top of page

The Bridge Interviews

Allan Tuckwell

Allan Tuckwell

October 2022

Allan Tuckwell is practically a Burford institution. He has lived in the town for over 50 years, spending many of them patrolling the mean streets as a police officer and doing much for the community both before and after retirement.

He was born in 1940 at Stadhampton, just west of Oxford, to William and Margaret Tuckwell. William served in the RAF during the Second World War and was away from 1941 to 1946 so Allan only got to know him after that. He had twin younger brothers, Pat and Martyn. Martyn was in the Royal Navy and served in the Falklands conflict. He died a few years ago. Pat still lives in the family home at Stadhampton.

After a typical country childhood spent playing football, swimming in the river and scrumping apples, Allan became an apprentice cabinet maker (he still has his tools and a workbench in the garage) after which he worked in the Morris Motors factory at Oxford where his father also worked. Childhood holidays were often spent with an uncle and aunt near Bath. One of his cousins was friendly with a girl from the local village who had twin younger sisters. Allan became friendly with one of these, Josie; very friendly, it turned out. The two cousins married the two sisters, Allan and Josie’s wedding being in 1963. They had two daughters. One of them. Elizabeth, lives in Plymouth. The other is Jo Rushton, now a Burford town councillor, who has two children.

Sadly Allan’s mother Margaret died suddenly in 1962 and shortly after the wedding William had a serious accident when he was knocked off his bike on the way to work. Allan and Josie looked after the home and his two brothers while William recovered. However there were limited prospects at Morris and they wanted a home of their own so in 1965 Allan joined the Oxfordshire Constabulary (merged into Thames Valley Police, or TVP, in 1968). After training he was posted to Witney and he and Josie moved to a police home in the town. He was equipped with a truncheon (he never used it in anger) and a whistle. There were, of course, no radios. At night officers were told to stand every hour for 15 minutes by a specified telephone kiosk so that the station could call them if needed.

In 1969 he was transferred to Burford police station which was on the Hill and he and Josie moved into a police house in Frethern Close. There were four constables and a sergeant at the station. Burford was patrolled on foot and Fulbrook, Taynton and Westwell by bicycle. There was a Morris Minor patrol car for the wider area. There was little crime, mostly things like newspaper and milk money being taken from doorsteps and minor motoring offences. Most of the former were dealt with by giving the miscreant a good ticking off and telling them not to do it again rather than inflicting a criminal record. One person on the receiving end of this mended his ways to the extent that he later spent 30 years in the police himself, later thanking Allan for the way he was treated. On the other hand the police handled a lot of routine administration such as renewing shotgun licences and passports.

Not long after Allan moved here, Burford police station was closed and he and his fellow officers were henceforth based at the new station in Carterton. However he continued to patrol around Burford and continued to live in the town. The police decided that the police house was surplus to requirements and could be sold. Alan took out a mortgage and bought it. He remains there to this day.

What was the most traumatic incident he dealt with? Unhesitatingly he says that it was dealing with the cot death of a baby a few weeks old early in his career. “I was the first person on the scene, before the doctor”. The mother was, of course, traumatised by the event and it had a big impact on him. Later he came inured to death as an inevitable part of police work: suicides, sudden deaths (sometimes two per week) and traffic accidents.

A happier memory was of nearly having to deliver a baby when the mother went into labour on a Sunday and her mother-in-law summoned Allan. He arrived in his wellington boots as he had been digging the garden. He entered the house to find the expectant mum on the sofa. He remembers feeling utter panic, and the only things he could recollect from his training were, ‘Hot water and clean towels’. He reassured the mother-to-be that he had watched the film on childbirth during his training. Luckily for Allan, he knew of a retired doctor who lived close by and went to find him. A healthy baby girl was born not long after.

He also had to sort out a number of domestic incidents. One warring couple found themselves in the Tuckwell home on two consecutive Christmas mornings, in different rooms while the Christmas meal was being cooked in the kitchen and Allan tried to mediate between them. Christmas dinner was served somewhat late.

Allan worked closely with another officer, Alan Goodman, and together they became something of local celebrities (see photo - Allan on the left). One task the two Al(l)ans took on was helpingUnited States Air Force personnel and their families living in the area. Although they were based at Fairford, outside the Thames Family jurisdiction, many of them were quartered at Carterton. The two officers provided a sort of social service, putting on talks in schools, helping them to adjust to life in Britain and generally making them feel welcome. Allan became such good friends with them that some kept in touch with them after they left. He was presented with a commemorative plate and the USAF’s commanding officer sent a letter commending both officers for their service.

