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Edward confesses I wanted to be a policeman

Edward Preston

Edward Preston

By John Humphries, August 2010.

Local historian Edward Preston confessed in August that as a young man he wanted to be … a policeman.

The information came during the 14th (out of 16) instalment of his lecture series Pieces of the Past delivered in the magnificent Durbar Hall at Hastings Museum. The audience of about 70 people, mainly elderly, made up a good, appreciative crowd.

The particular talk which the Voice popped along to hear, started unconventionally with Edward being a telephone, “Brrr, brrr ….. brrr, brrr ….. emergency, which service, please?” What followed was sixty tight-packed minutes of anecdotes, facts, opinions, jokes and even a song, which is Edward’s way of enlivening a subject not, on the face of it,  that interesting: the emergency services in Hastings.

Practically everything we take for granted was so different just a few generations ago. We learnt, for instance, that the first fire engines were owned by several different fire companies – they supplied plates to be fixed to houses which they were contracted to attend. If you didn’t have the right plate when they turned up, they packed up their gear and went away again!

We also learnt that in 1800, the population of Hastings was a mere 3,000 – and that it wasn’t until 1836 that the police service was set up – with nine constables. The harshness of the times was underlined by the fact that in 1810 some poor soul was sentenced to three months hard labour – for embezzling 2p from the Tram Co. Later, Edward quotes “Crime rate down”, and says “There’s lies, damn lies and statistics: the rate may be going down, but the number of crimes is rising”.

Having dealt with the police, Edward turned his attention to the ambulance service, and then the fourth service: the coastguard. At one point in the lecture, we hear some children making a bit of noise in the gallery next door, behind a set of curtains. Edward is asked if he can do something about it. He obliges in characteristic fashion by simply peeping through the curtains for a minute or two. The noise subsides and Edward declares “One glance from me … “ (laughter).

Did Edward ever become a policeman? No, because he was not up to the required height (5’9”), being only 5ft 8 and a half inches”.

The lecture series has now finished, but no doubt there will be another planned ere too long.

Edward in mid-flow at the Museums Durbar Hall in August

Edward in mid-flow at the Museums Durbar Hall in August 2010

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