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Remember Beryl on the beat?

PUBLISHED: 12:17 25 November 2010

Former Norwich WPC Beryl Baker receiving a bravery award for rescuing a dog in Sprowston

Former Norwich WPC Beryl Baker receiving a bravery award for rescuing a dog in Sprowston

Archant

Derek James pays tribute to former Norwich WPC Beryl Baker, who has died aged 84.

Picture the scene.

Trouble kicks off in a busy Norwich pub. Then the door opens and a woman stands there. The troublemakers turn to see who it is. Trouble over.

The woman standing in the doorway was Beryl – she was a police officer and one of the best known officers ever to walk the streets of Norwich.

Her full name was Beryl Iris Baker. She was WPC4, and earlier this week it was standing room only at St Faith’s Crematorium when people gathered to pay their last respects to her.

She died this month aged 84.

Many of you reading this will remember Beryl, who lived at Sprowston.

People of all ages and from all walks of life knew her in the city during her 30-year career in the force.

She was a great character, loved by the good and respected by the... not so good.

“She could stop a pub fight by appearing in the doorway, following which the adversaries would break off and respectfully address her as Beryl,” said former colleague Maurice Morson, who went on to become the head of Norfolk CID.

Beryl was born in Norwich in 1926, the eldest of five children. Her dad Frank was a shoemaker. He and his wife Maude lived at Lakenham before moving to Earlham Green Lane.

She won a place at the Blyth Grammar School for Girls and while many of her classmates went into cosy office work when they left school Beryl answered an advert for a farm-hand and headed off to Foulsham for a tough life on the land.

This was the war-torn 1940s and with many men away fighting Beryl took on their work proving she was just as strong as any boy, working with cattle and horses. And later, prisoners of war.

“She started to drive when the farmer asked her to take the wheel one day and that was that.

“She never took a test or had a lesson,” said her dearest friend Daphne.

It was in 1948 when Beryl left the land, where she was paid £1 a week, and got a job with the Norwich City Police Force.

“They were chauvinistic days when policewomen were supposed to know their place within the force.

“She was WPC4. She had to be tough to survive... and she was,” said Maurice.

“It would be a brave policeman who tried to put Beryl in her place, an even braver miscreant,” he recalled.

“She engendered respect from both sides of the law, becoming a familiar figure to the citizens of Norwich, whether through supervising school patrols or sorting the ladies of the night in Rose Lane and King Street – they didn’t argue with Beryl,” said Maurice.

And he added: “She was a pioneer among policewomen and was a forerunner of the changing status of women within the force.”

In 1970 Beryl was honoured by the RSPCA for going into a smoke-filled house at Sprowston and rescuing a labrador dog belonging to the elderly owner.

And it was Beryl’s local knowledge and affinity with people in Norwich which was instrumental in solving a case of a shooting in the 1970s at a petrol station on the ring road. A case which illustrated the value of respect within the community.

Beryl’s companion of 45 years, Daphne Cullington, also served in the force – she was WPC6.

She said: “Although she retired in 1978 so many people still remember and talk about Beryl. She had a real presence. She was a people person.” Beryl was a good darts and table tennis player but after she retired she spent much of her time gardening.

As a gardener she was without peer at growing pelargoniums and fuchsias, winning many competitions.

In the address at her funeral it was said that the pelargoniums stood to attention as she passed!

Beryl was the sister of John, Jean, Alan and Gerald (deceased).

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