There was a great deal of political unrest during the earlier part of Allan’s career and initially the police were not trained or equipped to deal with it. When Enoch Powell spoke at Oxford town hall there was a huge demonstration. All the police could do to control it was to form a wall. “You just had to link arms and stay strong.” He also had to police the Greenham Common peace camp and demonstrations which followed the closure of the Corby steelworks. This led to proper riot training. Officers were given six foot high transparent plastic shields which they could hold in front of them and they practised moving forward in a row. Trainers then threw live petrol bombs at their feet. Allan found this alarming at first but became adept at putting the fires out by stamping on them. They were also given training in unarmed combat in fighting which was so fierce that occasionally officers were injured. Fortunately he never had to put any of this training into practice.

Police officers from all over the country were drafted in at the time of the miners’ strike of 1984/85. Those called in were generally men without children who could stay away from home more readily so Allan was not directly involved. However the remaining officers had to work seven days per week in 12 hour shifts to cover for their missing colleagues.

More pleasant memories include attending the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph representing TVP in 1976, standing right opposite the Queen, and policing concerts for Barry Manilow and David Bowie at Blenheim Palace and Milton Keynes respectively. In 1987 he was awarded the Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (see front cover). He also took part in the celebrations of the centenary of Burford Primary School.

With their two children at the primary school, Allan and Josie became actively involved in school life. Allan regularly helped with swimming lessons, taking the children to lessons at Witney pool. Josie also helped at the school, teaching groups of children knitting, sewing and embroidery, and then worked as a playground supervisor for several years. Housing conditions for many families were inadequate and one of Josie’s tasks was to take children to the cottage hospital to be washed. Even the police themselves struggled financially in the 1970s which, as we have recently been reminded, was a time of high inflation. Morale was low, some demanded the right to strike, many officers left and Allan himself applied for other jobs. Police stations had collecting boxes on the front counter for the Police Benevolent Fund and such was public support that many donations were made. The children were eligible for free school meals at the primary school. In 1975 Allan was elected to represent his colleagues on the Police Federation. He was present at a conference addressed by Merlyn Rees, home secretary from 1976 to 1979. His speech was met with stony silence in the entire hall. “The atmosphere was electric.” Relief came when a commission of inquiry into police pay was set up, chaired by Lord Edmund-Davies, a senior judge. This recommended substantial increases in pay, including a rise of 45.5% for constables with 15 years of service. Rees agreed to implement these recommendations phased in over two years, but following the 1979 election Margaret Thatcher decreed that they should be introduced immediately. Free school dinners stopped.

Allan’s duties with the Police Federation gradually extended to include being secretary of the constables’ branch board for TVP and area representative for the Police Benevolent Fund. His duties included taking part in the annual conference of the Police Federation and he attended the Garda conference in Ireland. This work eventually became a full time job but he did don his uniform every year for the Remembrance Service at the Burford war memorial.

In 1995 Allan retired, with 30 years service completed and the mortgage paid off. For a time he continued to work for the Police Federation as a civilian, for the golf club and for Castle’s the Butchers doing deliveries. Sadly Josie was diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2015 and died in 2018.

Allan is an avid gardener and his house has a usefully large garden. When police pay was low he had two allotments as well as the garden, this being the only way to guarantee his ability to put food on the table for his family. He reels off a long list of vegetables he grows, while apples are provided by his James Grieve tree. His pride and joy is a magnificent Pyracantha which grows along the front of his house and was covered with orange berries at the time of our visit.

His other passion is bowls and he is positively evangelical in seeking converts to the game. He joined Burford Bowls Club in the 1980s and was president for around 14 years. He plays every week and until Covid he had organised the annual Bowls Club tour 14 times. He even ran it from his hospital bed in 2016. Last year he was pleased to let someone else organise it, but he was there and enjoyed a rare winning tour. The day before he talked to us he had taken part in a match at Headington, one of the best teams in the county, which Burford won. He is still the vice president of the club, and he represents the it on the Recreation Ground Committee.

A tall and authoritative figure, he can be seen striding, if not exactly patrolling, around the town, a model of service to our community.

Allan Tuckwell
Allan Tuckwell
bottom of page