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Salford shark ‘was sailor’s prank on Charlie Camilleri over card game’, reader claims

A story about a mystery shark found in an alleyway in Salford has become the most-read feature in SalfordOnline.com’s history.

Now one reader claims not only seen the predator hanging in a shop doorway, but also knows why it was there.

Tuesday 3 July 1965 saw the intriguing case of the 30lb, 5ft baby Jaws, discovered by baffled police officer PC Geoffrey Barlow in an entryway off Trafford Road near to Salford Docks.

Officers from the Salford Cleansing Department told how they thought police were pulling their leg when they were called to King William Street to dispose of a shark.

Janis Tonkin, now 58, believes the story traces back to well-known Salford businessman Charlie (Charles) Camilleri.

Charlie – a father-of six born in Ordsall who passed away in 2006 at the age of 78 – owned several businesses on Trafford Road including taxi firms, a second-hand store, a greengrocers, cafes, pet shops  and a boarding house.

charles camilleri

He was distinguished by his trilby hat and his intimate knowledge of the goings on in the notoriously ‘characterful’ area.

A 1994 book by Isabel Brotherton charting the history of the docklands – Barbary Coast Revisited – included many of Charlie’s memories of the area.

Janis herself has a long association with Salford Docks – her father was a docker and her mother worked in the dockside police canteen.

At the time she lived in a house inside the dock gates on the long-demolished Race Street.

The street was split in two parts – one half on Trafford Road and the other facing the water, with access gained through the Aubrey Street gates.

aubrey street

At one time it would have backed onto 9 Dock – now Anchorage Quay and the Salford Watersports Centre – and the former housing area is taken over by business parks and office developments.

Every morning Janis’ mother would walk her along Trafford Road to St Joseph’s School in Ordsall, and she would pass Charlie’s cafe.

charles camilleri crop

charles camilleri second hald shop trafford road

Images via Charles Camilleri Foundation Facebook

“One morning we passed and there was this big shark hanging up outside the cafe!

“It didn’t smell, and appeared quite fresh,” Janis said.

“Several people stopped and commented on this rather unusual sight, but when we came home in the afternoon it had gone.

“Later on that evening I overheard my parents talking and they said that the shark had been hung outside Charlie’s cafe by either dockers or foreign sailors as a prank, because Charlie had allegedly diddled them out of some money at cards.”

Dockers were known for spinning practical jokes and delighted in getting one over on each other.

Parts of Trafford Road at the time were a mecca for hedonism, with rowdy pubs and the influx of foreign sailors into the Docks earning the area the nickname The Barbary Coast – a sly reference to San Francisco’s notorious red-light district.

“Charlie did no more than take the shark down and took it as the joke it was meant to be,” Janis says.

“He was a well-liked man and very popular in the area so there was no malice intended.”

Salford was once the third busiest port in the whole of Britain.

Liners up to 12,500 tonnes would bring in commodities from all over the world including grain, cotton and timber.

Watch: Salford visitors deeply upset over demolition plans for cargo cranes

It brought sailors and merchant seamen to the city from all over the world.

It’s still a mystery how the fish made it through customs – but now we believe the whole shark affair was not some elaborate hoax, at least.

If you have a local history story you’d like SalfordOnline.com to investigate, contact tonyflynn@salfordonline.com, join our 11,000-member Facebook group or tweet us @salfordonline.

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Tom is SalfordOnline.com's News Editor and community co-ordinator.