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100 years ago in Salford: Docker jailed in 80lb cheese heist

Leaving a trail of ‘de brie’ in his wake, a Salford man was jailed 100 years ago this week for an audacious and frankly ridiculous theft.

It was March 1916, and an 79lb wheel of imported cheese destined for a Manchester department store had mysteriously gone missing.

Through gritted teeth Police Constable Bowden informed Salford Magistrates Court that the high-value foodstuff had been loaded onto a lorry at Salford Docks and was Caerphilly wedged in place.

It should have been on its way to the Midland Railway Goods Yard in Ancoats, but when the driver arrived the same day he took one look in his truck and wasn’t feeling too grate.

The rightful owners kicked up a stink and a hunt was soon underway to find it.

Police hunted down the big cheese behind it all, tracing 29-year-old James Henry Wheeldon back to his now whiffy home on Melbourne Street in Salford.

It wasn’t too long before Wheeldon was spotted with his heavy burden.

Police officers in nearby Tatton Street were amazed to see the thief trying to roll the huge wheel down the road, and nabbed him on the spot.

The explanation he gave to police is downright bizarre.

Wheeldon was enjoying a quiet pint in a pub on Tatton Street when a complete stranger came in and proceeded to buy him drinks, he said.

In return, the generous mystery man asked for a hand in carrying a wheel of cheese propped up outside the pub’s front door because it was too heavy to carry.

Community-minded Wheeldon went outside to keep an eye on the valuable prize, then waited while his benefactor toddled off to get a horse and cart to carry it on.

Naturally at this point, he said, he went back in the pub and had another pint while he waited.

No doubt suitably refreshed, Wheeldon went back outside to find a small boy sitting on the wheel of cheese.

He told the youth to clear off – and so as to make sure no-one else would contaminate the cheese – proceeded to wheel it down Tatton Street, before struggling to lift it onto his shoulders.

You have to admit that would have been a really amusing sight.

That is, until a sharp-eyed Detective by the name of Clarke spotted him and he was caught in a trap and arrested.

Sat in the police station after his arrest, Wheeldon was charged with theft. He replied to the arresting officer, “All right, I’m sick of the sight of it.”

It wasn’t as if he could eat the evidence, anyway.

Back in the dock at Salford Magistrates Court it emerged that Wheeldon was no stranger to the police and had several convictions for theft and assaulting an officer.

No mention is made whether any of his other crimes were cheese-related.

Before he was sentenced Wheeldon made an an impassioned plea for leniency stating that he was “as innocent as a child.”

The Magistrate wasn’t convinced and sent him to prison for six months with hard labour as an added topping.

Prisoners sent down with hard labour tagged onto their sentence were usually fed just bread and water.

How Wheeldon must have longed for a slice of that cheese he had wheeled through the streets of Salford.

Main image (composite): © Manchester Libraries/Google Images

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