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100 years ago in Salford: ‘Rivers of blood’ threat sparks Broughton riot fears

When neighbours fall out things can quickly turn nasty, as this story of warring families in Salford shows.

It was August 1916 and at this time, with soldiers overseas fighting the First World War, Austria was considered to be an enemy of the state.

A choice comment reportedly said in the heat of the moment can, under these condtions, escalate to epic proportions.

Rebecca Gratz from Edward Street in Broughton appeared at Salford Magistrates Court charged with ‘Making statements likely to to cause disaffection to His Majesty the King’.

Detective Inspector Clarke told the court that Rebecca Gratz was Russian but had married an Austrian man.

At 2am on the previous Saturday afternoon, Rebecca was seen arguing with a Russian neighbour Mrs Finklestone about their children, when she allegedly shouted: “I would be happy tonight if I could see Edward Street swimming with British blood.”

By the time police arrived, Mrs Gratz’s neighbours had smashed all the windows in her house.

As the crowd grew in number the police force’s Acting Chief Constable ordered the assistance of extra policemen to quell the trouble.

PC Staton arrested Rebecca Gratz, presumably for her own safety and took her into custody.

1915 Lusitania sinking sparks worst riots in Salford history

A year before, Salford and Eccles were beset with rioting aimed at German immigrants after 1,198 men, women and children were killed in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania.

This act of war caused repercussions throughout the country, and would eventually lead to the American entry into the First World War.

Anti-German sentiment quickly turned to anti-foreigner dissent and anyone with a surname even vaguely foreign-sounding was at risk.

Eccles and Patricoft saw some of the worst looting and civil disobedience when large crowds began to gather in Eccles town centre and all eager for trouble.

The papers describe looting and violence on the streets - Salford War Memorials

The papers describe looting and violence on the streets – Salford War Memorials

A large mob attacked Mr Kustner’s butchers shop at 104 Church Street in Eccles when rumours spread that he was a German soldier guarding British prisoners of war in Germany while his wife was alone at the shop.

The Albert Edward pub on Church Street was next to be hit.

The landlord Mr Oscar Lorenz was a naturalised Austrian, and the police had warned him earlier that day to leave Salford as soon as he could.

The Eccles Journal reported that the mob outside, which started as groups of children age six to 14, grew to 2,000 strong as it was swelled with adults, and blocked off the tram lines from Patricroft.

The mob armed theirselves with bricks from a nearby building site and began bombarding the pub, shattering every window, the police were powerless to stop the mob who then began to hurl bricks at mirrors and glasses in the pub, smashing everything inside.

A crowd charged the police line and attempted to get in the Albert Edward to complete their trail of destruction and intent on destroying the building.

Several men managed to force their way into the pub to steal bottles of beers, strangely enough the only casualty was a soldier home on leave who was struck on the head thrown by the mob as he attempted to gain entry into the pub, he sustained a heavy head wound.

Meanwhile another large crowd had gathered at Patricroft Bridge and demonstrated outside a second hand clothing shop on Worsley Road belonging to a Mrs Wunstorf whose husband had been employed at the Eccles Rubber Works, ironically she was from Patricroft, but this was not to save her.

The police put a cordon on Patricroft Bridge and another on Worsley Road, so that the mob couldn’t launch a frontal attack on the shop.

Undeterred the attackers waited until it was dark and crept along the canal towpath and started to smash all the windows in the shop causing untold damage.

Back in Eccles town centre the mob turned away from the Albert Edward and made their way back to Mrs Kustner’s butchers shop in Church Street and at 10.30am a mob rushed past the police stationed outside and began to attack the premises.

A dozen women pulled and twisted open the wooden shutters then smashed the plate glass window, were they stole meat and sausages which had been in the window.

At the rear of the premises a mob smashed their way in and began to systematically wreck the property, an upstairs window was thrown open followed by sheets, furniture bedding being thrown into the street.

The inside of the house was completely wrecked with a piano being found smashed to pieces, plates and crockery smashed, clocks, brass fittings ripped down even electric cables were ripped out.

The Eccles Journal reported that Councillor Clayton who was a special constable in the Borough stood on a chair and appealed to the mob to stop, they asked him to show him his constables badge, whenn he opened his coat, his truncheon fell on the floor the mob rushe forward to steal it and Coucillor Clayton was kicked and punched for his troubles.

The evening’s destruction wasn’t yet over as the mob turned their attention on Mrs Theopold’s confectionery shop on Church Street.

Mrs Theopold was British and her husband Mr Theopold was German, but he had been dead for several years.

The shop windows were smashed and sweeets were stolen, while a young girl sustained a cut to her hand by the broken glass.

The mob tried to justify their attack by stating that her daughters had married Germans and were therefore guilty.

A large number of special constables were drafted into the area to contain the violence with mounted policemen sent to patrol along Church street throughout the night, they kept the crowd moving along and stopped any further violence.

Eventually law and order was restored to the streets of Eccles but a special court sitting was held to deal with those arrested.

10 men and and boys, women and girls appeared in court and were each fined 10 shillings and sixpence with costs.

The value of the property destroyed was marked at £3,000 – some £200,000 in today’s money.

The court case continues

It came out in court that Mrs Gratz’s Austrian husband had been put in detention at the start of the war but had recently been released by order of the Home Secretary.

With the British entry into war, Austrian nationals were automatically classified as ‘enemy aliens’, as is common practice among nations at war.

But as the case unfolded, the so-called facts became muddier.

A neighbour on Edward Street called Alice Brown told the court that she was the one who had heard Rebecca Gratz say “she would die happy if she could see Edward Street flowing with English blood, and the Germans coming to do it”.

It was here that the reason for the argument between the two neighbours slowly came to light.

Several days before, Mrs Finklestone’s son had thrown a stone at one of Mrs Gratz’s children, causing a head wound which bled profusely.

Enraged, she went out into the street looking for the culprit, only to be told: “You are an Austrian spy, your husband has been interned [imprisoned] once and ought to be interned again.”

The court case became even more confusing when the Magistrate heard that Mrs Finklestone had said this in Yiddish, which was translated to Mrs Gratz by a friendly neighbour.

Mrs Gratz then allegedly fired back: “I hope as much blood will be taken out of you as has been taken out of my child.”

Once again the ‘friendly interpreter’ chipped in and told the street that Mrs Gratz had said that she wished “to see the street flow with English blood”.

It was hardly the same thing and guaranteed to enrage the mob.

A final witness, Bessie Siner, told the court that she was present and did not hear Mrs Gratz make these remarks about the streets being full of English blood.

A no doubt exasperated Magistrate told Mrs Gratz: “This sort of thing has to stop, I don’t want to send you to prison for six months, you must keep a quiet tongue in your head.”

She was bound over for the sum of £10 and two sureties of of £5 to keep the peace for twelve months or face seven days in jail.

It was a tangled case to say the least, for which the interpreter must take some of the blame.

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