60 years in the Police!

Today it is not unusual for Police Officers to transfer into the British Transport Police from other forces and it is not unknown for some officers to spend a few years in the BTP having retired from another force.   After Walter Hebborn retired from the Metropolitan Police, he joined the Railway Police in Sussex but amazingly his retirement job ended up being longer than his first career.

Walter Hebborn was born in Cowley, Oxfordshire in 1854, the son William and Sarah Hebborn.  The family lived in Hockmore Street and William was a carter by trade.  The 1871 Census shows that at 17 years, Walter was still living at home and was occupied as a labourer.

He joined the Metropolitan Police as a Constable on 25th October 1875 (Warrant Number 92764) He was 21 years old and his initial posting was to ‘G’ Division (Finsbury). Six years later he is shown in the Census as being a single man living at the Police Station in Mornington Road, Woodford, Essex. His collar number was 436N.

Walter Hebborn’s duty as a Police Constable in Woodford has mainly gone unrecorded but there are two snippets from local newspapers which mention him.

The weather in December 1880 was appalling with thick snow and frozen conditions. As PC Hebborn left the Police Station, a young boy passed him on horseback. 10 year old Henry Shrimpton was covered in ice and snow and had collapsed on the back of the pony. He was almost frozen stiff due to the intense cold.  Walter, realising the boy was in danger, took him from the pony and escorted him back to the Police Station to warm up in front of the fire in the Inspectors Room (presumably the Constables and Sergeants rooms didn’t have a fire!).  Warm clothing was found for him and he was later taken home in a ‘benumbed condition’

In September 1882 a sharp-eyed Great Eastern Railway Detective, Walter Fisher, was on duty in plain clothes at Chingford Railway Station when he noticed two men furtively exchanging ladies watches. With the assistance of Inspector James, another railway policeman, the couple were arrested on suspicion of handing stolen goods and handed over to PC Hebborn of the Woodford Police.  The Great Eastern Railway had an active police department and Walter would have regularly had dealings with them.

In 1883 Walter married Eliza Emily Mills who was an American girl from Lockport, New York. This a small town just a few miles away from Niagara Falls on the US/Canadian border. They were married in Chelmsford, Essex.

In 1891 Walter and Eliza were living at 3, Montague Road, Hillingdon with their two sons, (Phillip 5 years, Leslie 2 years) and two daughters (Marion 3 years and Bertha 4 months)  He is described as a Metropolitan Police Sergeant and it is interesting to note that his next-door-neighbour, Charles Whitlock, was an Inspector in the same force.

Hebborn retired from the Metropolitan Police in 1900 and on 16th February 1901 became a Detective Inspector on the London Brighton and South Coast Railway based at the Goods Yard at Brighton Railway Station.  It appears that initially he was working with eight Constables, the majority having joined the Railway Police from the Army.

In 1906 he gave evidence (As Detective Inspector Hebborn) at Worthing for the case of an American who had travelled from Redhill to Worthing without paying his fare. He was trying to get back to the USA via Southampton and it is clear that the court took pity on him as, despite being found guilty, he was given a good meal and his fare to Southampton paid for by the Mayor.

One sad duty of a railway police officer was (and still is) to investigate the deaths of people  on the railway.  Today, suicide is the main cause of deaths on the railway but before the introduction of Health & Safety regulations hundreds of railway workers were killed each year due to accidents. It is amazing that the regulations to wear high visibility clothing when working or walking along the railway line were not introduced until the 1970s.

In June 1907 Inspector Hebborn gave evidence at the inquest of James Banks who died when he was hit by a goods train at Lewes Goods Yard and just a few days later was giving evidence at the inquest of a labourer who had been found dead inside the tunnel to the south of Haywards Heath Station.  In December 1908 he gave evidence at the inquest of another railway employee who had been killed on the line at Cooksbridge.

In 1909 Inspector Hebborn gave evidence at the inquest of a man who had been found dead near Falmer after apparently deciding to walk home along the railway line. The inquest was held at the Swan Inn.   A few weeks earlier he had been present to represent the Railway Police at the funeral in Lewes of Superintendent Henry Stevens, the deputy Chief Constable of the East Sussex Constabulary

By 1911 (aged 57) Walter was describing himself as a Detective with the London Brighton & South Coast Railway.  He was living with his wife and two daughters, Marion (23) and Olive (15) at 45, Edburton Avenue, Brighton. 

The following year Walter gave evidence at the inquest of Signalman Henry Packham who was found dead in Clayton Tunnel.  In 1914 he was present at the inquest at Newhaven Mortuary for William Gales who had drowned one night after he had fallen between the quayside and an Naval Transport Ship which he had been loading as part of the War effort. A few weeks later he returned to Newhaven to attend the inquest of William Cowie who died under similar circumstances. Due to the War men regularly worked long hours on the railways and docks and this inevitably led to accidents.

An unusual Inquest was held at the Fire Station in Lewes in May 1915.  The deceased was 38 year old George Tyler of Lime Cottage, Abinger Place, Lewes. He was employed by the Railway as a carriage and wagon examiner and three weeks earlier was in the cab of an engine. When the driver pulled up suddenly, George had lost his balance and fallen over the stove of the engine breaking two of his ribs.  He returned to work despite his pain but later had taken to his bed and contracted pneumonia which was the cause of death.   During the inquest the Railway (with Inspector Hebborn as a witness) attempted to play down the accident, trying to get the Coroner to return a verdict of death by natural causes.  This annoyed the court to the extent that the inquest had to be adjourned for two days due to people in the court (including members of the jury) hissing at certain statements.  After a long and obviously difficult inquest the jury returned a unanimous verdict of Accidental Death.  The jury were clearly against the stance taken by the railway and after the inquest each of the jurymen handed their fees to the widow.  (Tyler was buried two days later at St John Sub-Castro church)

The last case I have been able to find regarding Inspector Hebborn was in July 1935 when Hebborn gave evidence to an Inquest at Bexhill Town Hall on a lady who was killed when she had fallen from a train between Collington and Cooden Beach stations. The train guard had seen her open the carriage door on several occasions and when challenged she said that she was ‘interested in door locks’. An open verdict was returned. It is amazing that Walter Hebborn was still employed as a Railway Policeman at the age of 80!

Walter Hebborn died in Brighton on 15th November 1938 aged 84 having spent his entire working life as a police officer; 25 years in the Metropolitan Police and 35 in the Railway Police!   In his will, he left his effects to the value of £1,021 to his wife. This was a considerable sum in those days.   They were still living at the family home, 45, Edburton Road, Brighton. This is a smart terraced house not far from the Ditchling Road. Amazingly today (January 2016) the house is still called ‘Lockport’ after the birthplace of Eliza Hebborn, the name is marked in gold paint on the window above the front door.

Eliza died aged 87 years in Brighton on 1st November 1947.  She left her estate to her son Philip who is shown on the probate record as a ‘Retired Police Officer’. He had followed in his fathers footsteps, joining the Metropolitan Police on 1st January 1906 and retiring as a Sergeant on ‘P’ (Camberwell) Division 25 years later – not a bad length of service,  but not a patch on the length of service as his father!


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