As the sun rose over the City, the lush green landscape would reveal its secrets that lead to many a person frequenting the meadow that at times became their home-from-home. The chorus of pleasant sounding birds, the sound of the slow running river that contained a plethora of wildlife from cray fish to eels added to the calming ambient atmosphere that the meadow had to offer.
In the fields surrounding the area, farmers would go about their morning routines of herding their cattle ready to take to the markets or back to the farms ready for milking.
The aptly named Angel pub would be preparing for the day’s trade, making sure enough ale was ready to serve on the regulars as well as passers-by, all willing to throw a shilling or two down onto the counter.
Meanwhile, over in the distance, the dark spectre of change was fast approaching. Smoke billowing from huge chimneys had blanketed parts of the skyline and was visible from the hillside heading down and into the City and the sounds of machinery echoed into the narrow streets and snickets that weaved in and out of the close-knit suburbs.
Angel Meadow was changing.
By the mid 1800’s, the expansion of the mills and factories had spread like a virus all over the City, taking with it the pastures, the meadows and the green hills that had once graced the northern sectors.
Soot that poured endlessly from the towering chimneys blanketed most parts of the Meadow, attaching itself to the buildings and anything else that got in its way. And even today, you can still evidence of this on a few of the buildings that are still standing now. Simply rubbing a hand over the brickworks within the archways of the passing railway line will a dark shadow on your skin.
The river Irk, once a clean looking river that had teamed with an abundance of life was now nothing but a cesspit of brown, murky filth containing rotten food, human excrement and even dead animals.
As for the Angel pub, this had long since closed its doors, being replaced perhaps by those lodging houses containing those people on the lowest rung of the ladder, those struggling from day to day both physically, mentally and financially and who would do almost anything to survive – even if it meant murder.
And beneath those lodging houses, more people would live in cramped conditions in the basements and damp cellars. With no windows, the air stank and would become unbreathable – especially during the hot summer months, and this would often lead to outbreaks of cholera, typhoid or tuberculosis.
The walls of the lodging houses were so thin, everything could be clearly heard by neighbours. From threats to beatings, nothing that went on behind closed doors was ever kept secret.
Out on the streets, the drunks would stumble from door to door until they finally arrived back at their homes or lodgings. Often, many would find themselves in fights with others and the severity of their beatings would leave them sleeping on the cobbled stones on the streets.
Fights would commonly break out, resulting in the police having to be called for and this in itself would lead to even more trouble as gangs would simply round up on the authorities, often knocking off the policeman’s hats or ‘bumping’ into them simply to intimidate them into retaliating.
But it would be poverty that would enshrine Angel Meadow as thousands of Irish immigrants would flood into the area, many coming into the City of Manchester because of the great famine and obviously all trying to find work simply to survive.
But with poverty came a huge increase in crime and soon gangs would be formed in territories so close to each other that you would have one gang on one street and another directly opposite on another.
These gangs were known as the Scuttlers; young boys aged anywhere between 14 and 19 years old, and they would often end up fighting with other gangs using knives, belt buckles and stones as their weapons of choice. The belt and its buckle was the favourite for most as they were often made of brass and measure around 3″ in diameter. By wrapping the belt around a hand with the buckle showing, it would make a formidable weapon when used in a fight.
Scuttlers would take control of certain parts of the City and at one point during the 1890’s there were around 28 different gangs. Names such as the Bengal Tigers, the Alum Street gang, the Pollard Street gang and the Prussia Street gang all became synonymous as they brought a reign of terror in their own territories and one gang in particular, the Meadow Lads, had perhaps the most feared of Scuttler’s of any on their side – Henry Burgess.
Known as “Harry” to his mates, Burgess had over 40 convictions to his name by the age of just 22. Many for theft and burglary, but also quite a few convictions for aggravated assault, rioting and even attacks on the police.
But his violence didn’t end there. He would also at times take out his rage on his partner, Mary Ellen Burns whom he had attacked on more that one occasion and during one such attack, Mary would end up losing one of her eyes.
But it is Saturday, 6th May 1893 that we are going back to, and how a night of violence would ultimately lead to manslaughter.
It was late in the evening, roughly around 11.20pm when 28 year old market porter, Thomas Matthews was making his way back home after visiting the Exile of Erin beer house that was situated on Nicholas Street.
As he made his way up towards Old Mount Street, a woman could be heard shouting in the near distance.
“When I get hold of Matthews, I’ll knock his big-headed pig’s head off for hitting my brother!”
That woman was Kate Lyons and she was being accompanied by her friend, Ellen Philbin. Both had been at number 9, the home of Thomas and his wife Mary Ann, dishing out threats for some time before Thomas had began to make his way home.
As he approached his home, both women who had by now noticed Thomas, began to hurriedly rush towards him. As they got closer, Lyons swung a hand towards him, knocking him down and spinning onto the cobbles. Philbin then waded in, also striking Thomas with a couple of blows to his head.
