Arresting look back at the last days of Norwich City Police

Norwich police on the beat in St Peter's Street in the late 1950s in this atmospheric picture from o

Norwich police on the beat in St Peter's Street in the late 1950s in this atmospheric picture from our archives. - Credit: Archant

Today the way Norfolk is policed is under the spotlight. Half a century ago it was too, with the dismantling of Norwich City Police. Derek James investigates the end of an era.

December of 1967 was a harsh month with blizzards arriving - and the Norwich City Police going.

There was no official farewell: no parades or blazing publicity aroused by the Watch Committee speeches. Just one ceremony to mark the passing – a service of commemoration at St Peter Mancroft Church.

And that was the finish of the city police which had been formed in 1836. It had been a proud force which served a fine city before falling to a greater force of politics.

Until December 31 1967, the police were special to the City of Norwich. Maintaining law and order, dealing with, at times, an unappreciative society and people racked by poverty, war and civil unrest.

They walked in isolation in a dark city, relying on a stick and whistle, graduating to horses and cycles before motor vehicles came along. They were the original bobbies on the beat.

At the beginning the new policemen in rough-and-tumble Norwich had to be aged between 25 and 50, at least 5ft 6in tall and in good health. They also needed how to look after themselves on the mean streets.

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There were 18 of them, backed up by 32 night watchmen. Constables were paid 15s (75p) a week with 1s (5p) stopped for clothing, despite the fact they had to provide their own trousers.

Issued with a dark blue swallow-tailed coat, a leather top hat, greatcoat, cape, belt, lanthorn (an old word for lantern), truncheon, rattle and handcuffs, they stepped out on to the streets of Norwich. Whistles and notebooks followed later.

They were often attacked, abuse was hauled at them. Hats were tipped off and often thrown into the river... and worse. These were dangerous days.

It was a time of industrial decline. People lived in appalling poverty. Ale was cheap. Vagrancy was rife and disturbances and riots not uncommon. It was reported at the time that a baby had starved to death.

Hanging, transportation and a spell on the treadmill were among punishments handed out by the courts.

There has been many a disaster in Norwich over the years – and one which brought the police and the public closer together was the 1912 floods when the force saved lives and worked non-stop to help the victims washed out of their homes.

And it is extraordinary to think when Chief Constable John Henry Dain, established the Lads Club, the first of its kind in the world 100 years ago, and reached out to the young men of Norwich, juvenile crime was almost wiped out.

Two world wars brought the people and the police closer as Norwich united to fight the enemy and look after each other.

The people were proud of its police officers. And the officers knew their patch like the back of their hand. And who lived in it. The good and the not-so-good.

People still talk about the legendary coppers who walked the beat in the 1950s and 60s. The likes of Basil Kybird, Stan Limmer, Johnnie Johnson, Roy Woodhouse and Maurice Morson.

How many crimes did they prevent before they happened? A wise word and a friendly face.

But times were changing and in 1966 the then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins told Norwich Watch Committee to talk to their neighbours and then announced that Norwich City, Great Yarmouth Borough and the Norfolk Constabulary would become one force.

Alfred Nicholls, Chairman of the Watch Committee, said: 'I take a very dim view of amalgamations.' He called it a 'shotgun union' and 'not in the best interests of the city.'

Writing in his excellent book A Force Remembered, Maurice Morson, who went on to be head of Norfolk CID, said: 'The mood in Norwich, police and public, was not rapturous. Some of its serving officers continued officers continued to speak of a takeover.

'1967 was the year of anticipation, of knowing for certain, of regret and longing for what had gone – and in some cases had no right to come back,' he wrote.

'The greatest loss was undeniably going to be the pride of a force attached to a city, a force in which every member knew every brick and building and raised the flag of local knowledge in every case that came its way,' said Maurice.

He added: 'Preparations for the declared day of January 1 1968 included the winding up of the Sports and Social Club Fund. The proceeds were distributed to members with at least one city officer muttering darkly that they would not fall into the hands of the county.'

The last weekend of the force was testing. In the early hours of the last day, Sunday December 31, 1967, city officers went to Stevenson Road where Manual Gonzalez, a Spanish national, who kept a watch and clock stall on Norwich Market, had been battered to death after a card game dispute. A man was arrested and charged with his murder.

The following day the city force was no more but the Norwich City Police Association is still going strong. We have much to thank them for.

With thanks to Maurice Morson, author of A Force Remembered: The Illustrated History of the Norwich City Police 1836-1967. It was published in 2000 by Breedon Books and is highly recommended.