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KARL
FROM THE ARCHIVES: PISTOL-WIELDING TEENAGERS IN ECCLES CRIME RAMPAGE!
Read this following story from the pages of the Eccles and Patricroft Journal from January 1918 and we see that nothing has changed.

Stories of feral teenagers brandishing firearms and terrorising local communities with their criminal activities is a shocking state of affairs and some would say a reflection on modern society, with violent computer games and rap music being the cause for this according to quite a few people, and reflect back on more gentler times when you could leave your front door open and all that old guff...

But is this true?

Following a spate of burglaries at numerous houses, shops and even railway vans in the Borough the police had decided to act fast to stamp this out and let the good people of Eccles sleep safely in their beds at night.

The intrepid D.S. Bentham from Eccles constabulary used his wile and cunning to apprehend the first culprit, acting above and beyond the call of duty, he secreted himself in a pawn shop at 130 Church Street, Eccles and waited for a possible suspect, he didn't have to wait long.

At 7.30am a youth by the name of Thomas Wilcox, 16, came into the shop and tried to sell a gold watch, D.C. Bentham intervened and was not happy with the boy's excuse and took him into custody whilst a search warrant was issued for his home at  Davies Street, where a  large amount of property believed to have been stolen was recovered.

Next on his agenda was to track down a boy mentioned to him, who went by the name of Reginald Haycroft, 16, who was working at Gardners Engineering in Peel Green, however, a friend of Haycroft's spotted Wilcox being taken into custody and tipped him off.

The police went to his house on Station Road, Patricroft and awaited his arrival, to their amazement Haycroft came swaggering down the street and a search revealed a fully loaded army service revolver tucked in his waistband! a search of his house revealed even more stolen property and slowly but surely the gang were all to be arrested.

These included Charles Rubery, 15, Gilbert Street, Peel Green and Fredrick Saville, 16, Alma Street, Eccles.

When the police arrived at Rubery's house he locked himself and had to be talked into opening the front door, once again the police recovered a fully loaded army service revolver and a veritable Aladdin's cave of stolen swag.

All four were remanded in custody whilst further investigations took place.

The initial holding charge was of a burglary at a private house in Ellesmere Park, Eccles called The Elms belonging to a Mr F. Dowson where property including gold watches, rings, gold brooches, chains and even a set of opera glasses were stolen with an estimated value of £45.

The question was raised in court as to how the boys had obtained the army pistols, the answer was quite simple, they had broken into gunsmiths in King Street, Manchester and stolen them along with the ammunition!

Once again the boys were remanded in custody whilst the police had to sort through all of the stolen property recovered from their homes including some that the boys had, hidden buried beneath privets at the back of Peel Green cemetery.

It was revealed that this daring gang of villains had broken into Miss Butterworths tobacconist shop at Eccles railway station by entering through the roof and used a rope to drop into the premises where they stole, cigarettes, cigars, chocolate, tobacco and cash, and possibly an indication into their magpie behaviour was their admission that they had broken into railway vans at Patricroft Station and stole scissors, lamps, bandages, liniment and bottles of Friars Basalm - a popular cough medicine.

Eventually, the gang appeared at the Salford Hundreds Azzize Court in Manchester in February 1918 under the watchful gaze of the Vice Chancellor, Dudley Stewart Smith.

The boys had separate legal representation and pleaded guilty to the charges, a wise thing to do on reflection.

In the summing up for their defence, Mr Foley said, somewhat naively:

Quote

"These boys might have thought they were imitating Dick Turpin and could do wonderful things" then added that if the court could administer a 'severe thrashing' to them that would be the best thing, obviously...

As to be expected the Vice Chancellor didn't agree with this whimsical notion and sentenced Wilcox, Saville and Haycroft to three years in Borstal whilst Rubery the youngest at 15 years of age was sentenced to three years in a Reform School.

Thos brought down the curtain on this mini crime wave, well at least for the time being.

Looking more closely at this story I was struck by the strange assortment of goods they stole, what good would be a bottle of Friars Basalm, unless you had a cough and as for scissors, bandages and liniment, perhaps they wanted to be male nurses when they grew up? and as for the guns? I'm certain that these were stolen as an act of bravado and would never have been used.

If they wanted to fire guns, the three eldest could have done worse than try to enlist as 'Boy Soldiers' in the British Army, who were not that fussy about your age and so long as you were keen to fight and hopefully kill the dreaded Hun you were in, welcome to the Western Front!

One horrible statistic about these 'Boy Soldiers' is worth showing for the madness that it was.

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, 500 ‘Boy Soldiers’ were killed and 2,000 wounded and by the time the battle had ended, 18,000 ‘Boy Soldiers’ had been killed or wounded.



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