TUMULTUOUS RIOTING 75 YEARS AGO

John P. Mellor


John Mellor served for many years in the police force in Bilston.  Here he tells us about a riot that happened many years before he was there but which he researched for an article in the Police Gazette.  John has also provided the photo which accompanies his article.

The cry of "Burn baby, burn" which have echoed through the ghettoes of Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit may seem to be very remote from Bilston. The expression, however, could have well been used on Monday, 21 July 1919, by the crowd some 50 years ago, when a series of ugly incidents took place, culminating in the partial destruction of the local police station.

The trouble began during the early evening when two or three men, being the worse for drink, were said to have assaulted two police constables in Church Street. Near the Market Hall were soldiers who were home on leave and who joined in the melee with other people. The policemen were forced to walk away towards the town hall, followed by a crowd of people which became larger and larger and more violent. Near the town hall there was further trouble and the two constables had to draw their batons and break out of the crowd to reach the police station to get help and report the incident.

The ever-increasing mob followed them and at 11 p.m. the crowd was estimated to be several thousand strong. The mob ring-leaders began to demand that one of the constables, who for some reason was regarded with aversion by the crowd, should be turned out of the police station. Their demand not being granted, the crowd surrounded the station and tried to break the front door in, shouting: "Turn out ---- , we will have his blood."

During the next hour every window in the police station was shattered. A long perimeter wall was torn down and bricks were thrown at the front and side, while poles were fetched from a nearby yard to be used as battering rams to break down the doors. Then petrol was poured on the wooden door cases in an attempt to set the building on fire.

At this stage Supt. Rowbottam, the officer in charge, went out and tried to reason with the mob but without success. A brick was thrown and struck him, breaking his arm. P.C. Jarvis, who was with him, was struck under the eye.

Despite the efforts of the Police, who were forced to withdraw, the office and charge room were wrecked, the telephone line and the instrument destroyed, and the Superintendent's house next door ransacked before reinforcements from West Bromwich, Wednesbury and surrounding districts were brought in to disperse the crowd. It was 2 a.m. before they eventually left.

Police Station after Riot

The Police Station after the riot

Three people were arrested as a result of the attack: two men and one woman, who appeared before the magistrates charged with "tumultuous rioting" and "causing malicious damage to the police station." The two male defendants were also charged with assault on the police. While the court was being held a large crowd surrounded the court house behind the police station.

The presiding magistrate found all three defendants guilty and penalties of 40s. and costs, with the alternative of 30 days' imprisonment, were imposed upon all three defendants, who were bound over to keep the peace. After the proceedings, the large crowd around the Police station was dispersed by the Police.

Next day a large crowd gathered in the town centre and by 11 p.m. some 3,000 people surrounded the town hall. The leaders were proposing to storm the police station when a discharged soldier named Wainwright addressed the crowd and appealed to them to go home.

He told the crowd that the police superintendent who had been injured had lost his only son in the war. Within minutes the crowd had dispersed and by midnight the first and only serious riot to take place in Bilston was over.

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