A Life in a Year – 2nd April, Ernest Steel, School Crossing Patrolman

In April 2003 the School Crossing Patrol service in the UK celebrated its 50th anniversary.  Britain’s first Patrol, a Mrs Hunt was appointed by Bath City Council in 1937 to work outside Kingsmead school.  Despite the bombing raids, Mrs Hunt continued to work throughout the Second World War, moving to a new site with the children when the building was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1942.

Experimental Patrols appeared in London in the 1940’s and Traffic Wardens were used to assemble children in Dagenham in 1949.  The idea proved very popular and other boroughs in London began to follow suit, leading to the Metropolitan Police deciding that this was something it should adopt and take over.

Patrols were formally recognised in Britain by the School Crossing Patrols Act in 1953 and allowed to operate across the country and the School Crossing Patrol Service in London officially came into being with The London Traffic (Children Crossing Traffic Notices) Law of 1953.

My Granddad Ernie was a school crossing patrol man in the 1970s.  He was Londoner and worked as a bus conductor on the old London double-decker Routemaster buses operating from the Catford depot in South London.  I can still remember him in his dark blue London Transport uniform with his red conductors badge and his leather satchel slung over his shoulder walking home from work in a jaunty sort of way all along Barmerston Road back to the flat my grandparents lived at, at number 50.  Granddad Ernie liked to have a drink (or two) and would always give my dad (who was a hopeless drinker) a headache after a night out and he used to smoke forty Embassy cigarettes a day until the doctor told him to quit or die.  He spent a lot of time sitting in his favourite chair watching the horse racing on the TV.

He was a really nice man but he never quite seemed to have the time for or the understanding of children that grandad Ted used to have.  He was generous and kind but just didn’t seem to have the time to spend with us on all of the trivial things that the other one did.  So it was a bit of a surprise when, after he had retired and moved to live in Rugby, that he became a lollypop man!

His first assignment was on High Street in Hillmorton but after they moved to Lower Street he had a transfer to Abbotts Farm shops where he used to see children across a stretch of dual carriageway near the Jolly Abbott pub.  The children seemed to like him and he would often come home with impromptu gifts.  Dad and I used to drive past him every day when we went home from work for lunch and he was always embarrassed to be caught holding a child’s hand because this exposed him as a softie when he had worked quite hard on his image of not really caring for the company of kids that much.

I like this picture of him, it was taken by the local newspaper, the Rugby Advertiser, but I don’t know why.  I like the way he has got his raincoat on over his white coat which sort of missed the point about it being white for health and safety reasons!

 He was a good man. He died in 1977 aged 75.

4 responses to “A Life in a Year – 2nd April, Ernest Steel, School Crossing Patrolman

  1. Hi Andrew,

    Would love to use the image of your Grandad – Ernest Steele, for a Staffs CC publication – any chance??

    Rob Twine

    Print Commissioning Services,
    Staffordshire County Council,
    Unit G, Beacon Business Park, Weston Road, Stafford. ST18 0WL
    Tel: 01785 276384 Fax: 01785 276071

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