‘It was a cross between the Wild West and a war zone’

Former police officer Chris Foster now guides the curious through the neighbourhoods he once patrolled

Thursday, 12th May — By Dan Carrier

Fozzy image

Chris Foster

THEY were tough streets, full of vice and violence. But despite the dangers lurking round, Bobby on the Beat PC Chris Foster loved his time patrolling King’s Cross, Holborn and Hatton Garden so much that when he hung up his handcuffs he retrained as a tour guide to share the stories of the historic neighbourhoods he got to know so well.

On May 24, Chris leads an online walk through the famous precious metals area, Hatton Garden.

He told Review how his love for the stories of London was instilled in him by his grandfather.

“My grandfather lost an eye during the Great War, so was invalided out of the Army. He was told he should be a tram driver, but he didn’t like the idea of sitting still, so he became a conductor instead.

“He got free travel, and every Saturday we would jump on a bus and see where it took us. As a child, I saw all of London from the top of a bus. It was magical.”

Chris studied at Hendon and was allocated a post.

“We were put on an old green bus, which had bars on the windows because they were used to move prisoners.

“I had no idea where I was going, so I looked at the driver’s list and saw my name next to Holborn.”

It would be the start of life time career as a Bobby on the Beat.

“It was seedy. I walked into Argyle Square as a 19-year-old who had never seen a prostitute before,” he remembers.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, prostitution was rife. In the 1990s it became particularly dangerous – a cross between the Wild West and a war zone.

“In the 2000s, when Eurostar was coming into King’s Cross, there was a multi-agency approach to tackle the issues. They changed the road system so kerb crawlers couldn’t drive round and round.”

Chris in the 1960s when he was on the beat

Chris takes the curious through the neighbourhoods he once patrolled.

“I give them wider histories and memories of a beat copper,” he adds. “Your job was to keep people safe, be a presence and answer any calls.

“London was rougher then. There was more violence on the streets. When people say the city is not safe anymore, they are forgetting what it was like. Because of social media, people are better informed and that can make them more fearful.

“In the past, things would happen and it would not be known.”

He recalls the weekly stress point of Saturday afternoon football games – and patrolling three mainline stations packed with rival supporters.

“There were the Football Specials taking fans from Euston, King’s Cross and St Pancras. There were pitched battles along Euston Road. You’d be warned not to walk around on your own because of the risk.

“You’d go round a corner and there’d be 100 Liverpool fans steaming towards you. It was scary.

“There were occasions were I’d get caught up in the melee. You’d jump in a Panda car, lock the doors and call for assistance. You’d have to stay in the car. People were hellbent on murdering each other.”

He was given basic self-defence but otherwise was armed with only a cork hat and a wooden truncheon.

“I played rugby so I knew how to tackle someone,” he says.

Another beat was the famous precious stones and metals area, Hatton Garden. This was in the pre-CCTV days and diamond traders showed each other what they had for sale in the street.

“The pickings could be rich if you were an armed robber,” adds Chris.

The police’s presence, however, was not always welcomed by the traders.

“Much went on that did not involve the police,” he remembers. “A lot of crime was sorted out among the people working there.”

On The Beat In Hatton Garden: an Illustrated talk by Chris Foster, May 24 at 6pm. See www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/on-the-beat-in-hatton-garden-tickets-329542529577

Related Articles