Paul has been promising to visit the Metropolitan Police Historical Society for ages and find out the full gen on the recently deceased Westcombe Park nick. He’s sent me a bunch of stuff that he’s found and I’ve Phantomised, not least because much of it comes from a book on local policing that Paul can’t remember the name of, I don’t know the other sources and while I want to share this with you I don’t want to be a Bad Phantom and end up in my nearest nick which is probably somewhat further away than Westcombe Park.
As you can see from the picture above, Paul ploughed through dusty files in the archives to find the photos – cheers, Paul, I owe you. The images appear to be from May 1908, a time when the whole of that area would have been brand new and buzzing – a time when new houses meant a new library, new fire station, new school, new pub and new police headquarters – now that’s what I call infrastructure.
But that’s not where the story begins, according to my anonymous source. For that, we need to go back nearly 100 years earlier, to 1812, when presumably the local rowdies, highwaymen and tea-leaves were getting too much for the good burghers of Charlton.
Anyone whose income exceeded ten pounds a year, was expected to cough up for the newly-formed Charlton Guard. These sterling heavies were given a lantern, rattle and firearm each, paid 4 shillings a night and charged to keep watch over the area between 8.00pm and 5.00a.m.
Trouble was, no one was watching the watchers and the watchers knew. They simply stopped watching.
In 1827 the residents tried again, this time paying the watch only 2/6d but from the sound of things, giving them a smaller remit – Charlonites seem to have been much more worried about their dead relations than being murdered in their beds – the watch was instructed to keep guard over the churchyard and deter resurrectionists. I’m quite surprised that resurrectionists were pyling their trade that far out from London – the bodies would have been especially mouldy by the time they got to the medical schools. Perhaps there was some jiggery-pokery (mainly pokery; they would have been practising amputations etc, yerk…) going on in Greenwich Hospital infirmary, though more likely it was the fear of crime that really spooked residents.
By 1885 Greenwich had been bulging left, right and centre and the much more professional Victorian police force needed somewhere in between Blackheath Road and East Greenwich (which I presume is the one that used to be at Park Row but it might actually have been the Charlton one. The term East Greenwich is one hell of a moveable feast.)
Land was bought from Mr John Pound for £950 and the new police station, called Westcombe Park to avoid confusion with East Greenwich in December 1983.
I recommend clicking on the next image to get it big enough to read – some of the crossed out bits of the ledger Paul’s taken a picture of for me are fascinating.
George Hocking was in charge – well, by 1891, anyway. He lived, with his family, just round the corner at 2 Farmdale Road – of course in those days there wasn’t a whopping great motorway to cross to get to work.
I particularly like the view above as it shows signs of the now-half-lost Westerdale Road, which I can’t go down without thinking of the splendid writer Christopher Fowler, whose memoir, Paperboy, talks of his days growing up in the road and failing to return library books…
During the first world war Westcombe Park Special Constables took it in turns to stand at the top of Severndroog Castle at the top of Shooters Hill with a pair of binoculars then pass any zepplin (and other) sightings to the many interested parties via the new-fangled telephone on top of the Central Observation Station at Spring Gardens.
It also appears that paranoid Charlton residents became convinced that some of their less patriotic neighbours were passing on information to the enemy in Belgium of Germany. I have no idea why they suddenly thought this – perhaps they spoke with ‘foriegn accents’ or something but nevertheless, on the 4th September 1914 constables were instructed to visit every pigeon loft in the area and release the birds to see which direction they flew off in…
During the Second World War (and presumably before the advent of the Mr Hodges of this world) it was up to the police to enforce the blackout regulations, which made them pretty unpopular. The entirety of Charlton Athletic Football Club became War Reservists, though they were based at an emergency Police Station in the basement of Charlton House during the really bad air raids. Apparently it was all a bit of a mess to start with – Harold White, the sergeant, turned up on his first day to find the basement still full of coal.
Westcombe Park Police Station might have managed to stay whole during the raids, but officers were used to returning from shift to find that not everyone had come back. They’d stay behind to find their friends – sometimes trapped, sometimes injured and, occasionally, sometimes kiled in the raids. Fourteen ‘R’ Division Officers died during air raids; a further twenty-three whilst serving in the RAF or Royal Navy.
I am not sure whether Westcombe Park had anything to do with the strange ‘riot training’ spat with Greenwich Council in the 1980s, but as far as I know it continued to live a quiet little life until near the end of the millennium
Station Office counter facilities were withdrawn from Westcombe Park in June 1999, and for me, that’s when it really ‘died.’ The place felt ‘closed’, even if there were squad cars out the back and sundry lights on upstairs. In November, the Millennium Policing Team moved into the Station to oversee the celebrations at the Dome and Greenwich Peninsula.
It died properly last year, with boarded up windows and a POA asking-price that I’m guessing is a bit more than £950.
Perhaps the ghost of a prisoner that hanged himself who supposedly haunts the cellar will come and give the developers a hard time, but frankly I’ll be grateful if they just keep the building. I can’t see the car park at the back staying like that. I miss the old lamp too, and wish they could have found a way to keep it -perhaps with clear glass or something. Sigh.
But Whiskey Papa?
Westcombe Park’s police call sign, of course.
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