiln, it would be filled with acrid smoke, how nobody was ever suffocated I will never know  After 12 months I was moved to Tunstall.

Looking around Tunstall now there are very few businessís still there from 1950. The Modern Stores in Tower Square is one. 
Not there now, but in the 1950í Graham Bourne had a cycle shop at the top of Tower square. Graham used to have regular disputes with the Police over placing his cycles in the roadway. He went on to become the millionaire owner of North Wales Holiday sites. I think Graham passed away at an early age.  

Tunstall Tower Square and Town Hall
Tunstall Tower Square and Town Hall

At this time traffic duty outside the Town Hall was a regular duty, from 4p.m. to 6p.m. each weekday. Not very popular in freezing cold weather, especially since the traffic seemed to sort itself as well, or better without it.  
One night at about 10p.m. I was in the old Police Station in Wesley Street when a man walked in with a dart sticking straight up out of the top of his head. This was a result of playing darts in the Oddfellows Arms at the top of Tower Square. The dart resisted all efforts to remove it and he had to go the N.S.R.I. On the same night shortly afterwards another chap came through the door in a crouching position, obviously in agony.  No wonder, he had come from the public toilets, where he had zipped up his trouser fly too quickly and caught a delicate part of his anatomy in the zip. However there was good news and bad news.  The good news was that their was a Sergeant in the station who headed the Police First Aid team and he soon started to work with a pair of scissors.  The bad news was the Sergeants eyesight was not very good at close quarters and after several howls of anguish from the patient, it was decided to send him to the N.S.R.I.  

Special duties were also a feature of Police work, usually performed on rest days. One of these was at dance halls, keeping out the drunks and troublemakers. Either at the Town Hall or the Mecca in Greengates Street. Also at another dance hall in High Street, which I think was the Scala. Football duty at the New Port Vale ground in Hamil Road, Burslem was a new one at that time. 

At this time. Early fifties, on Sunday everything was closed. nowhere for youngsters to go. This resulted in every town having its Monkey Run. Hundreds of young people of both sexes, walking round and round a proscribed route, in Tunstall it was High Street, Station Road ( the Boulevard) and Hunt Street, where Tunstall Police Station now stands.  It was  the job of the Police to stop them from stopping to converse with each other and blocking the pavement. This did not make the Police very popular. 
Another rather unpleasant duty, which was curtailed upon amalgamation with the county, was the killing of  animals, badly injured in road accidents if the owner could not be found.  Each station carried a humane killer a pistol which , when fired, shot a bolt out into the animals head. Not very humane in the hands of some one inexperienced and most difficult with a cat. These days it is the job of a vet.  

The new Police Station in Hunt Street, was a big improvement on the old one in Wesley Street, which was like a large old terrace house, heated by a very large coal, or sometimes coke, fire in the ground floor mess room. I read somewhere, where it used to a farmhouse at one time, however according to Kellys Directory of Staffordshire of 1884, the Police Office was the situated in Market Street. The same Directory lists a total of fifty two beer houses in Tunstall at that time.

 C.I.D. Department at Burslem:

I later joined the C.I.D. Department at Burslem as detective Constable. This comprised two rooms in the Police Station., but was later transferred to the Station Superintendents vacated house, next to the Station. The house was later demolished.

The City Police was divided into two Divisions, Longton and Stoke South division and Burslem and Tunstall, North. There plenty of senior Officers on duty during the day, but at night there was only one detective constable to cover the whole of the City.

There very few nights that did not entail chasing from one end of the City to the other.

