Town hall sees return of the blues

FOR the first time in almost 40 years, a blue light will again shine from over the door on the side of the Ipswich Town Hall, where there will be a police officer on duty again from next month.

FOR the first time in almost 40 years, a blue light will again shine from over the door on the side of the Ipswich Town Hall, where there will be a police officer on duty again from next month.

Building work is currently taking place to convert the area under the town hall in to a new customer service centre, where there will be representatives of the police and local councils to deal with enquiries from May 8.

The door on the side of the Town Hall in Princes Street is about the only reminder there is for most of us of the former Ipswich Borough Police Force's headquarters.

Ipswich once had its own police force and chief constable. Suffolk was served by three forces, West Suffolk, East Suffolk and Ipswich until amalgamation in 1967. The Ipswich police station moved to its present site at the corner of Elm Street and Civic Drive in the same year.

It was a very Victorian atmosphere when you visited the old Ipswich police station at the Town Hall. As you went in the desk sergeant greeted you at a small counter on the right. Opposite was a tiny interview room, the rest of the station was a rabbit warren of cells, offices and a snooker room for off duty policemen and women to relax in.

Reg Shapland of Ipswich recalls how, as small boy, he would be taught a lesson by his father by being taken to the police station for stepping out of line. Reg said: “I was about ten years old when I had my first and only visit to a 'cop shop,' when I found a revolver. It was a real one although there were no bullets. It was near the Princes Street bridge on the riverbank.

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“When I took it home my father was angry and dragged me to the police station. I went through those huge doors and up to the counter where this massive policeman stood behind a thick mahogany counter. Being only ten then all policemen seemed big and old. Now they seem short and young!”

Today there are plans to amalgamate the Suffolk Police Force with others in the region.

Policing as we know it dates back to the 1830s; before that there was a village constable but as towns grew, and with them crime, it was time for a professional force. In 1844 the police force in Ipswich was a superintendent, three sergeants and sixteen policemen. By 1890 there was a chief constable, an inspector, six sergeants, and 50 constables.

In the early Victorian period there were as many as eight forces in the county. By the end of the 19th century there were just three.

The modern technology we see today, was beyond the imagination of the man on the beat a century ago. Only a superintendent was allowed to use the telephone. Most offices walked the beat and a bicycle was subject to inspection if a senior officer visited a station.

Ipswich had a mounted force from 1909 until the mid 1930s. The men were mainly recruited from ex-cavalrymen, many no doubt from the Ipswich Barracks.

Police cars appeared in the 1920s. One of their main uses was to put a stop to the problem of speeding vehicles. In 1928 it was reported that cars had been chased at speeds as high as 27 miles per hour!

Until the 1950s policing was mainly done on foot and cycle. Officers did not have radios and there were police boxes and phones at key points around the town. A passing officer could call the station on a direct line for an update. If the station needed to contact an officer 'urgently' the police box would flash a blue light to attract his attention. An officer also had a whistle to summons help.

It was in the 1960s that more policemen started to patrol in cars. Blue and white Morris Minors “panda cars” became a familiar sight. Two-way radios replaced whistles and police boxes, and the familiar face in the neighbourhood that everybody knew started to disappear.

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What memories of the Ipswich Borough Police Force and the Police Station at the Town Hall do you have? Write to Kindred Spirits, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.

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