Crammed into Strangeways Magistrates Court in Manchester back in February 1916 were some 30 sheepish-looking men and youths facing charges of illegal gambling.
They ranged in age from 15 to 70, and as the local paper reported, made an extraordinary sight.
Police had raided a herbalist shop and Temperance (alcohol-free) Bar on Bolton Road after having the owner, a well-known footballer called Alfred Mills, under surveillance for some time.
Large numbers of men and boys were seen traipsing in and out of the store, which set the local officers’ noses twitching.
As each of the charged men shuffled around the court the prosecuting solicitor laid out the whole sorry tale.
Mr Crofton told the court that the police had seen men enter the shop and ask for the use of darts or rings for a quoit board.
The one who lost would paid a penny to Mr Mills, who then gave them a free non-alcoholic drink, which to be honest sounds fairly harmless.
Detective Falder, who had a reputation as a harsh disciplinarian, had the shop in his beady eyes and watched the premises for several days as would-be gamblers entered the shop.
He entered the premises on several occasions and saw the men playing darts and rings.
Things took a turn for the worse when on February 4 1916 he saw youths playing cards, and more damning, two men outside the shop who he said were on the look out for police.
Either they weren’t particularly good at their job or Detective Falder was especially fine at undercover work.
This was the last straw for the detective who called in his chums in blue to raid the bar.
All 30 men and boys on the premises were searched and their names and addresses taken, which I should imagine was a lengthy process.
Alfred Mills produced two dice, a pack of cards and a book which presumably had the names of debtors in it.
When told that he was being reported for allowing gambling on his premises he replied: “Someone has given me away, I have friends.
“I have not allowed gambling to take place on the premises and I have kept the boys under control as well as I could.”
In court Mr Horridge, defending Alfred Mills, contended that there was nothing wrong with playing rings or darts, which were ‘games of skill’.
He admitted that the loser of the game had to pay, but only in terms of a non-alcoholic drink, but even in a game of billiards the loser paid and that wasn’t illegal.
He defied the police saying there was no evidence of card playing on the premises.
Alfred Mills took the stand and told the court that he had taken over the herbalist shop some 18 months previous and that only darts and rings were played in his shop and one penny was paid for the use of the equipment and was paid for by the loser.
One of the defendants Thomas Mullen, 31, was found to have a pack of cards on him, he told the court that they were his own and “had never been used”.
Surprisingly one of the defendants who was arrested was a special constable, Alfred Gaskell, 21, who told the court that he had never seen any gambling and if there had been, he would have reported it to the police.
Albert Brierley, 15, also asserted that he had never sen any gambling on the premises.
The Stipendary Magistrate took a different view from the honest and sober clientele of the herbalist shop.
He declared that to him, there was no difference between this case and that of penny-in-the-slot games; the principle being that they were all playing with chance.
He said that the loser paid but it was really for the profit of the proprietor of the shop, which meant that gambling had actually taken place on the premises.
Alfred Mills was fined £1 and ordered to pay a guinea for advocate’s fees, while all 29 of the other defendants were fined one shilling each, including Mr Mills’ 70-year-old father Joseph.
The Stipendary warned Mr Mills that under the Gambling Act a very heavy fine would be imposed if he came before the court again.
Looking back at the ages of the defendants I noticed that 22 of the 30 were aged between 15 and 20.
No doubt within the next few months these poor unfortunates would be conscripted into the Army and sent to France to await their fate in the First World War.
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