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50 years ago: Stunned Salford scrap dealer’s swindle revealed

This story will hopefully bring back memories for Salfordians of a certain age who indulged in the popular pastime of having a ‘weigh-in’ – slang for selling scrap metal to your local dealer.

There used to be two sides to the bargaining processes.

Often the person bringing in the metal would fill copper pipes with sand so that it weighed more on the scales.

However the ever vigilant scrap dealer would often have his scales – how shall we say – ‘altered’ to adjust for any loss incurred.

This story from the pages of the Salford City Reporter from September 1966 illustrates this perfectly.

Two undercover inspectors from the Weights and Measures Department went along to Bill Downing’s scrapyard on Indigo Street in Salford on the pretext of selling a quantity of lead.

Mr Downing was away at the time while his assistant Mr Rawson was minding the yard.

They asked the unfortunate assistant the price for a hundredweight of scrap lead: this was 65 shillings.

They went to their van and heaved over some pre-weighed scrap lead piping onto the weighing platform, where it registered as 33lb. For this they were paid the sum of £1 and three shillings.

With what one hopes was a flourish, the Inspectors revealed their secret identities and asked to re-check the real weight of the lead piping which showed as 40lbs.

Quite a difference. And quite a saving for the savvy scrapyard.

Inspector Burke took a closer look at the scales and found a small magnet on the rear of the steelyard arm near its free end, swindling customers of more than 10% of the scrap’s true value and weight.

Mr Rawson – no doubt incredibly surprised to find that some unknown individual had tried to tamper with his precious machine – attempted to remove the magnet but was warned not to touch it by the zealous Weight and Measures men.

At Salford Magistrates Court the following week a humbled Mr Rawson offered his explanation to the magistrate Mr Leslie Walsh, not the most loved man in Salford it has to be said.

Mr Rawson stated that he was disabled and did not work for Mr Downing, but used to call in for a chat and a brew once or twice a week and knew nothing about the mechanisms of the scales.

As for the magnet, he explained that he had seen Mr Downing use it once or twice to check certain metals offered to him by customers.

Mr Downing appeared in the dock and said that the one ounce magnet was used to check for iron in brass, and that some children had been in the scrapyard earlier that day and must have moved it from its usual position.

Mr Walsh wasn’t to impressed with this account and fined Mr Downing £10, adding, “I’m not too sure at all if it wasn’t deliberate.”

He then asked Mr Downing: “Would you like the magnet back?”

Mr Downing was obviously a man with a sense of humour for he replied: “No thanks, I’ve got a bigger one now, and it’s easier to keep track of.”

I’m surprised that Leslie Walsh didn’t slap on another £10 fine for Mr Downing’s cheek!

Main image (composite): Salford Local History Library/Flickr

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