I’ve lived in Cranleigh since 1974 but I’m a London boy, born in Streatham. There was a King on the throne when I was born 67 years ago. My family lived around South London for most of my childhood, first in Orpington and then we moved to Croydon. I came here as a policeman having worked in Guildford and Woking before that. The first duty I did in Cranleigh was Cranleigh Bonfire night that year, 1974.
I was impressed as a very young boy after an incident with a friend of mine. It was a strange occurrence really. At the age of about 7 or 8 my friend and I shinned over a wall into a back garden near where we lived. We knew there were apple trees there. We were gaily collecting and munching these apples when I became aware there was somebody on the other side of the fence. I didn’t know who it was so I crept along the fence and managed to peer over the top and I could see a policeman’s helmet.
I said to my friend, “Right if we sit quietly he’ll go away”. We sat there for about 20 minutes or so and then a voice said, “I’m still here! Come on lads out you come.” So we jumped over the fence very sheepishly and there was this policeman and he had the biggest grin I’ve ever seen and he said to us, “You didn’t think I’d wait this long did you?” And we had to agree. So he asked what we had taken and we showed him some apples. He simply said, ”Don’t ever do it again. If I see you around here again I’ll want to know what you’re doing. My name is PC Cooper and you can be sure when you next see me, I’ll be checking on you.” Thankfully he let us go. He didn’t even bother to go round to see my mum and dad. I thought what a fair and nice bloke he was and the police went up in my estimation. My mum had always teased us by saying, “If you don’t behave I’ll fetch a policeman.” which I know many parents say. It conjured up this image in my mind but my first encounter with PC Cooper changed that.
At the seaside age 5
Years and years later I decided that I wanted to be a ‘PC Cooper’ and that’s why I joined Surrey Police in 1970.
Initially my training in the police force started with 13 weeks at Sandgate near Folkestone. It was all ‘short hair and shiny boots’. I wasn’t married then, I was engaged to the lovely Sue. I Passed Out, finished my training in the June and was posted to Woking. I remember on my first day on the beat I dealt with a sudden death in a road traffic accident.
While at Woking, we got married in December 1970. We had a flat in Maybury and during that time all sorts of things happened to me at work. We went on to have three children, two boys and one girl. The first was born while I was still at Guildford and the other two were born here in Cranleigh. So they’re village kids. They’re grown up now, one is married, one is in a relationship and the other works in the aircraft electronics industry.
When I transferred to Guildford, being 6’3” they used to put me on the High Street or North Street especially on a Friday or Saturday if I was on lates or nights because I could sort the drunks out. After I’d done that for several years I decided I wanted to be a rural policeman. I went to see my Inspector and he agreed promising to sort a move out for me. A few months later he suggested I looked at a house in Cranleigh which we did and we really liked it. I agreed to take a job at Cranleigh arriving here in time for my first duty of Cranleigh Bonfire at the beginning of November. I was on duty with a Sergeant and one Special, just three of us. There were about 4,000 to 5,000 people there that night. It wasn’t as big an event as it is now.
My first mode of transport Photo – © Terry Fincher
I was stationed at the local ‘Police Office’ – to give it it’s correct title – on the Green in Horsham Road. We only opened four hours a day and then I was out on the beat. I was either on the High Street, on my bike or in the patrol car depending on what the Sergeant had in store for me.
I worked eight hour shifts. We used to work nights, lates and earlies. If we had anybody spare they would do 8-4pm covering the High Street. I liked walking up and down the High Street. People liked me. It was probably the last remnant of what I call ‘proper policing’, where you would walk around and people stopped and chatted and you went in and around the shops and were generally about the place. And people knew you and you were their policeman. I can remember people saying that to me ‘You’re our policeman.’
I used to have a saying for the local roughs in the village, “If you see me coming across the street I wanna know what you’re doing and where you’re going.’” There are people who see me now, fathers and grandfathers I spot in the village and they say “Even now when I see you down the village I still want to avoid you and cross the road!!” My affect on them has lasted that long.
There was no radio contact then. We used to joke about it – ‘men could talk to a man on the moon but Cranleigh Police couldn’t talk to Godalming!’ In the police car you could be in touch because it had a Force Radio that went through to Mount Brown. Otherwise we would stand outside the telephone boxes which were called ‘points’ and if Godalming wanted us they would phone at a certain time to a certain point.
People think in rural locations there’s not much crime but it was amazing quite how much crime was going on. One of the incidents I got a commendation for locally was when there were a lot of barn fires going on all around the village. I got a bit suspicious because the pattern seemed to lend itself to being somebody who a) liked fires and b) liked going to them. So naturally my brain being as devious as it was I thought it would probably be a fireman. There was one honest looking man I spotted in particular. For about 9 months I just steadily kept noting and jotting down bits of information about this chap. Then he left the village and moved away and the fires stopped. But he subsequently moved back and the fires started again which confirmed my suspicion.
