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Topic : The full story of the Silsden riot in 1911
Silsden would not normally spring to mind as the setting for a violent anti-police riot. But 110 years ago in April, an angry mob, armed with stones and anything they could lay their hands on, descended on the police station. Having chased two officers back to the station in Keighley Road, the hundreds of men and women threw what missiles they could find, broke every window in the station and at the neighbouring police house. Both officers and members of the public were hurt, children of constables were forced to take cover in the police cells and only when reinforcements arrived by taxi from Keighley and Skipton was the riot ended. Reporter Lesley Tate investigates.
The disturbance, which became known as the Police Station Riot, was sparked, it would seem, by the arrival in Silsden of a tough new police constable.
It resulted in 200 villagers signing a petition to the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, calling for an investigation into alleged police aggression.
PC Henthorn announced his intention to tame the town’s unruly element and claimed he would soon have them so docile that he would be able to leave his gold watch hanging unmolested on the church gates.
A few days later, PC Henthorn was jumped on and seriously assaulted as he carried out his night-time patrol.
From his hospital bed, he identified his two attackers and one of them was arrested, dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and taken to the police station.
Ben Hodgson pleaded not guilty at his trial in Skipton, which was attended by many of his supporters.
But despite claiming he had been with his mother in Keighley at the time of the attack on PC Henthorn, Hodgson was found guilty and sent to prison for three months.
The day after the trial, on Saturday, April 8, 1911, emotions were running high, the general feeling in the town being of sympathy to Hodgson.
The Craven Herald reported at the time that Hodgson’s case had been keenly discussed in Silsden and it was felt a demonstration had been deliberately planned.
Trouble started at Bolton Road End, Kirkgate, where two officers, PCs Barton and Cook were on duty.
“A number of men began trundling stones down the road in the direction of the constables with the intention of irritating the officers and inducing them to retaliate,” reported the Herald, which appeared to have had a reporter on the spot.
“It was not a big crowd, but it was a lively one and judging from their conversation, it would not have taken much to start an open conflict between them and the police constables there and then.”
The constables were not to be drawn, however, and proceeded along the road towards Silsden.
But at around 11.30pm someone set off the town’s fire station alarm, which continued for several minutes.
The long drawn-out call caused “several hundreds” to go to the fire station.
“Many of the people ran into the street in scanty attire and the fire brigade turned out only to find the alarm a false one,” reported the Herald.
“But the alarm served a purpose for those on mischief bent. For almost immediately, roughs in the crowd turned their attention on constables on duty and gradually forced them down to the police station.”
The recently-built police station was then at the bottom of the town at the junction of roads to Keighley and to Addingham.
It appeared that once in sight of the station – where Hodgson had been taken following his arrest – the mob “lost their heads”.
“They shouted and bawled and uttered violent oaths against certain members of the constabulary and made an attack on the police station,” reported the Herald.
Inside the station was PC Bell, who lived there with his family. He and the two other officers took cover behind furniture while his children were put in the cells for their own safety.
The mob took up position in a field opposite the police station and proceeded to throw stones gathered from the bed of a brook running between the road and the field.
“Bricks, stones and bottles were hurled over the road for a space of half an hour or more,” said the Herald. “Two or three officers who were on duty when the firing began were lucky to escape serious injury, and when the attack was at its fiercest, they had perforce to seek cover.”
Hundreds of stones were thrown, each accompanied by loud cheers.
All the windows in the police station and the neighbouring home of PC Henthorn were shattered.
Street lights in the area were also put out, plunging the scene into darkness.
Shortly before midnight, the besieged officers put in a request to both Keighley and Skipton police stations for help.
But it was another quarter of an hour before reinforcements arrived, leaving just four officers to fight off the rioters.
At 12.30am, six officers arrived from Keighley and forced the mob back towards Silsden. It was not clear whether they were forced to use their batons.
It was reported that one woman received a blow to the head and for some time a crowd of up to 300 people remained in the streets.
Each new batch of officers was met with cheers and the roads around the police station were strewn with stones.
The next day, thousands of people visited the scene of the battle.
The Herald reported that the anger of the crowd appeared to have been solely directed towards PC Henthorn, but that he had not been in the station at the time.
Two men – Oswald Firth and Walter Hindle – were arrested as a result of the attack and at their trial the following week in Skipton, officers Barton and Cook told how they had seen them throwing stones at the police station. But, following evidence from other villagers, who claimed the two men had been innocent bystanders, the charges were dropped.
A third man, Charles Hemingway, was, however, found guilty of malicious injury, fined 40s and ordered to pay costs.
The chairman of the bench said a tougher course of action could have been taken, but he had adopted a more lenient approach in the interests of all concerned.
But the people of Silsden were still aggrieved and a petition was sent to the Home Secretary complaining about the attitude of the police and calling for an inquiry to be held.
PC Henthorn, who had so inflamed local opinion, was withdrawn from Silsden and an investigation was carried out by the chief constable.
An inquiry into allegations made by Silsden people was held in private by the chief constable in Skipton after the Home Secretary said any complaint should be handled by the local force.
From the Craven Herald
Saturday 15 January 2011 / Craven History
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