Truncheon Recalling The Brutality Of Liverpool’s 1919 Riots To Sell At Bonhams

Hooligans Took Advantage Of Police Strike By Pillaging Shops In A Succession Of Night Raids

A rare hardwood truncheon commemorating The Liverpool Riots of 1919 will be sold at Bonhams in Knowle on 13 May 2008. The truncheon was designed in honour of police officers who did not go on strike in the summer of 1919 and who served through the ensuing riots.

In August 1919 almost half of Liverpool’s constabulary walked out and went on strike. The result was two days of out of control rioting in the streets of Liverpool and the pillaging of countless shops. On the first night of raids looters mainly targeted clothes shops as well as jewellers and pawnbrokers, running home with armfuls of suits and ladies furs. By the second night however the raiders were more indiscriminate and very few shops remained unscathed – sweet shops were looted and pianos were dragged out of music shops and played in the street.

The New York Times, who reported extensively on the events in Liverpool in August 1919, describing the chaos as “an orgy of pillage and violence” and warning “Liverpool is in the grip of hooliganism”.

To cope with the chaos 2,800 troops were drafted from nearby military camps and the Battleship Valiant, along with two other warships, were sent to the Mersey. Tanks were strategically positioned around the city and soldiers brandishing bayonets were posted in the main streets. On the second day of rioting the soldiers, along with the remaining half of the police force, started to fire shots above the heads of the mob as a warning. The looters retaliated by showering the police with bricks and stones causing many injuries. Law-abiding citizens begged to be allowed to help the police, one saying, “Give me a rifle and I’ll clear the street myself”. At least one man was shot dead.

The morning after the riots children where found rooting around the decimated shops, climbing through shattered glass windows, cutting themselves and reappearing with bundles of sweets.

A beer-bottling factory was also broken into and men, women and children emerged loaded down with bottles of beer and stout. Barrels were rolled out and crowds flocked bringing with them glasses and jugs with which to have a drink. The rioters drank and danced in the street, laughing and jeering at the soldiers.

Order was eventually restored to Liverpool and police officers on strike were delivered an ultimatum, either they came back to work or they would be dismissed and not allowed to rejoin the force. Over 370 people appeared in court on charges of shoplifting or being in possession of stolen goods.

The truncheon forms part of a collection of truncheons and tipstaves belonging to the late Detective Chief Superintendent Kenneth Gordon.

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