Monday, 23 February 2015

Portslade Police Station

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2015) 

copyright © J.Middleton
Portslade Police Station is situated in a handsome civic structure built in 1908 for East Sussex County Council

First Police Station

The Police Station at St Andrew’s Road was not the first Police Station at Portslade. That honour goes to a house in North Street, which for many years was called Buchanan House. It was in use by 1862 and at first was numbered at 44 North Street but was later renumbered to 108. It is interesting to note that East Sussex County Council still owned the property in 1938 when it was vacant, and with war clouds looming, it was thought it might serve as an Air Raid Precaution headquarters. There were cells beneath the building and until the new sewer was installed in the 1990s, they were susceptible to flooding.

A New Police Station

In Edwardian times and for many years afterwards, policing in Portslade was the responsibility of East Sussex Constabulary and court cases were heard at Steyning. In 1908 a new Police Station was built at 67 St Andrew’s Road and was in operation the same year.
copyright © J.Middleton
The cartouche above the doorway displays ESCC in elaborate lettering (standing for East Sussex County Council). 
The word ‘Police’ below, is still visible, but weather worn.
 In January 1910 Portslade Council applied to the Chief Constable of East Sussex to increase the police force by a least two constables. At that time there was one sergeant and three constables, which was considered quite inadequate. During the previous ten years some 425 new houses had been built and the population was estimated to be 7,500. By contrast the parish of Patcham had one superintendent and three constables for a population of only 1,000 people.

It seems the request was successful because by 1917 at Portslade there were Superintendent William Suter and six constables. However, this number might have had something to do with coping with wartime conditions because by 1924 Inspector A, Taylor had to make do with five constables.

Police Constable Harry Peters

Harry Peters, who was aged 98 in 1990, first started his beat around Portslade in 1921.
On 13 November 1933 at 10 p.m. P.C. Peters discovered 80-year old Joseph Bedford in a collapsed state in his little second-hand shop on the corner of Clarence Street and North Street. Bedford was taken to Hove Hospital but he died the next day. At first it was assumed the old man had stumbled and injured himself although P.C. Peters did not go along with this theory. Then came a call from Worthing Police to say they were holding two men who had been acting suspiciously and one had admitted to hitting an old man in Portslade. The men were Frederick William Parker, a 21-year old labourer, and Albert Probert, a 26-year old fitter, and they had been lodging with Mrs Payne at 76 St Andrew’s Road, Portslade, in fact quite close to the Police Station. On 17 December 1933 the celebrated pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury arrived to examine the body and stated the old man had been hit about the head several times. Parker and Probert were found guilty at Lewes Assizes and were hanged at Wandsworth Prison on 4 May 1934.

P.C. Peters also remembered looking after a prisoner called Patrick Mahon who murdered a woman in 1924. Patrick Mahon was a good-looking charmer who committed a gruesome murder in a bungalow at the Crumbles, Pevensey Bay, which both fascinated and repelled the public. His unfortunate victim was Emily Kaye and she was dismembered. Mahon tried to dispose of her body parts in various ways and almost succeeded in getting away with his crime. Sir Bernard Spilsbury was involved in this case too.

On another occasion P.C. Peters helped to arrest two men wanted for murdering a man at Brighton. The men were later hanged for their crime.

Inspector William Hunt

Inspector William Hunt arrived at Portslade in 1937. He had seen service with the Hertfordshire Regiment from 1914 to 1919 before joining the police force. He was stationed at Bexhill and Winchelsea before moving to Portslade.

During the Second World War, Mrs Hunt and their daughter Avril used to take shelter during air-raids in the white-tiled cells situated in the basement of the Police Station and they took their knitting with them to help pass the time.

An extension was built at the back of the Police Station because of fears of a possible gas attack and was to be used as a decontamination chamber in such an event. Instead, the children of police officers were treated now and again to their own film-shows in the extension with the Keystone Cops being particular favourites. Some of the children were not allowed to attend the cinema in North Street because the juvenile audience was considered to be somewhat rough.

At the back of the Police Station there were also stables for the inspector’s horse and carriage, which he used to go about his rounds. There was a large drinking trough but during the war, it was no longer in use for that purpose and Inspector Hunt used it to grow his marrows.

There was a hayloft above the stables with a hoist and legend has it that a boat was built in the loft and when completed, lowered to the ground courtesy of the hoist.

