The 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.


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.

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 their intention.

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.

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 at once."

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.

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.

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 Bostock’s works.

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 into Winsford.

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.

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 grouse.

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).

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.