Published: 06:00, 17 October 2020
Remember a time when every town had a police station?
Bobbies would regularly be seen moseying along high streets, always on hand to cuff miscreants or say hello to locals.
But to many, those days seem like far-flung memories as bases across Kent have been sold off to be developed or demolished.
The force's headquarters - which has acted as the focal point for policing across the county for 80 years - in Sutton Road, Maidstone, is just the latest to change hands .
Blocks of flats, beauty salons, jewellery shops and accident-hit construction sites already stand in place of former stations.
Here is what 10 of the county’s former police bases look like now…
What was Sittingbourne’s first police station and a purpose-built magistrates’ court dating back 150 years is now a Wetherspoon pub.
Called the Golden Hope, the Park Road watering hole opened its doors to its first customers in July 2015.
Where the town’s reprobates once sat and reflected on their transgressions, drinkers now swill their drinks as the station’s former cells have been turned into seating areas.
The inspiration behind the name of the tavern is a Thames spritsail sailing barge, which was built in 1866, and sailed for many years until it was converted into “a floating home”.
Hundreds of these wooden vessels, with their red-brown sails, were made in nearby creeks and inlets to transport Kentish bricks, but few have survived.
In all, the pub chain spent £2m revamping the Park Road venue.
Workmen are building 87 luxury flats at the old police station and neighbouring magistrates’ court.
Plans to transform the Cavendish Street site were first submitted to Thanet District Council in 2004, two years after police chiefs announced the station was set to close.
Documents published by the developer, Vidi Construction, say the new homes will be kitted out with TVs in their bathrooms and wine coolers.
The construction that currently stands there has been the scene of two accidents involving workmen in recent weeks.
In August, a worker suffered an electric shock while working on the Cavendish Street development and was taken to the QEQM Hospital for treatment.
And the following month, a labourer had to be rescued by fire crews after he reportedly fell onto his back as he reached for a roll of insulation.
A bid to erect a mobile phone mast on top of the station in Cazeneuve Street triggered heated opposition in 2002.
One-hundred-and-fifty locals and parents of children from the neighbouring school, St Margaret's at Troy Town Primary, signed a petition calling for One2One’s plans to be snubbed.
Councillors later refused the proposals.
The station was vacated in December 2006, along with the base in Rainham, as resources were ploughed into building the “supernick” in Gillingham.
The 1960s building was demolished three years later and replaced with 45 homes.
In the years leading up to its closure, the Tenterden station’s powers were gradually eroded.
A staff shortage, which was thought to have been a result of austerity, forced its opening times to be squeezed to just two hours a day at the beginning of 2011.
This meant that residents were instead told to call the Maidstone headquarters when the high street building was closed.
Plans were in place for the force to make £53 million of cuts, as 500 officers and 1,000 civilian staff, some through natural wastage, were set to be axed over the following four years.
Shutting the office was expected to save £51,000.
And three months later, it was revealed that the office would lose its 999-response car.
Even though the office’s opening hours had returned to normal, it was announced the station was to close by the end of 2012
Reacting to the news, former police officer the Rev Jerry Newson, minister of the town’s Zion Baptist Church, said: “It adds fuel to my fear that any visible policing is a thing of the past.”
Jewellery designer the Bill Skinner Studio opened inside the vacant premises in November 2013, and it continues to be a fixture in the centre of Tenterden today.
As in Tenterden, Whitstable’s police station was also a victim of the force’s swingeing cost-cutting measures at the start of the noughties.
Its closure in 2012, which saved bosses £34,000 a year, was prompted by statistics that showed it only received 66 visits a week.
The High Street station opened several years beforehand after officers moved from their original base in Bexley Street – which has since been converted into flats.
Ever since the High Street HQ's closure eight years ago, residents, business owners and politicians have all called for greater police numbers in the centre of the town.
Plans unveiled last year revealed Whitstable was earmarked to receive its own bobby on the beat.
But former police officer Cllr Ashley Clark blasted the plans as “tokenism".
He said: “One policeman on a 10-hour shift system will only be there four days a week.
“Back in the 1970s, there was a chief inspector for Whitstable and Herne Bay, about three inspectors, five sergeants, at least 20 PCs for patrols, as well as resident constables across the area and a good complement of traffic wardens.
“All had good local knowledge. There was a detective sergeant and two detective constables with a 24-hour police station at Herne Bay and another at Whitstable, with cells for prisoners.”
The former station is now beauty salon Pure Indulgence by the Sea.
The town's station featured in one of the best-known episodes of Only Fools and Horses – Jolly Boys’ Outing.
During the Christmas special, which aired on December 25, 1989, the characters travelled to Margate for an August bank holiday getaway.
But while they were on the beach, Rodney was arrested after kicking a football into an officer as he impersonated Dutch international Ruud Gullit.
When he was released, Del Boy’s spindly brother traipses out of the station in Gladstone Road.
In 1997, a bid launched by Thorley Taverns to transform it into offices was given the go-ahead by Thanet planners.
