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Backwords: A Village Bobby

…He remembered Marsden more for bad weather than bad behaviour… Mike Shaw chats to an old-fashioned village bobby.

The voice from the past was strong, friendly and unmistakably Irish.

It was indeed the old Marsden bobby who used to put the fear of God up us lads of the village.

Ex-Pc Gilbert Campbell -- “a fearsome Irishman with a famous Scottish name” as I described him in a previous Backwords piece -- was on the phone to let me know he was still alive.

And he would like nothing better than to talk with me again about his time in Marsden.

So that’s precisely what we did. Over a cup of tea in his comfortable cottage at Deanhouse.

The craggy, almost pugilistic face was older but otherwise little changed. The Londonderry accent was as broad as when we last met all those years ago.

But the legs that tramped the streets with such vigour and purpose beneath the constable’s heavy, black cloak had been immobilised by arthritis.

Was it the price of pounding the beat in all weathers for so many years? “I don’t think so really, but I suppose it could have something to do with it.”

I reckon it might at that. Especially when he reminded me that his beat often meant walking the three miles up Standedge from the middle of Marsden to the Great Western pub.

“Well, we were supposed to walk. But I do remember stopping a lorry for a lift once or twice when the weather was really bad.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when Gilbert, then 73, revealed he was only 28 when he went to Marsden in 1942. At the time I would have said he was at least 48 -- and as strong as an ox.

He remembered Marsden more for bad weather than bad behaviour. “There were bits of trouble at the Mechanics’ Hall dances but nothing serious.

“I never locked anybody up while I was there. It was too much trouble to take ‘em down to Slawit. I just dealt with it there and then.

“In those days the village bobby was the boss. You had the decisions to make, on the spot.

“When the kids hanging around the streets saw you coming they were off.”

There was nothing mysterious or magical about the secret of good, old-fashioned policing. “It was simply getting to know people. I knew half of Marsden and the other half knew me,” said the man who spent 26 years in the Force.

“You hadn’t to sit on the rooftops, you had to be part of the community. That meant going into the pub for a pint or two and talking to the folk who knew what was going on. Like the council road-sweeper. He knew everybody and everything.”

After nine years at Marsden, Pc Campbell was moved on to Holmbridge. He thinks it was probably more than a coincidence that he was posted there just as a huge gang of navvies arrived to start work on building Digley Reservoir.

Yes, there were a lot of Irishmen among them. “The only trouble was that they were nearly all Catholics and I’m a Protestant,” he said with a broad smile.

“But I didn’t have a lot of trouble with them. We got them a bar there, do you see. So we knew where they all were.”

If anything, Pc Campbell became even better known at Holmbridge than he had been at Marsden. After all, it’s not every day a bobby has a song composed about him.

“There was this landlady of a local up there. A lovely woman she was. She used to sing this song about me, and we all had a good laugh.”

The village bobby who became virtually an institution still remembered the opening verse:

“Ten years ago this very day,
he came into Holmfirth.

A bobby full of jollity and mirth.

He knocked the navvies to and fro.

We wonder if in 10 more years, we’ll see
that basket go.”

He went, long before the 20 years were up, into retirement -- “after enjoying every minute of it.”

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