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100 years ago: Salford boys birched for stealing buckles for scuttler gangs

Yet another story of crime and the inevitable punishment comes to us 100 years ago from the pages of the September 1916 Salford City Reporter and one of the felons is called Flynn; no relation, honestly!

Three lads appeared at Salford Magistrates Court charged with stealing a gross (144) brass buckles from the Broughton Rubber Company.

The felons were: John Flynn of Garden Lane, Salford, William Collins from Ravald Street, Salford, William Smith, who lived at Paradise Hill, Salford, all in the Greengate area.

Read: Ordsall stories as Salford Scuttlers documentary hits the BBC

The court heard from Chief Detective Inspector, Clark who said that the owner of the buckles was, Cary Niman who ran a waterproof garment company.

Mr Niman left the premises secure on the Saturday evening but on his return on the Sunday morning, to his horror he found out that the buckles were missing from a collection box destined for the Jewish Hospital.

Detective Blakeley went to the premises to investigate the theft and much to his astonishment he saw a young boy, later identified as William Collins climb over the factory wall who started to help himself to more buckles from the box.

He was quickly apprehended by the Detective and soon spilled the beans.

He claimed that another boy had pushed him over the wall the evening before and that he had returned for some more buckles.

William Collins quickly named the other two young felons along with their addresses, which no doubt helped the police with their enquiries.

The police went to William Smith’s house and arrested him, however young Flynn turned out to be a more slippery customer and escaped the police.

He was only remanded in custody when he was spotted by an eagle-eyed officer lugging the stolen belt buckles around Greengate.

The Stipendary Magistrate, Mr P.W. Atkin seemed to be a particularly harsh disciplinarian.

He ordered Collins and Smith to each receive three strokes of the birch, whilst Flynn, no doubt seen as the ringleader of this daring gang of felons was sentenced to four strokes of the birch.

Reading this story I remember reading about the dreaded Scuttler gangs who were prevalent in Manchester and Salford at the turn of the century and had a strong presence in the Greengate area of Salford.

Gang members fought with a variety of weapons, but they all carried knives and wore heavy buckled belts, often decorated with pictures such as serpents, scorpions, hearts pierced with arrows or women’s names.

The thick leather belts were their most prized possessions and were wrapped tightly around the wrist at the onset of a “scuttle”, so that the buckle could be used to strike at opponents.

The Scuttlers had virtually died out by 1916 but I wondered if these stolen belt buckles would have been sold to older boys who would emulate the Scuttlers with the carrying of a heavy belt and buckle for use in a fight.

Sadly no age is given of any of these young boys – but we can assume that they were under the age of 14 as it was common practice in newspapers to defer personal details of those considered to be under this age.

Thankfully this barbaric punishment has been stopped, however I have heard people still say that the birch should be re-introduced as a deterrent for the younger criminal, which I think is absolute nonsense.

Finally I have to say that John Flynn is, to the best of my knowledge, no relation!

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