Winsford Waterman's strike
When the Hussars were called to quell a riot in 1892
A strike by watermen brought riot to the streets of Winsford in
1892. The dispute was over increased hours and the method of working
the boats on the River Weaver. The following is a fascinating extract
from a Winsford newspaper, dated September 7th, 1892.
SAVAGE ATTACK ON THE POLICE
AN OFFICER WOUNDED
NON-UNION MEN TERROR-STRICKEN
STORMING THE SALT UNION OFFICES
THE 14TH HUSSARS ON THE SCENE
Scenes of tumult unprecedented in the history of the river Weaver,
and attended by much violence, have created alarm and aroused unwonted
excitement in the minds of the law-abiding citizens of the salt
districts during the past few days.
The disturbances which commenced some twelve days ago by the throwing
of stones at men who have manned the Salt Union craft during the
watermen's strike, have assumed more alarming proportion daily,
until at last instead of "the reign of terror" being speedily
succeeded by peace and tranquility, law and order have been set
at defiance, and violence has been unattended by discretion or the
fear of the consequences.
STORMING THE WORKS AT NEWBRIDGE
On Thursday night, the police fondly imagined that, after the hundred
strangers brought to Newbridge by special train had been housed
in the packing rooms of the Salt Union works, aformerly belonging
to Mr. I-'alk, the crowd would have dispersed and the night be passed
in comfort. The officers did not relax their vigilance, and it was
well. Soon after seven o-clock, an immense crowd of people were
seen to be approaching the salt yard. Their shouts could be heard
a mile away, whilst their excited demeanout left no doubt as to
On reaching the works, very few minutes were allowed to elapse before
a great portion of the fencing was torn down. The police were powerless
to resist such an onslaught. The throng rushed through the breach
and into the yard. The ringleaders of the attacking party informed
the newcomers that if they would return from whence they came, the
assemblage would be satisfied.
Believing it to be madness to resist, the new hands, leaving their
bedding behind them, promised to return home and were accordingly,
amid much jubilation and uproar, escorted by the crowd and a number
of police constables, to the London and North-Western Railway station,
where they were placed in a train and sent back to Liverpool.
ANOTHER UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPT TO IMPORT NEW HANDS
Nothing of the turbulent character occurred on Friday morning when
sixty or seventy members of the Cheshire Constabulary were on duty
in the neighbourhood of Newbridge Lock, smaller bodies being stationed
along the river banks to Northwich. A few crowds assembled, but
upon ascertaining that no craft were expected, they dispersed without
demonstration. Shortly after twelve at noon, several gangs of men
were seen cutting stout sticks in the Vale Royal woods, but what
their intentions were has not transpired.
At two o-clock, the police force at Newbridge was increased to 100
members, the officers in charge being Colonel Cope (deputy chief
constable), Chief Superintendent Leah (Chester), Superintendents
Meredity (Eddisbury) and Large (Northwich Division), with Inspectors
Johnson (Northwich), and McDonald (Sale), and sergeants from every
division in the county. The posse marched by a circuitous passage
to the back of Newbridge Works, which run parallel with the lines
of the London and North-Western Railway.
'Me salt boilers, wallers, stokers, and others, viewed the proceedings
with great curiosity, and jumped to the conclusion that more non-union
men were on the way. The arrangements had been kept profoundly secret,
and with the exception of the workers themselves, there would not
be more than sixty men, women, and children present. At ten minutes
to four, a special train drew up on the line facing the police,
and a score of heads were thrust through the windows.
The saltmakers yelled and groaned and called upon the occupants
of the train, which had come from Lime Street Station, Liverpool,
to be men and refuse to work. There were between seventy and eighty
men, and youths in the carriages and about half this number after
a few minutes conversation, threw open the doors and joined the
police. "Go back, go back," the workers shouted, and many
obeyed the command. One of the "gentler" sex, who stood
by some half-naked salt men, cried: "Run the train into the
river and drown 'em."
