It was pouring with rain that night in 1956, as I walked the mile long Camberwell New Road, I was covering three beats, quite a large area. This in itself was unusual, as normally we had fifteen men each covering one beat, and another three men covering what were called crime patrols, which were heavy concentration of shops, and were superimposed on the beats. But instead of the eighteen men on the streets, through sickness and injuries there were only seven of us on duty that night.
I had been tramping through this downpour for the last two hours, and it was now midnight, when on passing a shop-front, and going in to check that the door was locked, I found a fairly young tramp standing under cover out of the rain. I asked him where he was going to spend the night, and he said he was making his way to a Rowton House at Deptford, a considerable distance away. I told him of the alternatives, ranging from the Salvation Army at Blackfriars which was free, then the nearest Common Lodging House run by Southwark Borough Council at Camberwell Road which was sixpence for a slice of bed and dripping, and a bed for the night with one blanket, but sleeping fully clothed in a small hall with the beds so close to be almost touching.
Then there was the "Spike" at Consort Road, Peckham, run by the London County Council, but that had a dreadful name amongst tramps, for its discipline, and you were not allowed out in the mornings, until the whole place had been cleaned. They all regarded that place as a concentration camp. I knew that all Rowton houses supplied cubicles with individual beds, but I told him that they charged a shilling for the night, which made him pull a face. He said that he didn't have enough for the Rowton House, so feeling sorry for this young man, I gave him a shilling and sent him on his way rejoicing.
It must have been 2.am, when I got back to the station for breakfast, and on booking-in, George Howard the Station Sergeant who was writing out a charge sheet, asked me to count out the coins in the pockets of a coat. There were exactly 120 silver shillings in those two pockets, many wrapped in paper bags.
I told him, and on my way to the canteen passed through the charge room, and there sitting on a bench was my young tramp, with the arresting officer standing leaning on the high desk. Asked what he was being charged with, was told, "Begging."
I had just counted out £6 pounds worth of shillings, which was exactly half of my weeks' wages. Will I never learn!