11th November 2015: War time laws in Northumberland
On Armistice Day, November 11, members were given an entertaining talk by Philip Rowett on ‘Wartime Laws in Northumberland’. The talk cast a light on some of the strange laws in operation for the civilian population during the dark days of the Second World War.
We were told of many instances where individuals were fined in the local courts for displaying a light during the blackout. The blackout was not popular people walking home had found themselves hopelessly lost in park shrubberies. However the local courts seem to have generated a significant amount through the imposition of fines. All vehicles had to have their headlights screened and the speed limit in blackout areas was 20mph. The owners of cars parked on the wrong side of the road would find themselves in court and inevitably fined.
Public transport was not exempt from the laws, individuals queuing for buses had to queue at no more than two abreast and individuals could be fined for queue jumping.
Local shopkeepers were subject to some stringent regulations and could be fined for selling goods for which they did not hold a licence. All shops had restricted hours for the sale of goods and the volume of goods to be sold was strictly limited. Rationing was a major issue for the population and the use of ration coupons in some areas of Northumberland gave rise to concern about the recycling of coupons.
The Cornhill area of Northumberland seems to have had a particularly strong adherence to the rules and regulations and the zealous nature of the local police was noted. The area it was reported was deliberately avoided by some lorry drivers who feared being stopped for the smallest infringement.
The talk focussed on some of the more humorous and curious laws implemented at that time. However it was apparent that underlying the stringent laws and regulations enforced was a fear and paranoia in relation to a potential German invasion. It is now hard to fully understand the anxiety which gripped the country at that time.