'Me newcomers in one compartment asked that they might be instantly
taken back to Liverpool. "Look", thundered a son of Vulcan,
"what's going to load salt!", a remark which provoked
the merriment of even the constabulary, as some of the tyros were
thin and weak looking. At this stage, a salt boiler appeared at
one of the windows, and all eyes were directed towards him. He was
stripped to the waist, and, pointing to his steaming body, he said:
"You won't stand this ten minutes, so get off back with you
Several more men thereupon stepped into the train, the cheers of
the onlookers being deafening. Seeing that some of the Liverpool
men hesitated, the salt boiler again appeared with some of his tools.
"How'd yer loike to work with them?" he asked, and for
reply one wag exclaimed: "Why, them's chipped potato tools".
An hour was spent in this kind of banter and in debates among the
new arrivals as to whether they should leave the train or not. Eventually
thirty expressed their readiness to follow the police, the remainder
viewing the preparations for marching from the carriage windows.
A FIERCE CONFLICT
At five o'clock 70 officers formed in double file, and with the
strangers placed at intervals among their ranks, they left the works.
Thirty constables were left with the salt workers and labourers
in order to quell any disturbances which might arise.
On leaving the works, the main body of police descended a small
hill and passed through an archway. On emerging on the other side
of this tunnel, clinkers, stones and bricks were dropped upon them,
battering their helmets and cutting their faces. Stones flung by
men on the works whistled past their ears, and it was with the utmost
difficulty that gigantic clinkers were evaded. The thirty police
who were left behind rushed among the offenders, scattering them
right and left; but whichever way they turned, missiles were hurled
from the opposite direction.
They secured one man, named Samuel Maddocks, of Moulton, and, carrying
him down an embankment, lowered him over the wooden fencing, where
he was taken charge of by the "protection" squad. fie
struggled most violently, striking with his fists and kicking right
and left. Half-a-dozen comrades rushed to his rescue, but after
a short encounter with the police they were repulsed. While securing
Maddocks with the handcuffs and fastening his legs with ropes, another
difficulty presented itself.
From the top of a high sandhill on the left a crowd of men poured
forth volleys of stones. Thus, showers of brickbats and clinkers
were hurled from the right, and from the left men, among whom there
were no constables, threw sharp cutting stones. Half a dozen policemen
scaled the rails which separated the sands from the road, and began
to mount the bill.
They were pelted; but when near the top their assailants took to
their heels. The officers at once joined their comrades, many of
whom had been struck on the face and were bleeding profusely. The
prisoner was being carried by his arms and legs and several unsuccessful
attempts were made to rescue him.
The throwing still continued, and Sergeant Gunn, of Over, was struck
on the back of the head by a brick. Blood streamed from the deep
wound, thus inflicted, and it was feared that the sergeant would
faint before he could be removed to a place of safety. He, however,
succeeded, by leaning on the arms of two officers, in reaching the
lock hut, where a handkerchief was bound over the wound.
He was afterwards placed on board the steam launch Firefly and taken
to Winsford Bridge, and from thence in a trap to his home in High
Street. At Newbridge Lock, the new hands assertedthat after all
they had seen they would not move an inch further. Although the
police endeavoured to dissuade them from such a course of action,
all, with the exception of two, returned to the train, which, after
waiting an hour or so, went back to Liverpool.
ATTACK ON THE SALT UNION OFFICES
Meanwhile, the police had proceeded with the prisoner in the direction
of Winsford, but finding that the roads were thronged with a hostile
crowd, they deemed it prudent to cross the river, and instead of
landing in the thick of the mob, the boat was brought up alongside
The police dragged the prisoner ashore, and, followed by the mob,
hurried along by a bypath and reached the back of the Central Offices.
Their entrance was the sginal for the crowd to fire stones at the
building, one window being smashed. Some of the police who had been
employed at Newbridge were partaking of tea.
Girders were given them to disperse the riotous assembly with their
truncheons, and the doors were opened and the charge made. Great
excitement prevailed, and the crowd fought wildly against the rushes
of the police. Many turned and fled, but others, cut and bleeding,
attempted to overcome the officers.