 A typical example was one Saturday night in the mid 1960s. Straight away at 10p.m. a G.B.H (grievous bodily harm) followed half an hour later by an attempted rape. By the time these had been sorted out two hours later a report of a burglary at Fenton. This had a curious twist. The glass in the front door was smashed and the Yale lock released. Nothing much was disturbed as was usually the case, however the householder stated that a large sum of money was missing. Noting that most of the broken glass was on the outside of the door, I was not surprised when the householder admitted that the missing cash was not his, but belonged to a club. It was not long before he admitted staging the burglary to cover up his theft of the money. Whilst returning to the Police Station a report was received of a robbery at a petrol station in Scotia Road, Burslem. Two men clad in balaclavas had burst in the petrol station, threatened the female attendant and stole a considerable amount of cash. A few minutes after the robbery the lady had seen a van go past the petrol station in the direction of Burslem and had been alert enough to note the name of a butcher on the side. Since there was not much traffic about at this time of the morning it seemed a good bet that it was the robbers. The owner of the van was traced and gave the name of an employee who had possession of the van and his address which was a lodging house in Hanley. The van was found outside with the engine still warm. The landlord was roused and upon entering the house, the employee was found sitting in a chair, in the kitchen at the rear of the house, fast asleep, with the balaclava and the stolen cash on a table. After being arrested brought to the station and interviewed, he gave the name of his accomplice who was also arrested and brought in and charged. Before going home , a brief account of these incidents would have to be typed up, copies printed and taken to all the City station for the information of the day staff.

 

I have mentioned special duties for uniformed staff, there was one special duty for the C.I.D which I always enjoyed, which was Uttoxeter racecourse. A handbook of photographs of known pickpockets was issued by the Metropolitian Police, which was available for study. These people travelled around the various racecourses and it was necessary to keep an eye open for them and to deal with any complaints of theft. I managed to get a few bets on myself , but never finished up any better off.

The Police Force has always been a strong supporter of  outside activities. Regular parties and outings were held for the families of Officers and sport was encouraged, football, cricket and snooker, At Burslem we had a good sea fishing  group. John Gibson, Jim Chadwick, Ken Robinson, Ted Hall and  myself, from Burslem together with members from Hanley, travelled to various places around the coast and had some wonderful fishing days.

 

Entrance to Longton Police Station
Entrance to Longton Police Station

 

In 1966 I was promoted to uniform Sergeant and posted to Longton. I stayed there for 12 months, then in 1968, when the City force amalgamated with the County force, I returned to Burslem, as a detective sergeant. It was around this time that the Adulte Ballroom was built on the site of a disused pottery in Waterloo road, where the supermarket now stands. The Adulte was immensely popular for a number of years, drawing thousands of people to the area. It was well supervised and there was very little trouble there.

There are two big differences in the Police of 30/40 years ago and today. They are drugs and firearms. Drugs were previously a minor problem, today they are a major problem. During my time in the C.I.D. there was just one uniformed officer and one C.I.D. officer from each division and subdivision who had firearm training. I was the C.I.D. representative for Burslem for some time. Training was at Lichfield Barracks, with rifle and Walther P36 automatics. After the attack on Princess Ann in London, when the Walther of the Police bodyguard jammed they were withdrawn and changed for revolvers. Today Police armed with assortment of automatic weapons are a common sight on the streets of British cities.

 Retirement from the police force:

In 1977 I finished my Police career, having by this time been posted to Hanley as a uniform Inspector. However I was not  retired for long. One week later I commenced work at H & R Johnsons Tile works at Tunstall as a Personnel Officer. In common with most of the industry Johnson's have been drastically reduced in size. When I started there in 1977 there 4,700 employees and factories all over the City, now I believe there are about 700 employees and one major factory. During my time there, because of the nature of the job I was doing I made contact with a large number of workers in the various factories, many of whom I see today, most of them unfortunately ex employees, some I see at Tunstall Park Bowling club. 

I would like to mention here the current state of the City parks and in particular Tunstall Park 

In the 1950s and 1960s all the parks were a credit to the City, the Floral Hall at Tunstall was the scene of numerous functions, the adjacent greenhouses full of flowers and the backdrop for many wedding photographs. Today there is not a building that has not been vandalised or in one case, burnt to the ground

 

Bill Carr
January 2003