Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Dewsbury bobbies were sporting champions

When I was a young reporter I knew the names of every police officer in Dewsbury – today I don’t know one, and I’m sure most people reading this column would say the same.

Tuesday, 10th December 2013, 11:44 am
FOND MEMORIES Dewsbury Division team at the West Riding Constabulary Sports 1963, winners of the Ward Shield. Standing, left to right, Terry Ely, Colin Van Bellen, Ted Perfect, David Pickover, Craig Palmer, Peter Stacey, Jack Shepherd. Kneeling, left to right, Clive Haynes, Brian Prendergast, John Thornton, David Todd, Tony Ridley, Allan Robinson.

You didn’t have to be a criminal to know the names of your local bobbies because chances are you’d grown up with them.

Police officers are not as visible today as they used to be 50 years ago, and I wonder how many of those based in Dewsbury actually live in the town.

There was a time when local bobbies were expected to live in the town they served, and the council was so keen for this to happen they even built special police houses for them.

There are still enough of us around today who remember when Dewsbury was such an important town and such a thriving metropolis, it actually had two police stations.

The old county borough police force was situated in the town hall, and the old West Riding police headquarters, of which I write today, was in nearby Grove Street.

The court cases they dealt with came from outlying areas like Mirfield, Liversdege, Norristhorpe and Heckmondwike.

As a young reporter, I covered both local police courts three or four times a week, and yes, that is how I learned the names of every police officer in the town.

Regular as clockwork they were they were up there in the witness box nearly every day giving evidence in some case or other.

Just along the corridor from the courtroom of the Dewsbury Borough Court was the chief constable’s office (yes, we did have our own chief constable) and next door to him was the town clerk’s office – and yes we had our own town clerk as well. Oh happy days..

The photographs I am showing on this page are not of Dewsbury Borough police officers, but members of the West Riding Police Force, stationed in Dewsbury.

They were kindly sent in, at my request, by former police officer Tony Ridley, who I am glad to say still lives in Dewsbury.

The reason Tony mentioned these photographs to me was the fact that it is 50 years since the athletics team of the old Dewsbury division of the West Riding Force crowned a golden era by winning, for the third successive year, both the Ward Shield and the Mylechrest Cup in the Force annual sports held at Sandal.

The shield was for the most points gained in track and field events, and the cup was for winning the inter-divisional medley relay race at the same meeting.

In those days the West Riding Force stretched from Rotherham in the South to Sedbergh in the North West, Goole and York in the East and Lancashire and Manchester in the West.

It was made up of some 14 territorial divisions, all of which were represented in the competition .

The athletes of the Dewsbury team were policemen based in the towns around Dewsbury, and were mostly beat officers from Mirfield, Batley, Birstall, Heckmondwike, Cleckheaton and Gomersal.

Dewsbury’s run of success had begun in 1961 when a team of only four athletes – Clive Haynes, John Mansfield (who later transferred to the Norfolk constabulary), Allan Robinson and Tony Ridley – had managed to win both trophies.

John Mansfield also won the Craven Cup at the same meeting for the most points scored by an individual athlete.

Tony remembers those happy days and recalls that by 1963 their track and field athletes were well established both within and outside the force, winning events at the County Hall Sports and in the Yorkshire Woollen District Championships as well as representing the force at regional and national level.

The County Hall competition was for all departments of the old West Riding County Council, and as well as police officers, there were also competitors taking part from groups such as the fire service, architects, education, highways and many more.

Prior to 1962, the West Riding constabulary had competed as one team in the County Hall Sports, but they had become so dominant that from that time onwards each division had to compete in its own right.

The athletes of Dewsbury were again to the fore in their 1963 meeting, providing the winners of the quarter-mile, half-mile and relay races.

In those days all the events, apart from the relays at both the Force and County Hall sports, were run on a handicap basis and most of their competitors had to give a start to the others, making the achievement more noteworthy.

The pictures show the Dewsbury teams with the Ward Shield and Mylchrest Cup as well as with the trophies won at the County hall sports, the Durham Cup won by Brian Prendergast for the half-mile, the Founders Cup won by Tony Ridley for the quarter-mile and the Medical Cup for the 4 x 220 yards relay.

Tony recalled: “Sometime after the 1963 season the rot steadily set in and we only managed to tie the following year with the headquarter’s team for the Ward Shield.

“Thereafter, transfers, age and family commitments all took their toll. Nevertheless, several of those officers who were part of the era still maintain their friendships to the present day.”

I am deeply grateful to Tony for sending me this information and photographs because I don’t think I would have got them but for a chance meeting in Sainsburys. Tony remarked it was just 50 years ago since Dewsbury’s remarkable success. I asked him to send me more details and photographs which he kindly did.

As I keep telling readers, without their input and encouragement, photographs and memories, I wouldn’t be able to write this column, week after week, year after year. So please keep up the good work!