The firm continues to run its portfolio of 20 east Kent pubs from the site.
The decision to shut the town’s diminutive police station was met with concern and anger.
Swingeing cost-cutting measures by the force led to the office in Cattle Market being earmarked for closure in 2012.
The announcement came after statistics revealed that just five incidents were reported within half-a-mile of the building, called the Sandwich Police Shop, in June 2012.
Despite this, then Mayor of Sandwich Cllr Jeremy Watts insisted: “It is a reassurance for the people of Sandwich that there is a police office in town.
“I remember that 30 years ago Sandwich had an inspector, sergeant and seven police constables who also patrolled the surrounding area. But the service has just dwindled away.”
The East Kent Mercury’s editor also said the news of the office’s closure after 19 years in the town was a “very sad sign of our times”.
He wrote: “The news is an awful slap in the face to the town council, which has given financial support to the police, with Sandwich Toll Bridge Fund paying £5,000 towards the salary of the town’s PCSO, £2,100 for a traffic speed gun, and £853 towards the cost of a police bicycle."
After the officers were moved to Deal, community interest company The Sandwich Shop moved into the premises.
Wrens Cross, Maidstone
During the first half of the 19th Century, policing across the county was the responsibility of small teams based in individual towns and villages.
But in 1856, John Henry Hay Ruxton was given the job of organising and leading the newly-formed Kent County Constabulary.
And, shortly after his appointment, the force’s first home in Wrens Cross was bought in 1860 for £1,200.
The Upper Stone Street building was filled with 222 officers, whose uniform consisted of a frock coat and a high hat. The archetypal bobbie helmet was not adopted in Kent until 1897.
They worked seven days a week until reforms in 1912 allowed them one day off every fortnight.
Changes to police life continued. Bicycles, ridden by officers in forage caps, knickerbockers and puttees, were introduced in 1896, with 20 bought at a cost of £8 each.
But by 1935 the headquarters at Wrens Cross was deemed too small, and a new base in Sutton Road was built.
The constabulary relocated to its new HQ - at the time set in open country - in 1940, after 83 years at its original home.
During the post-war years the Wrens Cross complex was enlarged by the building of a motor workshop and a driving school.
By the 1960s the driving school was providing courses for officers from other forces in the south east and a hostel block was built.
But the workshops, driving school and hostel were later flattened to make way for a Morrisons supermarket.
The rest of the Wrens Cross site fell into disrepair in the 1990s, becoming a regular target for thieves and vandals.
It was the centre of a proposed Kent County Council project to improve the town’s roads – but the plans were scrapped as the authority was unable to stump up the cash.
After syringes were found strewn throughout the former police station, town councillor Fran Wilson called for the rundown site to be flattened.
Speaking in 2003, she said: "Traffic is at a standstill, pavements are non-existent. The whole area is blighted but we don't get any progress.
"If KCC can't make a decision, at the very least we can do something about Wrens Cross.
"It will be far better, notwithstanding they are listed buildings, to get them demolished and used as a temporary car park in the interim."
The following year, the boarded-up buildings were set alight by arsonists, prompting fire crews to battle the flames for three hours amid fears the blaze would spread to neighbouring buildings.
Developers were given the green light in 2017 to turn the 0.44-hectare plot into 77 homes, the first of which were put on the market this year.
Following the passage of the Municipal Corporations Act in 1835, boroughs outside London were able to form a police force.
Beforehand, the responsibility for maintaining law and order lay with justices of the peace, who would appoint unpaid parish constables and organise watchmen - volunteers charged with patrolling towns during the night.
Powers contained in the bill allowed the councils for each of these areas to appoint special constables, who were bestowed with the power to swear in men to deal with “tumult, riot and felony”.
A superintendent, two inspectors and 15 constables were appointed to safeguard Canterbury’s 14,000-strong population.
Their first base was a disused abattoir in Crown Yard, Stour Street.
In 1850, part of the old City Workhouse of Poor Priests’ Hospital in Lamb Lane was converted to provide six cells, offices and accommodation for the superintendent’s family.
Twenty years later, the constabulary moved to a site at the Westgate Towers, converted from what had previously been the city gaoler’s house, next to Canterbury’s former prison.
The station was then extended in 1907 to provide a parade room and cells.
But almost 60 years later, the force moved their Canterbury headquarters to Old Dover Road, and Kent Musical School moved into the historic building.
The site was rescued from dilapidation in 2011 with the opening of the City Gaol Café, which was transformed into The Pound three years later following the death of its owner.
The station closed in 2006, along with those in Chatham and Rochester, when a new base – dubbed a "supernick" – opened in Gillingham.
It was reduced to a pile of rubble in 2013 in order to make way for 23 one- and two-bedroom flats after a housing association bought the Birling Avenue site.
Before the plans were given the green light by council chiefs, 40 letters of objection were sent to the local authority by residents concerned about traffic and parking.