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100 years ago in Salford: 12 seamen caught enjoying famous ‘Barbary Coast’

To tell the tale of court cases making the headlines 100 years ago we return to the pages of the Salford City Reporter, this time when 61-year-old Annie Green was in the dock accused of running a brothel in the city’s famed ‘Barbary Coast’.

The open secret of Salford’s docklands in the 1910s was that Trafford Road was a haven for gambling, drinking dens and all sorts of nefarious activities.

The Barbary Coast nickname was made in reference to San Francisco’s notorious red-light district in the early 20th century.

Colourful characters became local legends in the pubs of the area, and it was clear that several hostelries including the Fox, the Trafford, The Ship and The Clowes were regular hangouts for ‘ladies of ill repute’.

And with the trade of ocean-going liners in and out of the docks, foreign sailors were a common sight on Salford’s streets.

Racegoers on Trafford Road - SLHL

Racegoers headed for the New Barns Racecourse pile through Trafford Road © Salford Local History Library

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There were mitigating circumstances in the case against Mrs Green, not least her age and previous good character, but the evidence against her seemed rather damning.

She appeared at Salford Magistrates Court charged with unlawfully managing a brothel, along with two accomplices Ada Shirland and Ellen Hall.

Local police officer PC McNee told the court he had been watching the Goodiers Lane house, a former shop off Cross Lane.

His suspicions were aroused both by the constant stream of male visitors to the house and the fact that music that was being played a little too loudly for his liking.

Along with his colleague PC McDonald, the officer espied a dozen seamen through the window, drinking and carousing.

They must have have remarkable eyesight and hearing because they told the court that that they saw a seaman with a lady called Ellen Hall, and they were urged to go to bed by Annie Green as it was 11.45pm, to which the seaman replied, “I want to love Nellie,” to which she replied, “Be quick then,” and left the lovebirds together.

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Things were to get worse the following evening the prudish policemen observed that were no less than nine foreign seamen in the house “including a coloured one, singing, drinking and generally enjoying theirselves”.

Their reverie was interrupted at 11.30pm when one of the seaman asked Annie Green for some supper, to which she replied, “If you want any ********* supper go and get some fish and chips”.

The man retorted, “I have paid seventeen shillings and sixpence for my board and what I get is **** ***”.

A fight broke out between two men but was quickly broken up and festivities resumed with singing and dancing taking place as per normal.

The final straw came at 1.25am when gramaphone music was heard being played loudly, and the intrepid Salford policemen ventured in to this den of iniquity to put a stop to this moral outrage.

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They found Ada Shirland and a coloured seaman “misbehaving” themselves on the floor whilst Mrs Green and Ellen Hall were found to be drinking with nine foreign seamen and generally having a good time.

As if it couldn’t get any worse when the police were interviewing the chastened women, five other seamen piled through the front door who said that they “had come for some girls”.

The ladies were told that would be reported to the Chief Constable for keeping a disorderly house, but they tried to use their feminine wiles to escape their fate: as the officers left Goodiers Lane they were followed by Ada Shirland who enquired, innocently, “Would a bottle of Johnnie Walker square it?”

The following morning the three women were arrested and appeared at the Salford Magistrates Court where the full story would unravel.

It transpired that the house was owned by Annie’s husband, Charles Henry Green, who had opened the premises as a boarding house for sailors using Salford docks – it had been operating for many years without complaint.

Mrs Green told the court that her husband had joined the army in 1914 but had deserted in August and she hadn’t seen him since, the shock of it all led to her starting to drink heavily.

Mr Gilman Jones, defending, told the court that Ada Shirland had been described by the police as “having a man’s voice” and when she sang it was often very loudly. He went on to say the case against the ladies was “a tissue of lies”.

He added that Mrs Green was confused most of the time by the amount of beer she was drinking daily and that she did not realise anything was wrong with the house.

He pleaded for leniency from the Magistrate stating that “she had allowed these unseemly revels to take place but had not sunk to the level of a brothel keeper.”

Sadly the Magistrate did not agree leniency and sentenced Annie Green to a month’s imprisonment with hard labour, whilst Shirland and Hall were each sentenced to seven day’s imprisonment with hard labour.

Was Goodiers Lane a more respectable place after the imprisonment of Mrs Green? Somehow I doubt it: the ‘Barbary Coast’ would remain in full swing for another 50 years.

Main image: Naval reserves on Trafford Road, Salford, 1915 © Salford Local History Library

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.