Reg Little meets a retired police officer whose historic collection is now open to the public

At the age of 79 Philip Haynes did not expect to find himself back in Oxford Prison. By any standards the welcoming party was impressive — with the group awaiting his arrival able to boast decades, if not centuries, of police service between them.

But the reception could not have been much warmer for Mr Haynes, who joined the Oxfordshire police force as a cadet in 1950 and only retired as a police constable in 1981.

For 21 of those years he was a police dog handler.

But he would also become a fanatical collector of memorabilia, always ready to sniff out photographs, uniforms and equipment throwing light on the history of the police in Oxfordshire.

Last month, he handed over his carefully assembled collection to Oxford Castle Unlocked, the heritage centre created on the castle site.

In Mr Haynes’s view he could hardly have found a more fitting place to keep his collection safe and secure.

The historic castle buildings served as a place of incarceration from 1071 and the link to criminality only ended in 1996, with the closure of Oxford Prison and the opening of the Malmaison Hotel — with a neighbouring heritage centre to keep the history of the castle and prison alive.

Mr Haynes, who lives in Witney, knew the buildings well before the prison complex became a place of leisure and entertainment. “Yes, I delivered quite a few guests when it was a prison.

“I would drive in and the doors would close behind me. But I had never been back since it was a prison.”

To mark his collection going on permanent display at Oxford Castle Unlocked, a special reception was attended by more than 40 ex-police officers, many — like Mr Haynes — with vivid memories of its recent penal past.

Mr Haynes’ priority had always been keen to ensure that his collection was handed to a place where it could be viewed by the public. As things turned out it seems that many of the police items have returned home.

Mr Haynes explains: “Before Thames Valley Police headquarters were created in Kidlington, Oxfordshire Police Headquarters were next door to the castle in the building on the corner of New Road and as Tidmarsh Lane. That is where much of the memorabilia came from — no more than 50 yards away.

Witney Gazette:

“During the process of moving headquarters, some of the items — like oil lamps, candle lamps, uniforms and old belts — came out of the store rooms, which were being cleared out.

“Rather than putting them in the skip, a few of the items were given to me. And that was it. Somehow it became an obsession.”

He has collected badges, batons, handcuffs, forensic kits and documents, including handwritten orders from chief constables dating from 1857 to 1927.

He would regularly take his collection to local schools and shows, giving talks about the development of the police service in Oxfordshire from the time of its creation on April 1, 1857.

The former police constable also ended up spending hundreds of pounds buying rare items such as a 200-year-old tipstaff, the metal-tipped staff which once denoted the authority of a constable or sheriff’s officers. Its top can be unscrewed to reveal a chamber where paperwork is concealed — the equivalent of today’s warrant card.

The uniforms will attract most interest, particularly the closed-neck ones, dating from before 1950.

In the 1950s, Mr Haynes briefly served in the RAF police, for his national service, but rejoined the Oxford constabulary in 1955, going on to be stationed in Banbury, Nettlebed, Weston-on-the-Green and Witney.

“I would bring offenders to Oxford Prison from Banbury and Witney. I never wanted promotion because I enjoyed working with the dogs,” he said. “ I never wanted to spend time in the office or filling out forms.”

It meant he was involved in some of the county’s most infamous murder hunts, including the so- called Mini Murder in Henley and the murder of Agnes Sheffield, daughter of ICI chairman Lord McGowan, who was battered to death at her Ramsden House, in Ramsden, near Witney, in 1976.

Among those to greet Mr Haynes at the castle was Paul Kyberd, a former detective who worked in the drug squad and left Thames Valley Police force in 1997 after 30 years.

Witney Gazette:
Fellow retired police officer Paul Kyberd

He now works at Oxford Castle Unlocked as a guide, usually dressed as the notorious murderer, Giles Covington, a 23-year-old seaman convicted of killing a Scottish pedlar and hanged at Oxford on March 7, 1791.

Mr Kyberd now delights in telling visitors how Covington’s body was given to Oxford anatomy students for dissection more than 200 years ago, having been cut down from the gibbet and taken by a “Dr Pegge” to be carved up at a public lecture in the Anatomy School at Christ Church, Oxford.

“I used to do a lot of work here, coming to lecture about drugs. It was quite a strange feeling coming back to a place that held so many memories.

“People would be banged up with three to a cell with a bucket — sometimes, in the 1990s, for up to 23 hours a day because of the overcrowding.

“I belong to the Oxford City Police Association, so when I heard the story of how Philip had collected all this stuff I contacted members to invite them along.”

Conversation moved from the far distant days when prisoners would arrive at the New Road prison in leg irons, to the highlights of current tours and the level of tourism.

But there could be no escaping the fact that when it comes to crime and punishment, Oxford Castle has unlocked a real treasure trove.