Patrick Matthews, Thomas’s brother, who had been outside talking to Thomas’s wife when Philbin and Lyons first arrived, went over to help him up off the ground, but the women carried on with their punching.
“What are you doing that for?” pleaded Patrick.
Thomas now back up on his feet but obviously dazed tried to escape from the irate woman, but Philbin had by this time taken off one of her clogs and proceeded to strike him on the back of his head, resulting in a deep gash opening up.
With Thomas now able to walk, albeit in a weary state, he was helped by Patrick to his house that was also situated on Old Mount Street.
In the distance, Patrick could hear Philbin shout something on the lines of “Go and fetch Henry!”
Making their way to Thomas’s house, both Thomas and Patrick sat on the steps. Patrick would take a quick look at the cut on the back of Thomas’s head and then go inside to look for something to help cover it.
He would only be gone for a couple of minutes but in short space of time, three men would quickly come running down from nearby Nicholas Street.
“That’s him!” came a shout.
It was Ellen Philbin, and she had returned with not just her brother, Henry Burgess, but also with two other men named Peter Ford and James Brady.
By the time Thomas had realised who the men were, Burgess ran up the steps, punching Thomas on the side of the face. Somehow Thomas managed to make his way inside his house. Safely inside, he took a couple of minutes to gather his thoughts and calm himself down.
Everything had escalated so quickly, Thomas had barely any time to react to all that had occurred within those last 10 minutes or so!
But he was a man that could look after himself, and being in fights over the years, he had earned the right to be respected as well as possibly feared by those down the pecking order.
Unbuttoning his waistcoat, he took it off and placed it over a chair. Rolling up the sleeves on his shirt, he was now prepared to fight back.
However, when he went back outside, all three men had strangely disappeared.
Thomas’s brother, Patrick, knew trouble was fast approaching. He had a feeling that Burgess and his accomplices had perhaps disappeared to either bring more men back with them or possibly to go and fetch some weapons.
Grabbing him by the arm, Patrick dragged Thomas off the steps and both men headed off further up the road to their mothers house, Bridget, who was situated just a few doors away.
No sooner had they arrived, Burgess, Ford and Brady reappeared, the sound of their clogs echoing through one of the many archways that intercepted the streets all throughout Angel Meadow.
This time they weren’t alone. It was reported that a mob of around 40 people had gathered behind them, many carrying fire lit torches.
At the front of them was Henry Burgess, and despite being just 5ft tall, his reputation proceeded him. He had become the most feared ‘scuttler’ within Angel Meadow. A man not to be reckoned with.
This time around he was carrying a large paraffin lantern that he had taken from his sisters house only a few minutes prior.
Watching on from his mothers doorway, Thomas and his brother were naturally terrified at the events that were unfolding in front of their eyes.
All this because of a fight that had occurred between Thomas and a rival by the name of Tommy Lyons just a week ago. Tommy was the brother of Kate and she had argued saying that it was a miss-match and that “He (Thomas) had a bloody cheek to take advantage of our Tommy!”
Tommy had vowed revenge on Thomas but it had now become a simmering feud that was being escalated by his sister, Kate and obviously, that of Henry Burgess!
Stood facing the steps leading up to Thomas’s mothers house, Burgess began to shake the lantern, stirring up the flames to make them burn more brighter and hotter.
A woman by the name of Elizabeth Mullholland, who had heard the commotion coming up from the street, had gone outside to see what was happening. Realising what he was doing, she tried to raise her hand to snatch the lantern away from Burgess, but Ellen Philbin was too quick. She pulled Elizabeth back by pulling on her hair, yanking her head backwards. As Elizabeth spun around to face her, Philbin rose a clenched fist and punched Elizabeth in the mouth.
Another lady by the name of Mary Bourke, who was holding a baby in her arms at the time of incident, tried to snuff out the lantern flames with her shawl, but just as she did with Elizabeth before her, Philbin grabbed Bourke’s hair and pulled her to do ground, baby and-all.
“You’re a cow! I’ll do for you as well as them!”
With the way in front of him now clear, Henry Burgess walked calmly to the foot of the steps that lead up to the house. Again, he shook the lantern to make it burn brighter. A few moments paused and then he launched the lantern towards Thomas.
The lantern slammed into the brickwork at the side of the doorway, bursting into pieces and covering Thomas in burning paraffin, turning him into a human fireball within seconds.
Rolling down the steps, Thomas stumbled onto the floor in front of the shocked onlookers. Patrick rushed down to try and help him as he tried to extinguish the flames by using his coat. Whilst doing so, Thomas’ screams would echo throughout the slum, piercing through the darkness as this clothes began to melt onto his skin.
The 40 strong mob who had witnessed the events quickly fled the scene, as did Burgess, Ford, Brady, Philbin and Lyons.
As for Thomas, he would be comforted as best he could be by Jim Healy, a lodger of Thomas’s mother, and another bystander by the name of Margaret Gilmore. Both Healy and Gilmore themselves suffered from burns from the lantern but not as severely as that of Thomas.