The old Police Station in the Horsham Road
One night a skip was set on fire outside Key Markets in the High Street, as it was known then. (It’s now Sainsburys). I saw his car pull out of Knowle Lane and promptly put in a 999 call because of the skip fire. The Fire Appliance turned up quickly and he was in it – I arrested him on the spot! That whole case took me 18 months to gather all the information together. He went to Court and it was all dealt with accordingly and I got a commendation from the Chief Constable for that.
The saddest thing police get involved in are obviously sudden deaths. That’s the down side of the job when you had to be Coroner’s Officer and deal with relatives and you are the one who knocks on a door to announce tragic news. I’ve had to do it when somebody had been killed in an accident and the Chief asked me to go and tell the family. I had a woman absolutely scream at me, “He’s not dead, he’s still alive!” And I had to say “I’m sorry he’s not. Let’s shut the door and put the kettle on and talk about it.” Those kind of things were hard. It’s hard even now just thinking about it but it had to be done. It’s the way the job works, you had to do it that way. There is just no nice way to tell someone their husband has been killed in a road accident.
I’ll tell you a funny story – I was on the job of checking unoccupied houses which we used to do in those days when people were away on holiday or for some reason. We would go round these houses and check everything was in order. I was sitting on the swing of a house in Avenue Road and eating an apple when the curtains flew back and it turned out the owners had come home early and there’s me sitting on their swing eating their apple! The chap flew downstairs and said, “Come on – in!” and I wondered where it was going. But then he said, “What do you want? Tea or coffee?” Fortunately he saw the funny side of it even though I got caught scrumping apples again!
Class Course Number 255. April-July 1970
One of the strangest events was one New Year’s Day. I stopped a suspicious looking car on the A281. It had CD plates on and was traveling very slowly near Dunsfold Aerodrome. I was in the patrol car and thought I would stop the driver. Well the bloke refused to roll down the window. He wouldn’t tell me who he was or what he was about. Then all sorts of bells and whistles started flashing at Head Quarters and they said, “That vehicle belongs to the Russian Trade delegation. On no account must you stop it’” I said, ‘It’s too late now, I’ve done it.” I said to the driver, “You are not leaving here until you either give me more information or you are under arrest. I’m not arguing with you, if you’re going to be awkward I’ll arrest you for obstruction.” So he did cooperate and sort of mellowed after a bit. He gave me a name like ‘Oleg Polescky’ or something like that and it turned out when Head Quarters checked that he was a Colonel in the KGB. At which point I simply said “O! Ok” and waved him on. I was writing for weeks about that because obviously Special Branch and the Metropolitan Police wanted to know every single detail about the incident, the car, did he have a camera, his identity etc. That was one of my more unusual ones.
Of all my experiences I would say the one that sticks out in my mind was the fireman because it took me so long to get him.
When I was a PC on the beat there weren’t so many cars around, the High Street was very quiet at night. It was a sure thing if I was in the High Street working nights at 2 o’clock in the morning and something drove down I’d stop it because you just didn’t see that many cars in the early hours. We used to cover the whole of Cranleigh and Shere, which was probably 80 square miles. So anything that moved within that area was fair game, and you stopped it. I had one bit of luck at Peaslake when I was driving past Dobbes nurseries and I spotted a torch light in the darkness. I abruptly stopped my car and legged it around the back and waited there. I caught this bloke around at the rear of the premises. He was ‘doing the till’. I warned him, “No funny stuff. You just put the bank to rights.” I could hear the money jangling in his pocket. And to my surprise he was as good as gold and did just that. You just know in the darkness of the night if you discover someone in such a remote location – they’re up to something.
Glebelands School cycling Proficiency and Road Safety lectures in the 70’s Photo – © Terry Fincher
I never let fear hinder me that a guy might have a crow bar and my life might be in danger. Although you’re never quite sure how its going to turn out which gives you the element of adrenaline rush until its over. You always had it in the back of your mind that you would do what was necessary in order to arrest that person. I’ve never ever used my truncheon but I’ve had to offer physical violence because there was physical violence coming from them. The teaching at training school was that you could offer physical violence if you are threatened or in danger but don’t go over the top.
I can remember a bloke broke down in the High Street at 9.30pm at night. Standing there with his bonnet up and I drove passed and asked, “You alright mate?” and he explained his car had stopped and he was trying to work out why. I said I’d have a look and spotted his points had closed. In those days you could actually change the points. I used to smoke so I tore a piece off a cigarette packet in my pocket and put it down between the contacts and pulled it up with a penknife promptly fixing the problem and he drove off. I went back to the police station and three days later in my pigeonhole was a bottle of Scotch. My sergeant said to me a bloke had just handed a note in. It said ‘From your distressed motorist in the High Street, thanks very much I owe you this.’ How nice of him, what a good sort.
