When I started in the police we were out on patrol for seven hours on each shift. The whole of Exeter was regularly patrolled by a constable on foot or cycle. There were a total of 22 'beats' that had to be learnt before a young 'copper' was sent out on his own.
An 'old sweat' would take you around the beat and show you the important details in the days before Burglar alarms, such things as how you could see the door of the bank safe by peering through the letter box, or the safe in GPO by looking through the design of an elaborate window in Bedford Street. But most important of all he showed you where you could get a cup of tea and a warm up, by visiting some other lonely night worker.
In the early 1960s the City police recruited quite a number of experienced policemen who transferred from other police forces, these men had to be shown around the various beats. One of them was Peter Nordqvist who came to Exeter from the a Division of the Metropolitan Police, where he had 'cut his teeth' patrolling Buckingham Palace, and other attractions at the centre of the Realm. For him it was quite a change to start in Exeter on the Basin beat.
The area around the Quay and the Canal basin was the centre of industry, the Gas Works, Electricity Generation, Timber yards, Willeys Foundry, Thomas's bone rendering plant, Kings Tar Distillery, and etc. Marsh Barton had started to be developed, it was always cold, dank, and miserable in that part of town, but there was one high light on that beat. I had spent the first few hours showing Peter the delights of the industrial area, then I announced it was time to visit the sewage works for a up of tea.
The Drainage and sewerage system at that time had an important outpost in Tan Lane, in the buildings now used for recycling waste paper. At that time the area between the Council Yard and the then Cattle Market (now the retail complex of Argos and Comet Etc ) was allotment gardens, there were then only four or five buildings on the Marsh Barton Estate.
All the drainage for St Thomas had to be pumped up hill to Countess Wear from this site, which was manned around the clock. The operative there had an easy job provided it was not raining. If the weather was inclement he would have to leave his comfortable room and make the occasional inspection to ensure that nothing was blocking a large grid through which all the effluent and drain water had to pass into the pumping machinery. He was equipped with a large rake type weapon to remove any obstacles that may have found their way into the system.
Most people who work shifts around the clock, follow a similar pattern, so we knew all the 'watch keepers' who worked the same pattern as we did, we got to know them quite well. Down at Tan Lane the man who was on duty at the pumping station at the same time as us, was a chap called Dan Gunney. He lived up in Hoopern Street, behind the prison
When Peter and I got down to Tan Lane we found the hut was empty, so I put the kettle on and went to look for Dan – we went round to the grid and found him there struggling with the rake. He told us that his coat had fallen in to the swirling pool of effluent, and he was trying to retrieve it. We could see the coat wrapped around bars on the grid, he was struggling to pull it up against the rushing water, whilst trying to stop it passing through the bars and being pumped off to Countess Wear.
Looking at the coat, Peter said "It won't be a lot of use if you get it out, will it?" and Dan replied, "I am not too bothered about the coat, but my sandwiches are in the pocket!"
Peter Hinchliffe is a retired policeman.
PC Peter Nordqvist helping two lost children.The Electricity Generating Station in Haven Banks during the 1970s.The gasworks from King's Sluice.
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