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Constable Nick visits Ashfordly

Helmsley Police Station

Ashfordly police station features in every episode of Heartbeat, and the building shown in the TV series is in Otley. But Nicholas Rhea tells us he was thinking of Helmsley when he described the exterior of the Police Station. He says "It is still there and hasn't changed much".

He adds that although he has not previously revealed that Ashfordly is in many respects Helmsley, clues to the identities of locations are there for those who read his books carefully: "Helmsley Police Station is in Ashdale Road; I took the first part of that name, and the -ley ending, hence the name Ashfordly."

Although the station exterior is modelled on that in Helmsley, the interior, and in particular the incident room where so much of Heartbeat takes place, is based on the police station in Whitby, as Nicholas Rhea explains.

In this extract from Nicholas Rhea's first "Constable" book, Constable Nick spends his first day in his posting to Aidensfield getting to know his new area. Here he visits the Police Station in Ashfordly:

Ashfordly Police Station is a beautiful building. It is built of good quality brick, and stands solidly on one of the nicer streets, just off the centre of this busy market town. Attached to each end of the office there is a police house, one being occupied by Sergeant Blaketon and the other by the senior constable, in this case Alwyn Foxton. In front of the station is an attractive garden, tidily kept by the sergeant or anyone else detailed to do so, while inside the place is immaculate. A daily cleaner pops in to do the brasses, to dust and polish and consequently the place reeks of polish and shines with the brilliance of a well-kept fire-engine. Police cleaning ladies are inordinately proud of their own buildings.

There is one garage and it was occupied by the official car, a neat black Ford Anglia. The place hummed with clean-cut efficiency.

Badge of the old North Riding ConstabularyI must admit that I trembled with anticipation as I walked along the path towards the front door. I had parked the motor-bike beside a convenient wall and entered to smell the cleanliness. I found a grey-haired policeman leaning on the counter, waiting for me with his red and jolly face.

"Alwyn Foxton," he extended a hand.

"Nicholas Rhea," I shook his hand.

"Sergeant Blaketon had to go out," he told me. "He won't be long. Take those leggings and things off, and I'll show you round. Not that there's much to see."

In fact, there was very little to see. To the left of the door was the tiny public office with a long wooden counter running from the inside of that door. To the right, was the sergeant's office. Alwyn explained there were two sergeants - Charlie Bairstow who was enjoying a day off and who lived at Brantsford, and Oscar Blaketon now on duty and somewhere in town. Bairstow was easy-going, he told me, while Blaketon stuck to the rules. I would meet them both in due course and make my own judgements.

The office contained bound copies of the Criminal Law Review, the Justice of the Peace, and some very ancient police law books. There was little else, save the weekly duty sheets. The duty sheet showed me as 'rural beat' for tomorrow and the following day, with a late route from 7 pm until 11 pm the day after that.

Alwyn showed me the Found Property register, the Lost Property register, the return of licensing premises, the return of explosives stores, bookmakers' shops, telephone calls register, postage book, the list of keyholders of places like banks and shops, and the names of local contacts. I would, from time to time, be instructed to perform duty in this town, and based on this office, especially when there was a shortage of men due to leave or sickness. In any case, I was expected to pop in at least twice a week to keep myself updated with affairs in town. Actually, the town boasted a population of only 3,000 but for us folks on the moors, this was a considerable centre of activity.

"Have we any cells?" I asked, thinking of prisoners.

"Two," Alwyn told me. "I'll show you. In fact," he went on, "the toilet is in one of the cells. We haven't an official toilet here, so we all use the cells."

He led me into the tiny cell passage where we were confronted by two massive, studded doors with huge keys and gigantic iron hinges. No. 1 cell was on the left. "Males in No. 1," he said. "Females in No. 2."

He pushed open the door of No. 1 and revealed the carcase of a fallow deer. It was lying on the stone floor.

"Killed in an accident with a milk lorry," he said. "This morning, just out of town."

"What happens to it?" I asked.

"We've an arrangement with a local hotel," he said. "Arrangement?" I asked, wondering what sort of arrangement it could be.

"Oh, it's all above board," he smiled. "The deer about us, in the hills and forests, belong to the local estate, and his Lordship wants all those killed like this to be sent to the King's Head. He owns that hotel, by the way. When we've one brought in, we ring the hotel and the manager arranges collection. The estate gives us a useful donation for the Police Widows' Pension Fund. Deer are not reportable road accidents, as you know, but we take them in because too many bloody motorists insist on fetching them here. We get about two a week."

The deer's head, damaged on one side, lay on a piece of newspaper which absorbed the blood. There was the traditional wooden bed, boxed in all around, and a toilet in the corner. Nothing else furnished the place.

"Ladies in here," he said, throwing open the door of No. 2.

This one was full of chrysanthemums. They stood around on the bed, the floor, on a board on top of the toilet basin, and on shelves which stood loosely against the walls. They were in all colours, shapes and sizes, and they were beautiful.

"Mine," said Alwyn, proudly. "That's ideal for them, especially when it's very hot outside. Lovely and cool in there. I grow them for showing, you know. Get prizes all over. Lovely flowers, eh?"

"Marvellous," I agreed, having never seen such a wealth of colour in a police cell. "But what happens if you arrest somebody? Where do you put your prisoners?"

"Arrest?" he sounded horrified. "We don't arrest people here!"

Cover of the Black Dagger edition of Constable on the HillThis extract is taken from Constable on the Hill, the first in Nicholas Rhea's series of Constable books.

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