The crowd eventually retreated, only to return when the constables
re-entered the offices, with redoubled force. The name and address
of the prisoner Maddocks having been recorded, he, having been ordered
to appear at the Middiewich Police Court on Wednesday, was liberated,
to the intense delight of the crowd, who bore him shoulder high
ARRIVAL OF THE MILITARY
Shortly after the liberation of Maddock things quietened down in
the neighbourhood of the Central Offices, but much agitation was
prevalent throughout Winsford. The streets were filled with excited
crowds, and when, shortly after eight o-clock, it became noised
abroad that the military, at the request of the Deputy Chief Constable,
had come per special train by Cheshire Lines from Manchester, a
general rush was made for the Winsford and Over Station.
Finding that the police had been unable to frustrate the efforts
of the strikers and their sympathisers to prevent the introduction
of new hands into the works and on the river craft, the officials
of the Salt Union after consultation with the Deputy Chief Constable
(Colonel Hamersley, the chief constable, being from home) communicated
with the Home Office, with the view of securing the aid of the military.
The result was that orders were sent to the officer commanding the
cavalry regiment at Manchester to have a body of men in readiness
to proceed to the Salt district at a moment's notice. 'Me yards
on both sides of the line were speedily filled with people, but
there was nothing of a disorderly character, the appearance of the
military on the platform probably keeping any would-be disturbers
in check. The crowd were not allowed on the platform, but they pressed
as close to the railings as was possible.
The special train was kept at the station, Inspector Dening, of
Northwich, having charge of the arrangements. The military turned
out to be a squadron of the 14th Hussars, 100 rank and file, under
the command of Captain Richardson. The other officers were Captain
Murray, Lieutenant Stacy, and Lieutenant Prevost. The squadron,
which is stationed at Manchester, had received instructions between
three and four o’clock to proceed without horses to Winsford.
Between nine and ten o'clock, Mr. Edmund Leigh, J.P., who had been
summoned by the police, arrived at the railway station. lie held
a conference with the officers in the waiting-room and read the
regulations guiding the military in case of riot. The magistrate
was to accompany the troop if he thought it expedient that they
should be called out, and remain near the officer in commani. Mr.
Leigh expressed the opinion to Captain Richardson that their services
would not be required, but he would address a few words to the crowd
and thus ascertain the feeling.
THE MAGISTRATE'S ADVICE TO THE PEOPLE
Mr. Leigh then addressed the crowd in the station yard in the following
terms: I have just been fetched from home, where I was almost preparing
for bed, to come here and read the Riot Act. (A Voice: "There
is no necessity for it".) I was given to understand there was
a riot on, or one likely to be commenced; but I hope you, as quiet
Winsford men, will not make it necessary for me to read the Act.
These military men have come here, and if I were to read the Riot
Act, they would be able to fire upon you and shoot you down like
I should like you to disperse quietly and as soon as possible, and
if you do so I shall order the military to return home. (Cheers).
Will you promise me to disperse? (Cries of "Yes", and
a Voice: "The police have caused the riot"). I command
you to disperse to your homes. (A Voice: "We are going to fight
for our bread and butter.")
I hope in twenty minutes from now the crowd will have quietly departed
like the good citizens you have hitherto been. (Cheers). I did not
think Winsford men would have been guilty of such actions as have
been perpetrated, and now I bid you to depart. (Cheers).
THE HUSSARS TURN OUT
Subsequently a private consultation was held between the magistrate,
Colonel Cope, and the officers of the squadron, the result of which
was that the liussars marched to the Market-square. Sixty were billeted
in the Town Hall, and the remainder were placed on patrol duty in
the vicinity of the Central Offices until midnight, when they returned
to the Town Hall and spent the remainder of the night, sleeping
like their fellows with their great coats for pillows.
Pickets of police, relieved every few hours, were on duty on the
river banks during the night; but beyond the crowds of curious people
in the town itself, the neighbourhood was deserted. Many of the
officers returned to their own districts on Saturday morning, but
the Hussars remained in the Town Hall with sentries posted at the
doors ready for any emergency which might arise. No craft came up
the river, and as no more non-union men were imported, there was
not the slightest fear that more riots would take place.
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