Police Boxes – as developed by Chief Constable Frederick Crawley of Sunderland Borough Police in 1923 – were supposed to offer the facilities of a miniature police station.
Occasionally, however, the wooden structures, which later found fame in TV series Doctor Who, had to be turned into temporary fortresses when angry mobs vented their spleens.
“Instead of eating his sarnies, or filling out forms, a poor bobby would end up bolting the doors of the little box and seeking shelter from the storm,” said historian Norman Kirtlan. “This was exactly what happened on September 2, 1949, when two officers sought refuge after Southwick’s lively Friday night booze-up turned into a Friday night punch-up.”
The incident started at around 11pm, when constables Henry Seed and John Dawson – paired up for mutual protection – heard the sound of drunken revelry on Southwick Green.
Making their way up Stoney Lane, at the regulation pace of a mile-and-a-half an hour, the pair caught sight of father-of-five Tommy Keogh dancing a noisy jig outside the Tram Car Inn.
“It was suggested by the officers that the 37-year-old should pipe down and get himself back to his wife and bairns in Carley Road, but Tommy took exception to this,” said Norman, a former Wearside police inspector.
In something resembling a zombie film, the mob clawed at the windows of the box.Local historian Norman Kirtlan
“Instead, he escalated his behaviour and volume – much to the annoyance of those poor souls who were trying to get a night’s kip in the houses lining the Green.”
Keogh was duly handcuffed and dragged to a police box in Shakespeare Street, where PC Seed phoned Sunderland Central police station to request a van.
However, no sooner had he put down the receiver then there was an angry rattle on the door. Peering cautiously out, PC Dawson enquired of the caller what his business was.
“I want me mate out!” ordered William Robinson Douthwaite. “And I want him out now!”
“Well, that wasn’t the way a civilised chap was meant to behave,” said Norman. “The 23-year-old was ushered away and told to get back to Ellis Square and sleep off his drink.
“The officers threatened him with arrest if he failed to obey, and it seemed to do the trick. After that, they settled down to await the arrival of the black Mariah from town.”
Ten minutes later however, Douthwaite returned with a posse that seemed to contain most of his friends, relations and neighbours. “I want me mate out – NOW!” repeated the drunkard.
His demands were loudly echoed by the mob, prompting PC Dawson to usher the crowd away – muttering threats aplenty and waving a truncheon to get them moving.
“In the midst of the melee, Douthwaite ran towards the box and landed a right hook into the stomach of PC Seed, who was still hanging on grimly to his prisoner,” said Norman.
“Dawson quickly returned to aid his colleague and, after slapping handcuffs on Douthwaite, dragged the squealing man back into the police box, bolting the doors behind him.
“In something that probably resembled a zombie film, the mob hammered on the doors and clawed at the windows of the box, baying for the return of the Southwick Two.”
Only the arrival of a police van saw the mob grudgingly back away from the box; cat-calling at a safe distance as the prisoners were driven off to the cells at Gillbridge Avenue.
The following morning, Saturday, September 3, Keogh and Douthwaite were led from the cells under the police courts up into the oak panelled splendour of Court Number One.
Both pleaded guilty – Keogh to being drunk and Douthwaite to assault. After being fined for their crimes, the hung-over Suddickers were asked if they had anything to say to the court.
“It was the drink,” the sheepish prisoners declared.
“The chairman of the bench agreed. It was the drink alright – too much blinking drink!” said Norman.