Illegal street gambling was once a regular fixture in this country with backstreet bookies taking your bet, usually in the safety and privacy of their backyard with men paid to act as lookouts when the police made their obligatory raids, some of them even taking the 'fall' for the bookie for a slightly higher fee.
My Grandfather on my mother's side, Walter Moran was a registered Turf Accountant who would ply his trade on racecourses throughout the country, but also had a nice sideline in illegal street betting in Salford.
Nearly all of this illegal activity would cease with the introduction of the 1960 Betting and Gaming Act which first allowed gambling for small sums on card games in pubs and from May 1961 betting shops were allowed to open.
The story that follows is from the pages of the Eccles and Patricroft Journal, April 1918 and tells the story of illegal street gambling and a curious court case that followed.
Two brothers, Robert and William Barnes appeared at Manchester County Police Court charged with street gambling in Melbourne Street, Pendlebury, they had earlier appeared at Eccles Magistrates Court and robustly denied the offences and elected trial at Manchester.
Police Constable's Thompson and Gibson took the stand told the court what they had seen.
The intrepid coppers "took a place of concealment" some 15 yards away from Melbourne Street and saw a number of men, women and children hand slips of paper and money over to Robert Barnes on the 24th April between 11 am - 2 pm.
They returned the following day and no doubt once again well hidden saw further transactions take place between the hours of 9.30am - 1.30pm this time William Barnes joined in with his brother taking the bets.
The police stated that the number of people seen placing bets on those two days was a staggering 448!
Robert Barnes wife took the stand and proudly stood by her man telling the court that her husband was at home with her on the two dates mentioned, "helping with the housework" and didn't leave the house until 4.30pm presumably when he had completed his chores.
The case took a curious twist when she told the court that P.C. Thompson stopped her and her husband as they alighted from a tram in Pendlebury at 11.30pm, that's devotion to duty.
He is alleged to have said that Robert had been reported for street gambling for those two days mentioned, to which he is said to have replied, "What again? I haven't taken a halfpenny since you did me three weeks ago", obviously known to the police then and hardly an innocent man's plea.
Now here is where the case gets murky P.C. Thompson said,
"I haven't seen you, it's the letters we have been sent and we have to act"
The Barnes brothers had Mr W. Murray acting for their defence, he asked Mrs Barnes if this was true, once again she proved her mettle and said, "I told him three weeks ago if he ever did betting again, I would "roast" him", a formidable woman.
He then turned his attention to P.C. Thompson and asked him why these letters hadn't been mentioned in the initial hearing at Eccles and asked the Clerk of the Court to confiscate his notebook so that he could inspect it.
Suddenly the mystery letter writer made an appearance in the dock and asked that his name is kept anonymous, Mr Murray would have none of this and demanded that he be named or the court case should be thrown out, which seems fair enough to me.
The man was named in court but his name was kept out of the newspaper for fairly obvious reasons.
He told the court that he had placed bets with both of the brothers on the two dates mentioned in court, then added that he had only come to court because he thought the police had a charge against him?
The Chairman of the Court stated that this was a most "peculiar" case and he was determined to get to the root of it.
He retired to consider his decision and would you believe it he found both brothers guilty as charged.
Robert Barnes was fined £10 and £2 costs, whilst brother William was fined £5 and £2 costs, amazingly the mystery man was awarded 5 shillings costs for appearing at court!
All in all, a very strange case in which the police initially stated that they had seen the brothers with their own eyes and then later said that they were acting on an anonymous tip-off, doesn't quite add up, does it?
I think that the only thing we can be sure of is that the mystery man would keep a very low profile in the Pendlebury and Walkden area for the foreseeable future if he had any sense.