Oral Documentary History

Extracts from a taped interview with Pat Turner, about the working life of her mother Miranda Turner (1906 – 1984).  Miranda Turner worked at Otley Police Station as a cleaner, from 1938 to 1968.

‘My mother went to work at the Police Station in 1938.   First of all she went to work for Superintendent Atkinson, in a private capacity, who lived at the police station at that time.  Then eventually she was asked if she would take on the cleaning of the Police Station.’

‘My mother went at 6 o’clock in the morning till 10.
The work was quite hard, she had to clean all the grates and polish them with black lead.’

‘My mother had to sieve the ashes every day to get the cinders out. War came, coal was rationed and Yorkshire thrift came into it, so the cinders were all saved to be reburnt.’

‘My mother scrubbed the steps, both inside and outside. When she had scrubbed the outside steps she used a scouring stone along the edge.  This made the step easier to see and was a sign of a clean step.’

‘Once, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Police arrived for a visit, but on this occasion  nobody had bothered to tell my mother.   She was still cleaning the interior stairs, with her bucket and floor cloth when he arrived.’

‘My mother had to polish the floors. This was quite hard work because there were big expanses of floor.  They were all brown, heavy duty linoleum and she polished them with a bumper. This was a very, very heavy lead weight on a pad.  It had a long pole, a bit like a mop only longer.  It was jolly hard to push, but the floors absolutely shone.’

‘She cleaned all the offices –  the D.H.Q,  the Town Office, C.I.D and Motor Patrol.  She didn’t actually clean in the court, except if the man who cleaned the court was away.  She also cleaned the Billiard Room which eventually became the Second Court.  The policemen themselves paid for the cleaning of the Billiard Room because they had a Sports Club in there.’

‘There were no police women in Otley until after the war.  If a woman was taken to the Magistrates’ Court and remanded or possibly sentenced to prison they were sent to Strangeways Jail in Manchester. They had to have a female escort (my mother) with the policeman. There were no cars so they had to go on the train to Leeds.  They were in mufti so that the general public did not know that this was a prisoner going to jail.’

‘If a woman prisoner was remanded overnight in the cells, prior to be taken to jail,  they had to have a woman on duty overnight to check on her every hour.   My mother used to go and sit outside the cells and check on these women.  She could doze in a chair, but the following morning at 6 o’clock she still had to start doing her cleaning.’

‘On one occasion she said to me, “I’ll show you the cells.”  We went into the cells and they were absolutely revolting and grim. The windows were very high in the walls and everything looked bleak.’

Outside the cells there was a chain with a huge comb attached to it with half of the teeth missing.  I don’t know why it was chained, possibly they thought it was going to be stolen.’

‘The police used to have a football team which played in the local Workshops Competition. There were a lot of silver cups in the Superintendent’s Office.  I know my mother used to clean those cups every week and took quite a pride in cleaning them.  She quite enjoyed cleaning silver and brass.’

‘During the war there was a police horse.  His proper name was Paisley but he was known as Canny. He had stables at the back of the Building Society.’

‘The policemen were moved on after a year or two to another division. My mother, being Otley born,  knew Otley inside out. Many time a young police man would say ‘Where is this?’ and was told “Ask Miranda she’ll know.”’

‘Just after the war, police cadets came to Otley to do about two years service before they went into the police.  My mother and I used to go old time dancing and she used to teach these police cadets certain dances during working hours.  On one occasion she was teaching one and the Superintendent caught them.  They were both in trouble for it.’

‘There was a murder in Otley.  The murder weapon, a poker, had been covered in blood and rusted, because of all the blood.   It was on one of the desks in the C.I.D for several weeks.  There was no way, when she dusted, my mother was going to move that poker. They used to say, “Go on pick it up.” “No way, I’m not touching that.”  She was always thorough with her cleaning but she always dusted round that poker.’

‘One very bitterly cold, frosty, foggy morning , my mother was in the Town Office with just one policeman.  I think it must have been not long after 6 o’clock, when he answered the telephone and shot out into the police car.   About ten minutes later he came back, opened the car door and ushered this nude man out.  My mother was just crossing the yard at that moment and she got the shock of her life.  Of course she remonstrated with the police man and said, “For goodness sake get a blanket and cover him up.”  Not just because he was offending her, but because it was so cold. They ushered him into this little place they called the police canteen and she thought the policeman has gone away to find something to cover the man up with.   All the other policemen that were on the station had heard about her reaction to this man and they said, “He is all right now, just look through that window in the canteen.”  And she said, “There was this poor man washing up and drying pots in the sink still absolutely nude.”  I just turned round and said, “Well you rotten lot.”  The man must have omitted to take his medication the previous night. There was something wrong with him and he had just gone out like this and was pushing a cart up Beech Hill when someone had reported it.’

‘If they had someone in the cells overnight they had to be provided with breakfast. So my mother cooked breakfast for the prisoners. She was asked, “Can you go home and find something,”  Food was still rationed  but she used to come home and occasionally find an egg.  (We used to keep a few hens at home during the war.)  She would make a boiled egg, a scrambled egg or a fried egg and some bread and butter or toast and tea and take it back to the Police Station. She got a small fee for cooking breakfast.  I think it was about 2/6d.’

‘John Wainwright, policeman and author, finished his service in Otley.  He never went out into town to my knowledge.  I think he was stationed in D.H.Q., in an office capacity.   Many a time she would see him sitting at his desk, puffing away at his pipe, staring into infinity.’

‘I used to go to the Police Station every morning before school so my mother could plait my hair.  I saw a man come in through the front door and go straight upstairs, into what was then the C.I.D.   My mother just said to me “Oh that’s an alien.”’


Otley Courthouse is a unique development run by people in Otley, West Yorkshire. After an eight year development period we transformed a redundant nineteenth century magistrates court into a unique arts and resource centre for our community.

Find out about the history of Otley Courthouse by visiting the Heritage section of our website.


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