First Impressions Of Parish Law - And Rationing (16 February 1973)
Looking at Bletchley’s big new police station at the end of Sherwood Drive I find it hard to believe that I arrived in Bletchley in time to know the last of its long line of parish constables – those lawmen who were appointed in every parish long before regular police were thought of.
He was Mr. Tom Brace and older people will remember him well, for at one time he was the caterer for many local social events and also a shopkeeper in the town for a good many years.
He was no longer functioning as parish constable when I knew him, but I believe he still held the parish baton and had also been an officer both in the “specials” and in the police war reserve.
But he told me there had been times in his lengthy tenure of that office when he certainly had functioned.
In fact, on at least one day he had been the only representative of law and order in the town. This happened when Bletchley’s county police superintendent, sergeant and four constables all went to the annual police sports at Aylesbury and left Mr. Brace “in charge,” splendid man.
I think in his heyday he would have been well able to handle any customer inclined to be obstreperous. He had been a long distance runner and in all weathers he went for a swim at the old bathing station on the Ouzel near Dropshort, but in his old age he was cruelly afflicted with rheumatism. He retired at 80 after police service covering no fewer than 46 years.
He came to mind when I got to thinking about my first day in the town. Like myself and I should think about four-fifths of the people now living here, he was not originally a Bletchley man. He came from Dover in 1895. And this, more or less, is what he told me about his arrival in the town:
“I got off the train at this big, eight-platform station and then went looking for the big eight-platform town to match.
“I walked along the footpath tunnel, then along Bletchley Road (Queensway), then Vicarage Road, then Aylesbury Street and then round the corner by St. Martin’s Church. But then I saw all that stretch of the Watling Street up to Little Brickhill in front of me and was going up that way when somebody told me I had already come through the town.”
My own experience was not quite like that. Many years had passed between. But I appreciated what he said.
I found at least one paddock, cultivated as a war-time allotment, beside the road where the Queensway shopping centre now is and also many houses and cottages whose front gardens came to within a yard or so of the carriageway.
My first impression of Bletchley was the same as I suppose I would have had of any other town at the time – a general air of dilapidation, dowdiness and fatigue following and consequent upon the war.
The signs were all around. There were public air raid shelters alongside the roads. The Watling Street was still socketed for tank traps. Bletchley Park was a prohibited area. Wilton Hall, since much altered and enlarged, had also been built by the government and was known as the assembly hall.
Another prohibited area was the RAF camp which reached all the way from Shenley Road to Home Farm. There was a Women’s Land Army hostel in Church Green Road, etc. etc.
Rationing was more severe than at any time during the conflict itself. Almost nothing useful could be had without dockets, coupons and the like. Shopkeepers must not illuminate their windows. And so on.
But not all was drabness and gloom in that first spring after the war. In the side streets were houses decorated with home-made bunting and banners with messages like “Welcome home, Jack,” and occasionally “Welcome home, Jill.”
And local girls were blithely setting out for the United States as “GI Brides.” I wonder what happened to them all?