There was a certain famous rock star who lived in the village who had a guitar stolen. We recovered the instrument and it had gone round our office and everyone was playing on it, ‘Viva Espania!’ and so on. It was my job to go to his house to return it to him. As I gave it to him I said, “That’s worth a few bob.” It was a Fender Stratocaster. He took it and he played it then said, “Somebody’s played this.” My Sergeant was with me and we exchanged glances. We had to acknowledge we’d all had a go. And my sergeant announced, “He used to knock about in a band” which rather took me back and I explained it was only very amateurish and not for very long. I used to play drums. He said,”Right come on then through here”. We went into his living room where he had this drum set and all around the room he had these guitars . He suggested a song I could play to which I agreed to have a go. There was a big Marshall amp in the corner and he plugged his guitar in and said “Off we go then!” And off we went, him on guitar, me on drums. I’ll never forget it – jamming with the rich and famous. It was good fun.
June 1975 – “The Photo of the Year” – taken at Shamley Green and showing the Force as a modern up to date organisation. This photo has appeared in over 100 English speaking newspapers throughout the world and in many foreign publications. Photo – Terry Fincher FRPS Photographers International.
People are far more aware these days of the different faces of terrorism that raises its head in all parts of the UK. But when I was working we were coping with terrible attacks too from the IRA. There were the Guildford bombings as well as incidents in Aldershot and Caterham, all right on our doorstep.
I wasn’t on duty the day of the Guildford bombings but I went in the next day. I was standing outside the Seven Stars in Swan Lane which was all propped up because obviously the explosion had damaged the building. As I was standing there an old boy walked passed with a scruffy little dog and he said to me “Oi! Is it open mate?” And I told him it certainly was not. He said, “During the war it didn’t matter if it looked like that or not we could still get a beer.” So out of the misery of terrorism there was still a bit of humour lurking. That really wasn’t a nice period of time then.
I am a practicing christian but I didn’t let that affect my work. You can’t become involved in your faith in the job. You have to work each day and deal with the job as it is. You’re dealing with murderers, thieves, all the kinds of people the text says you can’t be. If you dealt with it as a christian you’d never go to work because what it does is it makes you realise how imperfect this world is. Balanced with the tough, sad times there are always the happy times. It’s a mixture of bitter sweet. Policing always is. There are high bits and low bits and you have to take each day as it comes.
When I was in CID in the middle of the night the telephone would go, “Hello it’s Godalming. We’ve had a stabbing at Haslemere.” So I’d dash out and deal with that, then head to the CID Office and wouldn’t leave until the incident was dealt with. There were many days like that. But then I remember the fun side of it – at the end of the week in the CID Office, we’d have ‘Cock up of the week’. On a Friday afternoon whoever had made the biggest one that week would get a bottle of Scotch out of his drawer. It was like the Sweeney. John Thaw got it just about right! Sitting there saying “You’re nicked”. That was 1970’s policing.
Shot with a BB gun whilst on my bike, you can just spot the hole. Note the window bars in the background of the picture – we had 3 cells in Cranleigh Photo – © Terry Fincher
I made the choice to retire early after I’d be on the riots in Leicester. Following that I’d been on a Senior Constables’ course. In one session the Chief Inspector said “If a hooligan throws a Molotov Cocktail at you, you have to ask yourself the question – why?” My mate looked at me and I looked at him and I said, “I wouldn’t even attempt to ask that question. He’d be nicked before I’d even thought about it”. So I sensed a shift that the job was going a bit soft. I know there are social problems and I do understand that as policemen we’re supposed to be tolerant of social deprivation. But what was happening was they were taking away what I would call the ‘Ways and Means Act’. In my time when you went out, if you saw something that was wrong you acted and did something about it. Policing was changing more and more so that it was all coming out of books and you were for ever sitting there doing paperwork which got bigger and bigger and bigger. It wasn’t the job that I’d joined so I took early retirement and went into Management. I think I had the last best days of policing. Nowadays it’s much more technical. It’s not so high profile. You’re not seen as much. The priorities have shifted. It’s almost run like a business nowadays.
Cranleigh hasn’t got a Police Station anymore it’s now a private house. The Police Officers operate out of the Leisure Centre and they have to go to Guildford to sort of book on and it’s totally different now.
I was able to be involved in the Community at many levels. I really used to enjoy talking to the local children as the School Liason Officer. I would go into the schools and talk to the kids at different times of the year. I’d do one session about school summer holidays and not going into water, not going into sandpits and all that sort of stuff. Then I’d do another session in October about fireworks. These were little 6-8 years olds and 8-10 year olds. The little ones would ask questions like “Have you ever killed anybody? Have you got a truncheon? Have you got any handcuffs? Can I play with your radio?” It was magic because of the innocence of childhood and I carry that onto this day. Yes I guess it started with PC Cooper when I was young – he’s got a lot to answer for!
This is where the local Police officers station their vehicles outside Cranleigh Leisure Centre where they have the use of this lock up