Liverpool City Police

A Young Coppers Tale By Shaun rothwell ret.

A Young Copper's Tale

In the 19th century Liverpool was a major seaport and second in the Empire only to London. The 7 miles of continuous docks brought considerable affluence to the city. Affluence to the extent of arrogance. The city's Saint George’s Hall has huge gilt doors bearing the city’s symbol the ‘Liver Bird’ below which is a plaque with the letters SPQL, the ‘Senate and People of Liverpool’. If the city had illusions of Rome then its Praetorian Guard was the Liverpool City Police. Each Sunday the Lord Mayor would be driven in the horse drawn coach to one of the city's churches escorted by members of the police mounted department in their ceremonial dress. One of the oldest provincial police mounted departments in the country.

In August 1919 Liverpool was subject to a police strike. 954 officers of a total of 1700 refused duty and were dismissed. As a consequence the only locally bred officers amongst the replacement and future officers were the sons of those officers who had not gone on strike.

Young Albert came from the Lancashire cotton-town of Bolton. The only part of the city he knew was the city centre so when he was asked where we wanted to be posted he asked to be posted to A Division; that covered the City Centre. Some years before the Head Constable had decreed that the officers who covered A Division should be over six foot tall. Thereby giving the impression to the traveller and visitors to the city that its police "were a fine body of men".

Unfortunately at 5ft 10inches Albert was ineligible serve in A Division. Though Liverpool was a major seaport with an industrial conurbation. Within its boundaries there were idylls of tranquillity; villages such as Wavertree, West Derby and Woolton that had become part of Liverpool as the city boundary was extended. Albert asked advice of the Training Depot staff one of whom suggested a posting to him. A place called Scotland where even the local Bridewell had the name Rose Hill. Albert was led to believe this area was like one of the villages previously mentioned.

In reality he was being directed towards D Division, the Forces smallest. It covered the Scotland Road area just north of the city centre and was the heart of the Irish community. With a pub on every corner the length of Scotland Road it had a justified reputation for heavy drinking. It was one of the roughest and toughest parts of the city and it was not unusual for a constable to find himself fighting for his title most Saturday nights. Whether he won or lost, the fact that he had fought his corner earned him considerable respect with the community.

Sadly young Albert fell for the ruse and found himself as Constable 97D parading at Rose Hill Bridewell or Spike Island. His section sergeant, rather small in stature, was very unpopular with members of his section as they felt he lacked backbone. The majority of the section were extremely wise old ‘bobbies’. The sergeant had a particular dislike for young officers and made their professional lives as difficult as possible.

As the last constable on the section Albert was the extra. He would be the one who covered a beat where the regular beat PC was either on rest day, annual leave or sick. One of the first beats he covered was the Stanley Dock Tobacco warehouse on Regent Road, the world’s largest. It was late 1938 and once again the British mainland was being disturbed by the activities of the IRA. Despite the population being mainly of Irish descent Liverpool was a target for the paramilitaries.

Stanley Dock Tobacco warehouse was identified as a serious target for destruction. Officers patrolling this area were issued with a firearm; a First World War Webley revolver. Albert, who had never seen a gun let alone fired one, was given an unloaded gun with the bullets inside a matchbox. One of the officers with a bit of experience of firearms thought they had been given the wrong ammunition. They checked it and saw that bullets just fell through the chambers. Somewhere in the city, though, the right ammunition was given with the right gun because one casualty was a constable shot in the backside.

Albert's section sergeant had an obsessive hatred of one other member of the section, a Scotsman who, at six foot seven with considerable years of experience of policing, was an ideal candidate for A Division however he lacked subtlety and tact.

These were the days before personal radio and the only communication between officers was by whistle, lamp or signalling stick. The sergeant's duty was to visit every PC in his section sometime during the watch. Each individual officer had to be at a particular point on his beat at a particular time. This was known as a conference point or locally ‘a peg’. If the officer was not at the point a sergeant would use his stick to strike the flagstone. In the night air the sound would carry and the officer would respond by blowing his whistle to say "I’m on my way". When the constable arrived at the point he would have to explain why he was late. It was in the Sergeants gift to report the lateness and disciplinary action could follow.

