By Len A.Hynds

East Street Market

Almost opposite my station in South London was a street market, busy all the week, but extremely busy on Sunday mornings. It was called East Street Market, and was on a par with the more famous Petticoat Lane, to the north of us, on the edge of the 'City'. Both places were where something could be stolen from you as you entered, only to find it on sale at the far end.

There were always four PCs posted along the length of the market, each covering about four junctions or side streets, where the unlicensed street traders would try to operate. We had to keep these junctions clear for emergency vehicles, but also I suspect as a sop for the licensed traders who had paid for their site, and had probably complained to the council.

This was my very first Sunday morning on duty in the market, and I had about 100 yards, at the very centre containing various side roads. It was packed with people, and as I went from one junction to the next moving these barrow boys on, so those behind would just step back into place. Each barrow boy would have at least two look-outs who followed me doggedly. I didn't mind them moving back and selling more, as it was an impossible task, and so long as they moved when they saw me coming, I was content.

The face of every policeman at the station was known, and all could see that this was my first day in this cauldron of a kind of Dickensian Market villainy. Even the regular stall holders looked at me a bit askance, this complete new boy thrown in at the deep end.

I spun round when I felt a silver half crown pressed into my hand, and gave it back to one of the lookouts, and told him not to try that again. The word soon went round that I wasn't playing that game, but my test was sure to come. As I approached one junction, the barrow boy looked up and saw me, but still kept on serving customers, I guessed he had been warned of my approach, and this was to put the frighteners on this new copper who wouldn't take a bribe.

I stood next to him as he was serving, warning him of the consequences if he didn't move, and he took a box from the barrow, and put it in the middle of the road, and stood on it, and shouting in a loud voice, and pointing directly at me, said, "I'm trying to make an honest living. I've only just come out of prison and trying to go straight. I've got a wife and kids to support. It's police harassment"

The huge crowd surrounded him, all looking at me, saying, "Shame", "Leave him alone," and things like that. I thought, 'You cheeky bugger, your not married, and you support nobody but yourself." He had been pointed out to me when learning beats, as a pretty unsuccessful burglar, always getting caught and being sent to prison. The crowd cleared a way as I strode towards him, saying, "You were warned, but you've been pushing your luck sunshine.

I pulled him from the box and put his arm up his back, telling him that he was being arrested for obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty, and also for trading without a licence. I marched him the entire length of the market with his arm up his back, with a slow measured tread to ensure that everybody saw it. Even my colleagues looked astonished and all put thumbs up to see if I needed a hand, but I shook my head, as this monkey was going all the way to the station with nobody but me. He kept whining as how his barrow might be stolen, and I told him it was his own fault for being lippy, and anyway his lookouts would look after it, and he said, "They will probably flog all me gear and vanish.

He was charged as promised, and apologised for trying it on with a new boy at court the following morning.

My very next duty in the market was so entirely different. Every stall holder said, "Good morning Guv," to me and all the barrow boys had developed wings on their heels.

The strangest thing was six years later. Our friend had married and they lived in a tenement flat near the market. He had been captured yet again at a burglary, and was in Bedford Prison, when I was called to the flat where that devastated young woman his wife, had found their tiny baby dead in its cot. It was a normal cot death. I felt so sorry for her in her grief.

I telephoned the Governor of the prison, and managed to get him out with an escort in order to attend his baby’s funeral. On returning to prison that same day, he called at the station to thank the officer concerned, and only then realised that it was me.