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100 years ago in Eccles: Plum rush sparks neighbours’ fight as ventriloquist protests his innocence

One cracking and unintentionally hilarious court report from the pages of the 1916 Eccles and Patricroft Journal had everything you could ask for in a news story: late night shopping for plums, sparring women and a ventriloquist.

It must have provided much-needed respite to take readers’ minds off the Great War that was rapidly killing thousands of men who’d joined up to protect their country.

The story begins on 8 September 1916 as Mrs Mary Hammond appeared before Eccles Magistrates Court charged with assaulting her next-door neighbour.

The ‘victim’, Margaret Russell, told the court she had left her home on Station Road in Patricroft and was out doing some late-night shopping with her husband William, at a greengrocers on Green Lane.

Mrs Hammond had barged into the shop, pushed past her, she said, and grabbed a handful of plums that Mrs Russell had her eye on.

Her neighbour then turned around and said, rather cattily, “Been out busking for money again, have we?”

An indignant Mrs Russell told her to go away, and for her troubles was punched in the face by Mrs Hammond, sending her sprawling to the floor along with her purse and money.

The shopkeeper, Mrs Lamb, said that all she heard was the word “busking” before Mrs Hammond gave Mrs Russell a sharp left hook to the jaw.

William Russell took to the stand and stated that he saw the attack on his wife but denied striking Mrs Hammond.

He told the Magistrate that by the term ‘busking’ Mrs Hammond was referring to him and his charitable deeds.

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He then explained that he was a metal turner by trade but would go around the streets of Eccles and Patricroft with a ventriloquist’s doll to raise money for wounded local soldiers, and that it brought much enjoyment to a lot of people.

To add extra spice to the court case he said that living next door to the Hammonds was “hell” and that they had made his life intolerable.

Mrs Hammond’s enraged husband, also called William, took to the stand and retorted that it was Mr Russell who was to blame for all the trouble in their road.

He said that Mr Russell would “stir up trouble” between the two families before “running off to the police station instead of having it out man to man”.

Mr Hammond added that he heard that Mr Russell had struck his wife, and his wife Mary was the innocent party in this incident.

The Magistrate, no doubt eager to see the back of these feuding families, declared that Mrs Hammond had indeed assaulted Mrs Russell and fined her £1 and one shilling.

Mr Russell was aquitted of assaulting Mrs Hammond and walked out of the court an innocent man.

One can only imagine what the tension in Station Road between those two families must have been like, especially living within 15ft of one another.

I have a feeling that this would not be the last court case involving these two warring families.

I was also hoping that the ventriloquist’s doll would have been called to the stand to give evidence, but sadly not.

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