This month is the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of St Helens' ultra-modern police HQ in College Street.

At the time the station was praised for its sophisticated set up with the officer in charge, Chief Superintendent Jack Watson, commenting: "This station has the most advanced communications room in the country. It is in touch at a moment's notice with men on the beat and squad car patrols. It's the pulse of activity."

College Street became the town's third main police office and with a staff of 400 officers was a far cry from policing in St Helens in its early days.

Then each of the townships had only a solitary constable armed with little more than a lock-up and stocks to deal with offenders.

By 1837 the small lock-up at the Raven Inn in what is now Church Street was in such a filthy state that the constable refused to detain a prisoner there.

Instead the young man was chained to his bed with what was described as a savage dog keeping guard!

St Helens Star: St Helens Police in 1920 (Credit: St Helens Archive Service)St Helens Police in 1920 (Credit: St Helens Archive Service) (Image: St Helens Archive Service)

The condition of the lock-up and the fact that court hearings took place in Prescot prompted a public meeting to be held in St Helens. That resulted in the justices agreeing to hold monthly court sessions in the town and improvements being made to its holding cell.

But the magistrates were dissatisfied with the Raven as a place to dispense justice and that led to the building of the first St Helens Town Hall in New Market Place. The building was completed in 1839 and included a courtroom and St Helens' first main police station.

By 1868 when St Helens was incorporated as a borough, there were still only about 30 police officers to patrol the increasingly busy town. The force was then part of Lancashire County Police and its superintendent in St Helens reported to Chief Constable Robert Bruce in Preston.

At a St Helens Town Council meeting in July 1871 a letter from Colonel Bruce was read out in which he complained of the station's "utterly inadequate" conditions since a recent fire. So the meeting decided to erect a new set of police buildings and five years later the station was opened as part of the second Town Hall in what became Corporation Street.

St Helens Star: The archway at the side of the town hall still bears the shield of the borough forceThe archway at the side of the town hall still bears the shield of the borough force (Image: St Helens Archive Service)

The police rooms were described as "lighted, heated, and ventilated on the most approved principles, and are in every way comfortable and commodious". That did not apply to the prisoners who slept on uncomfortable wooden planks with a block of wood for a pillow, a state of affairs that lasted until 1953!

In 1887 St Helens was granted its own borough police force run by a chief constable and regulated by a council Watch Committee. The archway at the side of the town hall still bears the shield of the borough force – although the date of 1875 refers to when the buildings were built.

James Wood had the honour of being St Helens' first Chief Constable and its last was Archibald Atherton.

On March 30th 1969 St Helens Police paraded as a borough force for the final time. Two days later it merged with twelve others to again become part of a Lancashire constabulary – and subsequently Merseyside.

St Helens Star: St Helens Newspaper September 18, 1973St Helens Newspaper September 18, 1973 (Image: Stephen Wainwright)

St Helens Star: The College Street Police Station c.1984The College Street Police Station c.1984 (Image: St Helens Archive Service)

However, there is a curious postscript to this story. When in September 1973 St Helens police relocated to their new building in College Street, their old police offices, cells and canteen at the Town Hall became vacant.

So the new St Helens Metropolitan District Council – that came into effect in April 1974 – wanted the rooms for their Town Clerk's department.

And Lancashire County Council said they could have them back – at a price. St Helens Council was forced to pay the authority £50,000 for the buildings that only a few years earlier they had given to them for free!

Stephen Wainwright's new book 'The Hidden History Of St Helens Volume 3' is available from the St Helens Book Stop and also online with free delivery from eBay and Amazon. Price £12. Vols 1 and 2 are also still available.