My husband is an aficionado of Traffic Cops, a television programme that I abhor. It’s an extraordinary thing, but I’ve yet to meet a woman who likes it and, similarly, to meet a man who doesn’t. (No doubt I shall soon be hearing contradictions from both sexes!) For me, it illustrates far more reliably than football the adage that men are from Mars and women are from Venus; ours is a strictly non-football-supporting household, regardless of gender, and I know many others where both husband and wife are football enthusiasts (although not always rooting for the same team!). Yet Traffic Cops seems to appeal exclusively to males – apparently all of them. Why do they like it? When I’ve glanced at it, it has featured two burly no-nonsense coppers of limited vocabulary driving along the motorway until they manage to apprehend some idiot who is doing something particularly stupid while at the controls of a car. After they’ve stopped him (or her, but it is most often a he), they’re filmed saying, with music hall politeness,‘Would you mind sitting in the back of our car for a few minutes, sir?’ One of them then winks at the camera and says to viewers out of the corner of his mouth ‘We’ve got a right one ’ere.’ And so it goes on.
On the few occasions that I’ve been persuaded to watch these snippets, I’ve felt particular disdain when the cops have reached the county boundary without managing to catch their quarry and turned back. This has seemed to me to be nimby officialdom at its worst! My husband, however, assures me that it must be some time since I watched it, as they don’t do this any more – the different police forces now co-operate with each other across county divides and have even celebrated on the programme their newly-established collaboration.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I began reading about nineteenth-century Lincolnshire in preparation for my next novel. It will be set in the twentieth century, but I want to understand what the background and values of some of the older characters would have been; in other words, the kind of place it was when they were growing up. I was fascinated to read that felons who were arrested on the Great North Road (today’s A1) were often acquitted because the exact spot on which they were arrested was in dispute. If it could not be established whether it was in Holland, Kesteven or Lindsey (Lincolnshire’s equivalent to the Yorkshire Ridings), they were released. Police from Holland weren’t supposed to ‘trespass’ in Kesteven in the line of duty; police from Kesteven didn’t venture into Lindsey, etc. – a rule apparently observed by their modern-day counterparts until very recently. In the earlier part of the nineteenth century, when more than a score of offences carried the death penalty, my guess is that this meant that criminals were pretty hot on their Fenland geography.
None of the three districts of the county had adequate prison facilities until Lincoln Gaol was built. Lincoln is situated in Lindsey, the largest and most ancient of these districts (once a kingdom in its own right). It was agreed that all three districts could avail themselves of Lincoln’s new ‘house of correction’: Lindsey would pay half the costs, Kesteven two thirds of the remainder, and Holland the rest. I was amused to read that after some years it was suggested that the salary of the ‘chief gaoler’ (today he would be called the prison governor) should be raised by £16. The councils of Lindsey and Kesteven agreed to pay, but Holland – the region in which I grew up – demurred. It used to be said that the people of Holland were ‘tighter even than Yorkshire folk’ and, on this occasion, they did not disappoint. Their refusal to pay a little more than £3 extra annually to this no doubt very hard-working gentleman was exactly true to form. Reading it gave me not a feeling of pride, but certainly a warm glow of understanding. I can just imagine my great uncles arguing the toss over such an issue and prudently deciding to keep their wallets closed.
I’m glad that police forces are co-operating now and have ceased to observe artificial boundaries. I know that this is a loophole that has been exploited many times in the past, sometimes allowing people to get away with murder – literally.