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Exeter folk and friends in their own words - 1890's to the 1990's │ << Previous story │ Next story >>  │

Peter Hinchliffe - memories of an Exeter police officer

The Bilderberg conference

Dick Cornish was a Magistrate and usually he was easy to find if we needed a warrant signed in a hurry, so we knew him fairly well.

In 1977 the Bilderbergh conference was held at the Imperial Hotel in Torquay, this event takes place every two years, and is a very important meeting of world financial planning, it attracts important figures from both governments and industry. In 1977 it was attended by Henry Kissenger the American politician, David Rockerfeller the New York banker, Joe Hienz, (famous for his 57 varieties), and many others of world stature. The majority of those attending flew into Exeter Airport, there had never been before, or since, so many transatlantic flights arriving there in one day.

At that time I was serving in the police at the airport and ensuring that all these VIP s were passing through without hindrance. There was some government official overseeing the arrangements, at about 5p.m. he came to me and told me of a problem that had arisen and was seeking help.

The Finance minister of Holland who was flying in to the airport shortly had suffered a mishap, his trousers had fallen apart, and their programme meant that he was in some difficulty because that evening there was to be a prestigious dinner which he had to attend with all these world leaders.

In 1977 all shops and businesses closed about 5.30 p.m., there was no chance of getting to a shop that would be open. I suggested that we contact Dick Cornish and see if he would stay open and solve an international crisis. Of course he agreed.

When the plane landed I took the Minister to the shop in North Street, Dick had gone home but had left his oldest and most faithful member of staff to receive us. The Minister soon found a suit that he could wear that evening, he expressed delight with the range and quality on offer, and he chose several additional items, all in all a very nice sale for the shop.

Now came the time to pay, the Minister offered a credit card, in those days Cornish’s did not take cards, nothing so new fangled as that. He next offered a cheque on his Dutch bank, the elderly salesman was not sure about that. I suggested that we ring Dick at home to settle the matter. The salesman was absolutely sure about that, “No”, he said, Mr Cornishd not like that. The Minister had some English currency still in its envelope from the Bureau de change, but not sufficient for all he had selected, so we had to work out which items he could have. The bill settled, I drove him down to Torquay penniless and baffled by the English!!

When I later explained to Dick what had happened, he was somewhat embarrassed.

The Winter of 1962-63

On Christmas Day 1962 I was working the beat around Eastgate in the City Centre during the early evening. The weather was intensely cold, and there was nobody about at all. Very few owned cars so everybody stayed at home. Suddenly there was a very loud bang, but then nothing, there was no indication of what had happened.

At that time the villains still used explosives to attack safes, so I told the station what I had heard. Other policemen had also heard the bang, so we started a hunt for the premises we thought might have been attacked.

I don’t recall how it was discovered, but the cause of the bang had been the property on the corner of Southernhay East and Chichester Mews splitting from top to bottom, caused by a water leak that froze. It ruined Christmas Day for the Fire Brigade and the scaffolders who were called out to shore the building up. The repaired damage is still visible on the building today.

An incident at the newly built Bobbys

From 1960, I lived in New North Road. I was cycling to the Police Station to start a Night Duty. The weather was blowing a gale, with occasional very strong gusts of wind. Bobbys was in the final stages of construction and the large windows had been fitted earlier that day. Just before I reached the shop one of the windows had been blown in or out, by a gust of wind, and there was glass everywhere. As I got up to the shop another window went, as the wind was getting all round them. Eventually all the windows on the New North Road elevation were smashed, and we were ankle deep in glass. I think the builders altered the design and made the windows a little smaller when they replaced them.

The Beatles autographs

Until about 1970 people could hire a uniformed policeman to police almost any occasion, such as a dance, a show, dog race meeting, sale, etc etc. (like the employment of police at football matches)

As a young policeman I was often employed at the Savoy/ABC Cinema when they had musical shows there. Some PC s would be employed in the auditorium whilst others would man the stage door, where you would be pestered by youngsters seeking autographs. The manager was Bob Parker who appears in several of the photos on the site, he was resourceful chap, to help keep the peace around the stage door, he employed someone to save the “stars” the trouble of signing all the autograph books, which the kids sent in. I suspect there are many people in Exeter who wrongly believe that they are in possession of the Beatles, Rolling Stones or Cliff Richard autographs. See Pop Shows

Fire at the Royal Devon and Exeter

There was a dramatic fire at the RD & E when the hospital was in Southernhay, probably during 1966. I believe that it happened on a Monday evening which was the night the Police Choir held its rehearsal, they were all sent post haste to Southernhay.

The area below the Casualty Department suffered a serious blaze, several wards including the Children’s ward, had to be evacuated, there was a general mobilisation of the emergency services, including soldiers from Topsham Barracks. I remember patients in beds with equipment attached, being in the road outside the Hospital, waiting for army lorries to transport them away, I don’t recall where they were taken.

It was the most dramatic fire incident I ever attended in my police service.

Illegal drinking at the Devonport Inn

This well known pub owned by Heavitree Brewery was greatly favoured by Irish workers right up to the mid 1980s when the Licensing laws were relaxed to allow all day opening. For years the police knew that illegal all day drinking went on in the pub, but there was little they could do about it. The rear of the pub is completely surrounded by buildings, so there was no way to see what was happening in the rear lounge.

When time was called at 2p.m. those with a thirst went to the rear lounge to cure it. The front door was locked, no one entered or left until the licensed hours started again, the front of the pub looked all deserted, so they were left in peace. I never recall hearing of any fights or problems happening during the afternoon illicit drinking sessions. Oh happy days!

© 2007 Peter Hinchliffe

Peter Hinchliffe is a retired police officer.

Chichester Mews Chichester Mews - ice during the Christmas of 1962 split the side wall. Peter Hinchliffe thought there had been an explosion. DebenhamsThe windows were blown out of Debenhams.

The fire at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital actually happened on a bitterly cold day in February 1968. It broke out in a roof space above the kitchens, which were situated over the casualty department, and caused a major evacuation. After the fire, a temporary kitchen was set up in the board room for the hospital. For the next three weeks, patients saw a vast improvement in hospital food, as many restaurants and hotels near by were used to prepare their meals.

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