An elderly lady who lived in Trafalgar Road, Peckham, telephoned for an officer to call on her, and I was sent. Over tea she told me that the previous week she had buried her dear old father who had reached the great age of 90. He had been born in 1862, and at the age of 19 in 1881, he had joined the Metropolitan Police, and after training he had been posted to the fairly new station at Paradise Street, Rotherhithe.
The Metropolitan Police had only been formed some 32 years before that, and the new station in Paradise Street, was directly opposite a public house, and next door to that was the white stone small building which was the home of the Parish Constable, who were commonly called ‘Charlies’. They had no uniform as such, just a metal armband, but they were a figure of fun, spending most of their time drinking free beer in the local hostelries. In effect, their home was just a stone cell they had to share with any prisoners they were foolish enough to apprehend. Their immediate boss was the council Beadle, who only occasionally paid them a visit.
She told me that her dad had spent his full 25 years at Paradise Street Station, retiring in the year 1906, at the age of 44, and had been a pensioner for the last 46 years of his life.
On his death bed he had told his daughter of something he had done as a new PC, of which he was really ashamed, and he wanted to tell her about it before he died. He told her that as a new boy he had been invited by his mates to the pub opposite, where in a back room they all got slowly the worse for wear, through the cheap or free drink supplied.
He was then told that he would have to complete a dare to become one of the boys. ( Remember that during those days, they were not allowed back inside the police station for any break or refreshments, and had to carry sandwiches with them, and always a can of beer normally which dangled from their leather belt.)
He was given a screwdriver by the publican and solemnly told to unscrew and nick the two Lions Head Door Knockers on the front doors of the station, to the laughter of the rest of them.
He had crept outside, and could see the sergeant through the open doors, but with fear and trepidation he had unscrewed them and taken them back to the pub. He was too scared to return them, so took them to his home, and hid them beneath the floorboards for 71 years, taking them out occasionally and cleaning them.
She gave me the two door knockers, and they were lions heads made of brass, and they were beautiful and highly polished. She told me that of his few last words, he wanted them returned.
Alas the old Paradise Station was now derelict and they now occupied a police station they called Surrey Docks Station. I saw the Superintendent and told him the story, and he got a sergeant to scan the old records, and an entry was found reporting the theft. I am quite sure another entry was made clearing up a crime of all those years before.
The new station had glass doors, and I thought the knockers would not fit on them, but I am sure they have a place of honour somewhere there.