On this particular night our Scottish officer was late for the point. He was known to be a man who liked the occasional drink. He could hear the sergeant's stick striking the flags and he responded with a whistle-blow. He arrived to point to find the sergeant who could not contain his excitement because now he had the opportunity to ‘paper’ our Scottish officer.

The constable gave the formal greeting "All correct Sergeant".

"You’re late. LATE!" the Sergeant responded.

The sergeant proceeded to berate the constable who paid no attention and just stared at the sergeant's feet. After a moment or so the sergeant realised that the constable was not listening to him. "Are you listening? Ay, are you listening?"

The constable pointed to the sergeant’s feet. “It’s the flag, you broke it hammering it with your stick.”

The stone flag was indeed broken and all could be heard was the muttering from the sergeant "I didn’t. I didn’t …"

The constable then went on to say "It was okay when I passed here half an hour ago". The sergeant continued to protest his innocence whilst becoming more and more agitated. The constable responded by saying "I’ll have to put a report in about this and tell them what I know about it."

Liverpool City Police had a particular form to report damage to Corporation property and as the sergeant was now worried about his future, he replied to the constable, "To your duties" and walked quickly away …

The PC was very lucky. As the Sergeant was short stature, he was unable catch the full extent of the officer’s ‘Best Bitter’ breath.

Our Scottish constable was well-known to the community in Scotland Road who knew him to be a fair man. Whilst walking his beat one evening he found a man lying drunk on the pavement. He knew this man as being hard-working who sadly, on occasion, would drink to excess. If arrested the man would stay in custody to the morning Court. In those days the shops had no need of metal shutters with many just having a wooden gateway over the entrance. The constable lifted the hapless drunk over the gate. He was safer there and the PC could keep an eye on him whilst he walked his beat. After a few hours the man would climb out from behind the gate. It meant he would not be waiting in a police cell for a mid-morning Court appearance and more importantly would not lose his job as he would be there for an early morning start.

This type of policing was appreciated by the local community.

In September 1939 with the outbreak of war, Albert volunteered for service with Royal Navy. He was rejected due to a serious illness he had as a child. His best friend and colleague Ralph Darlington was accepted into the Army as was his friend Billy Herrington who was a Navigator with the RAF. Vacancies caused by officers going to the Services were covered by the Police War Reserve. Men would serve as Police Officers for the duration of the war.

The Blitz of Liverpool saw Hitler's Luftwaffe attempting to level the port and the city. The primary target was the docks. Police had a pivotal role to play in these events playing out before them. The Local Fire Brigade was H Division of the Liverpool City Police and was supplemented by the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS). The police coordinated and trained Air Raid Precautions, (ARP), Wardens. The ARP aim was to protect civilians from the danger of air-raids. Organised on a national basis with the local authorities, normally through the Chief Constable, dealing with the day to day operations.

D Division being adjacent to the Docks saw the full horror of the bombing. A constable once said that dealing with a bombing was like dealing with a traffic accident but on the larger scale. It was the civilian population that felt the full brunt of the bombing. In one incident, in December 1940, 200 people perished when the air raid shelter at Blackstock Gardens received a direct hit. It was the responsibility of the police to make the area safe; organise initial rescue until the arrival of the Heavy Rescue Team. Then to record every grisly detail on a "Bomb Incident Log"

Liverpool was a city beset by sectarianism. The Orange and the Green, Protestant v Roman Catholic. It didn't take much for either side to argue and then fight with the other and young Albert was about to find himself embroiled in a piece of sectarian theatre.

The ARP was based around the various police divisions. Though they worked from different bases to the police. In B Division there was 22 year old female called Paddy or Patsy. It was her role to drive around the Division to see where bombs had dropped and call in for various services as required. Though Patsy worked B Division her home was among the many streets off Scotland Road where she lived with her Irish catholic parents. Her mother and father were the backbone of St Brigid's Parish near Bevington Bush.

