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Tony Flynn
Salford Docks opened in 1894, and despite being called Manchester Docks most of the docks were in Salford and that's good enough for me!

It employed over 5,000 local men and imported among other things, timber, grain, cotton, livestock, tea, cheese etc, it even had its own railway system and police force.

With WW1 dragging into its fourth year, public morale was low, food rationing was getting tighter and this would not have helped what was a potentially explosive situation, also 1,000's of lives were still being lost in what seemed to be an endless war.

salford-docks-1934.jpgThis court case from February 1918 gives an insight into what people in Salford were suffering and what a tinderbox situation the country could hopefully avoid.

In January 1918, Detective Inspector Carroll of the MSC police received information that pilfering of ham, tea, cheese and other foodstuffs were being carried out on a daily basis by the dockers employed there.

He decides to nip this in the bud and in my opinion rather foolishly decided to do mass stop and search of dockers leaving work hoping to find stolen goods.

One such search involved William Hopkins a dock labourer who lived in Peel Street, Hulme, he was stopped because his pockets looked, 'bulky' a search revealed loose tea in his pockets, he was arrested and given to P.C. Chadwick to be taken into custody.

Events quickly turned nasty as some 50 dock labourers gathered and demanded his release, they began throwing stones, one hitting P.C. Chadwick on the head and drawing blood, Hopkins seized his chance and threw the tea on the floor and made good his escape, only to be arrested on nearby Ordsall lane, shortly afterwards.

Back at the docks, the situation escalated and two of the dockers, John Needham, who resided at Arm Street, Hulme and Archibald Cochrane, from Fleetwood Street, Salford were alleged to have caused further trouble for the police.

Needham was heard to say,


"You are not taking our mates away, we are stronger than you, let's go for them, there are only a few of them, let's chuck them in the docks".

Cochrane was alleged to have said,


"They have no right to search our boys, lets do them".

Police reinforcements arrived before the situation could get worse and the so-called ringleaders were arrested whilst Hopkins was already in custody.

William Hopkins appeared at Salford Magistrates Court the next week and was charged with stealing 4 ounces of tea, the value of 1 shilling, the property of the M.S.C.

He denied the offence, however, it was revealed that a search by the police found remains of tea in his pockets, it was also revealed that he had 10 previous convictions for theft, hardly a shining example to other employees.

He was sentenced to one month's imprisonment with hard labour.

Next in the dock were the star attractions of the day, Needham and Cochrane who were charged with inciting persons unknown to assault D.I. Carroll and P.C. Chadwick whilst in the execution of their duties, a fairly serious charge.

The case was heard by Stipendary Magistrate, Mr P.W. Atkin, for the prosecution was a Barrister at Law, Mr Gilbert Johnson and for the defence was Mr E. Desquesnes.

Mr Desquesnes called P.C. Chadwick into the witness box and asked for his version of events on that day,  and asked why he had chosen to search Needham and if he had said to him, "Come here, you - swine" Chadwick denied saying this, strangely enough, Mr Desquesnes then asked him if he had ever been fined for using bad language? again Chadwick denied this, a strange line of questioning unless Mr Desquesnes knew something about him and hoped to blacken his character in the dock, perhaps implying that he was a violent, foul-mouthed man?

P.C. Chadwick then came out with quite a damning statement when he said that he heard Needham say that if D.I. Carroll put a hand on him, he would smash his head in, whilst wielding a hammer at him!

The evidence against Needham stacked up even higher when a P.C. Donohue said that he had heard Needham say, "Get the coppers and throw the lot of them in the docks", say what you like but those MSC police had truly remarkable powers of hearing.

John Needham took the witness box and told the court he was leaving work when he was roughly dragged into a shed by D.I. Carroll who demanded to know what was in his pockets, he explained that it was the remains of his dinner, some bread and cheese, he then alleged that he was sworn at by P.C. Needham and pushed to the floor.

He denied trying to incite the dockers to attack the police and said that the MSC police were exceeding their duties and that he was an innocent man.

Archibald Cochrane then took the witness box, he too denied inciting the crowd to attack the police but protested at their heavy-handed treatment of the prisoners.

The Stipendary then had to decide who was telling the truth, I think we both know who he believed.

He sentenced Needham to one month's imprisonment and Cochrane to 14 days imprisonment in Strangeways Gaol.

Cochrane shouted out, "Is this the way you treat innocent men?"

Mr Desquesnes pleaded for leniency and asked if a fine would be a more fitting punishment?

This was refused and both men were taken down.

Was this a harsh judgement? to be honest, if the men were guilty were of inciting the mob to attack the police they would have received far lengthier prison sentences than they did.

I think that the Stipendary had to make a token show of strength to appease both the MSC police and act as a future deterrent to the dock workers and hopefully please both parties.

I wonder what would have happened if the men had actually beaten the police up and thrown them into the icy waters of the Salford Docks, I feel its fairly certain that the armed militia would have been called in straight away and ordered to stamp out this early sign of anarchy.

It was only five months earlier in Russia that the workers had risen up and seized control of their country, Heaven forbid that this should happen in Great Britain!

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