After putting out the flames, Patrick wrapped Thomas in a large bedspread before running out into the slums in the hope of finding police constables.
Shortly before midnight, Thomas would be taken to Manchester Infirmary in a horse-drawn ambulance. Attending to him was Hugh. K Wilson Clark, Surgeon, and he would later describe the state that Thomas arrived in.
“He (Thomas) was suffering from extreme shock and extensive burns on both arms, hands and the upper portion of the front of the abdomen and chest and neck and there were burns on the face and ears. The hair on his head and face were singed. There was a slight bruise on the side of his head. He rapidly sank and died at 6.40 am on Sunday.”
His death would later be recorded as dying from shock as well as burns and it would still need his wife, Mary Ann, to identify the body of that of her being husband.
That morning, Chief Detective Inspector Jerome Caminada had began investigating the ‘incident’. His questioning soon brought him face-to-face with Henry Burgess and he would shortly thereafter be arrested on suspicion of murder.
During questioning, Burgess would go on to tell Caminada that he had only meant to scare Thomas and that if he really wanted to hit him with the lantern he would have done so and not thrown it at the wall.
Peter Ford, James Brady, Ellen Philbin and Kate Lyons would also all be arrested and taken into questioning.
The inquest into the death of Thomas Matthews took place at 11am on Monday, 8th May and took place at the City Police Court before Mr. J. F. Furniss.
During the hearing, Burgess would go on to say that ; “I have nothing to say except that I threw the lamp; but not in the direction of the deceased at all. I knew where I was throwing it. The lamp did not hit him. If I wanted to hit him I could have done so, as his brother has told you, I was only two yards off. I have nothing else to say except that I was stupid drunk.”
Both Ellen Philbin and Kate Lyons would also give evidence and both would go on to say that neither had seen the lamp or ever saw it being thrown. Lyons would go on to say that she was drunk that evening and had no recollection of ever being near the scene. Philbin would however tell the jury that a lantern had been taken from her house whilst she was had been upstairs, claiming that she did not know who took it.
Elizabeth Mullholland would also take to the stand, telling the jury of how Ellen Philbin had punched her in the mouth whilst she was trying to stop Burgess from throwing the lamp. Philbin would argue, telling Mullholland to tell “no lies”, but Elizabeth would keep to her testimony.
Mary Bourke would also tell the jury of how Philbin had prevented her from also stopping Burgess from throwing the lantern and again Philbin would try to insinuate Bourke was telling lies. However, Mullholland would back up Bourke’s version of events.
Chief Detective Inspector Jerome Caminada would read out a written statement he had got from Burgess;
“I, Henry Burgess, am guilty of the charges made against me. Neither Brady, Philbin or Catherine Lyons were there when I threw the lamp. I didn’t intend to do what I have done. I was stupid drunk at the time. – Signed, Henry Burgess, 8th May 1893.”
The Deputy Coroner said the fresh evidence given by Caminada seemed to be very strong against Philbin as showing that she was acting in cohort with Burgess and protecting him.
The jury would return a verdict of manslaughter against Burgess and those of Philbin and Lyons and they would be committed for trial at the Manchester Assizes.
Two days later, the prisoners would all be brought up before the City Police Courts. This time, Brady would be released without charge as no evidence against him could be proven. Ford would be charged with assaulting Patrick Matthews and sent to jail for a month. As for Burgess, Philbin and Lyons, the charges of manslaughter would still remain and as already mentioned, they would have to await trial at the next Manchester Assizes.
Strangely, both Philbin and Lyons would be acquitted shortly after because there was too little evidence to convict them.
As for Burgess, and after admitting to manslaughter, he would be jailed for just twelve months with hard labour for what the judge called, ‘reckless’ behaviour.
But it seems this prison sentence didn’t deter Burgess. Within days of his release in 1894, he ambushed a Police Constable by the name of William Corns close to Old Mount Street, the scene of the attack on Thomas Matthews for which he was sentenced for. He attacked Corns after threatening him by saying, “Your time has come. I’m going to settle you!”
Despite being hit over the head and being wounded, Corns managed to bring Burgess to justice, but the subsequent sentence imposed on him would be just six months imprisonment with hard labour.
Without a doubt, Henry Burgess had forged a reputation based on violence and intimidation, seemingly scared of nothing and no-one. Even the police would sometimes turn a blind eye to some of his antics such was the fear he had instilled throughout the locality of Angel Meadow.
And as for Thomas Matthews, he left behind a wife as well as his five year old daughter, Margaret. His story is just one of many that ended in tragedy within the dark confines of Angel Meadow.
A place quite rightly labelled, “Hell upon Earth‘.
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Saturday 19 December 1891
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Tuesday 09 May 1893
Manchester Times – Friday 12 May 1893
Manchester Evening News – Saturday 21 July 1894
+ many more courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive – www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
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