Patsy’s mother, Sarah, was old school Catholic Irish. Heart was big as a bucket when it came to helping those down on their luck. Whilst never forgetting the injustice suffered by her ancestors at the hands of the British. Her Father, Richard, was more Irish than Sarah. But was much more tolerant of events of the past. He had served in the Liverpool Kings Regiment throughout the Great War. As a former Barnardo’s Boy he was a kindred spirit towards those less fortunate than him. He could always be called upon to help with various charity work.

Patsy and her Mother saw Albert one cold wet afternoon whilst he was walking his beat somewhere near to Mile End. Her mother commented that he looked like a miserable soul. Within a few weeks Albert and Patsy were meeting socially on a regular basis. Sarah was the unofficial matriarch of the local community and it was not long before she became aware that Patsy was ‘walking out’ with a Protestant. She made her displeasure known. Albert found out and he said he was prepared to turn to Catholicism. Sarah’s response was that "He needn’t bother, there are enough good Catholic boys already." Richard through his charitable work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Police Aided Clothing was friends with police officers of all ranks many of whom worked at Rose Hill. He was told that Albert, though a Protestant, wasn't ‘a bad lad’. At least Richard was prepared to speak to Albert. Albert and Patsy continued their relationship.

In May 1943 Albert and Patsy were married in Bolton. Patsy had run away to be married; no one from her family went to the wedding. The question often asked … well … their first child was born in 1946. It took quite a few years for Patsy's family to accept Albert or the marriage. Even then there were those who turned their back on Patsy as she had married outside her faith. In the late 1950s Patsy, who now had three children, went to the funeral for one of her aunts. At the cemetery Patsy and her children were met by one of her cousins who introduced Patsy by her maiden name and then pointed out her three children leaving the other relatives to believe Albert and Patsy’s children were "little bar stewards".

In June 1943 Albert heard the news that his friend Billy Herrington had been killed in action over the North Sea. This news was to have a profound effect on Albert. A feeling that would haunt Albert through his career. As hostilities ended the ranks of the force returned to their pre-war numbers. The War Reserve was disbanded as officers returned and new ones joined.

Many people in Liverpool and the surrounding area were affected by the war. Patsy's family was no exception. Patsy's cousin Ann Spencer was lost in The Blitz when her house took a direct hit. Patsy's cousin John was killed in the Mediterranean whilst serving with the Royal Navy. Two of her cousins were torpedoed, though survived, whilst serving with the Merchant Navy. Finally retuning home after a nights duty she found only half her parents’ home still standing. The other half had been destroyed by enemy action. Thankfully her mother was in a local Air Raid Shelter and her father was fire-watching.

Over the years Albert would train and mentor many officers some of whom would later became ACCs and Chief Superintendents. His former Inspector became the Chief Constable of Liverpool and would often say "Take the exam and I’ll promote you." but Albert only took the, (promotion), exam once and failed by a couple of marks. Whilst his friends and colleagues climbed up the ranks he was happy with his lot as a uniformed constable. He became the wise old Bobby that other officers would often seek out for advice, help or support.

Albert retired from The Job in 1967 though he never drew his Old Age Pension, dying in November 1977 one month before his 65th Birthday and sadly never seeing the success his children achieved in their careers and lives.

His eldest daughter became a senior Stewardess with one of the UK major airlines. The younger daughter was a highly qualified Nursing Sister. The youngest and only son followed Albert footsteps into the police.

Patsy survived Albert by another 24 years dying 11 months before her son and youngest child retired as an Inspector in Merseyside Police.

To Albert and Patsy. R.I.P.

Shaun Rothwell
August 2013

Constable_Albert Rothwell - click to enlarge
Albert Rothwell - Click to enlarge

Constable Albert Rothwell is 4th from the right on the 1st row from the bottom standing up.

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