Inspector Hunt retired on 30 November 1947 after completing 27 years with East Sussex Constabulary. He had been in charge of Portslade Police Station for the previous eleven years until the re-organisation of the Sussex police forces in May 1946.

The 1960s

In the 1960s there was still an enclave of police families living in police-owned accommodation on both sides of Portslade Police Station and at 71 and 73 St Andrew’s Road.
 copyright © J.Middleton
71 and 73 St Andrew’s Road were once police-owned properties reserved for serving police officers.
Those were the days when a policeman pounded a regular beat and got to know the people who lived there. The uniform issued then still included a black cloak made of heavy-duty cloth that fastened at the neck with a chain between two black lion heads. This garment weighed a ton, especially after a downpour of rain because it absorbed water like a sponge and took days to dry off. Later on, the issue of a waterproof garment called a Gannex came as something of a relief.    

Full dress uniform included the wearing of a pair of white gloves. Such an occasion occurred on 16 July 1962 when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Hove to reopen a refurbished George Street and open the new Hangleton Library. Police leave was cancelled because they were needed for crowd control. There were such dense crowds in George Street that the royal couple were late for their next appointment. But it was all good humoured and the police linked arms to keep the crowd back. Full details of the royal visit were published in the Press beforehand so that people knew where to go and at what time – how different it is today.

As for the police housing in St Andrew’s Road, this was all sold off during the 1970s although police who had once occupied the properties were given first option to buy their former house if they could afford to do so.
 copyright © J.Middleton
There were other police houses in the red-brick terrace.

Will the Police Station be Saved?

In 2013 there were plans to redevelop the Police Station into a residential unit, which were passed by Brighton & Hove City Council. But Portslade residents were unhappy at the decision and soon a campaign to save this unique piece of local history was gathering strength. A petition in favour of preserving the Police Station gained 172 signatures and was used to press Portslade’s case to the Council.

In March 2014 Amanda Jane Scales, who spearheaded the campaign, was pleased when at last a meeting was arranged between her and Jason Kitcat, Council Leader and member of the Green Party. But Mr Kitkat loftily dismissed her arguments in a matter of seconds and left her furious. She said ‘I’m outraged and broken-hearted to be dismissed like that.’

It seemed like the end of the road but then Brighton & Hove Heritage Commission took an interest in the old Police Station. In February 2015 the Commission commented that the 2013 decision was ‘flawed’ because it would benefit just one person whereas if a community centre could be established in the premises, it would benefit many people.

Although the building was in a poor state, many original features remained such as the white-tiled cells for prisoners, fireplaces and cupboards and windows fitted with bars.

Roger Amerena, Heritage Commissioner, said ‘The Police Station is unusual. There are only half a dozen 1940s wartime decontamination units in the country so it would be good if this one is used rather than demolished.’ He also remarked that while the community was well served with museums from Rottingdean to Hove, such cultural institutions stopped short at the Portslade border.

Conservative Group Leader, Councillor Geoffrey Theobald, said ‘I have always supported this project, and when I was asked to put it to the Policy & Resources Committee … I didn’t hesitate. There is no similar heritage building or museum to showcase Portslade, parts of which are centuries old, and if this opportunity is lost I can’t see anything similar coming up again.’ He wants the Council to give the Commission six months grace to produce a proper business plan. 

The Police Station was the subject of more debate at a council meeting held on 14 February 2015. Jason Kitcat and Bill Randall (housing committee chairman) were keen for conversion work to housing use to start as soon as possible, especially since it had taken all of two years to obtain planning permission. But Councillor Theobald, supported by Portslade councillors Alan Robins, Les Hamilton and Penny Gilbey, wanted a six-month delay in order for a full business plan to be produced for the heritage site. 

However, under committee rules, only council officers could provide a new report, which must be submitted within a month. Councillor Kitkat commented there was no council funding available for the project, either for refurbishment or for annual running costs. Councillor Randall said, ‘If it is a choice between heritage and housing, I have to come down on the side of housing.’

It remains to be seen what will happen. Unfortunately, the timing could not be worse with severe cuts threatened in Council spending and forthcoming elections in May. But many Portslade residents complain that while the Council is efficient in making sure rates are paid on time, hardly any revenue seems to come back to Portslade. 

Sources

Argus 22/3/2014  28/3/2014  11/2/2015  16/2/2015
Briffett, David Sussex Murders (1990)
Brighton & Hove Gazette
Directories
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Recollections of the late Avril Hunt
The Keep – DO/A35/6 Portslade Urban District Council Minutes

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
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