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FORGOTTEN MANCHESTER: The gruesome history of Manchester’s body snatchers

Manchester was notorious for body snatchers prowling through graveyards back in the 1800s…

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Spooky Isles & @michalmatlon / Unsplash

Manchester has an undeniably grizzly past, what with the industrial revolution and all that. But have you ever heard the gruesome tale of the city’s many body snatchers?

Yep, Manchester had its very own Burke and Hare, only up here he was known as the notorious John Massey. It all began in the 1820’s, when the price of corpse’s across the city had reached an all-time high; with two anatomy schools being based right here in Manchester, a corpse sold on the black market could fetch as much as £10, the equivalent to around £1,000 today. 

Clearly aware of the profit potentials of this, John Massey gathered his accomplices and, one evening in May 1829, they left their lodgings on Deansgate and walked to the Quaker Burial Ground in Jackson’s Row. 

In the dead of the night, the men all worked hastily together to dig up one of the freshly buried bodies – the body was later identified to be that of a lady named Mary Howcroft. The men managed to lug the heavy corpse all the way back down Deansgate without detection and back to Massey’s house, where they shoved it into a trunk and sent it off to the Star Coach offices, destined for London. 

Thomas Rowlandson

However, a worker at the Star Coach office decided on a whim to open up the trunk and made the grim discovery of Howcroft’s body. Massey was later apprehended, arrested and sentenced to three months in prison for his crime. 

But, quite unbelievably, this wasn’t this first instance of body snatching in Manchester; just a couple of years earlier in 1824, two men by the names of William Johnson and William Harrison were on a similar mission and managed to snatch several corpses from their graves throughout just two months. 

According to Michala Hulme, a member of the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage at Manchester Metropolitan University, Johnson and Harrison would actually rebury the coffin after removing the corpse in an attempt to cover up their heinous crime. 

And this tactic worked… Until they were ratted out to the police by a prying neighbour, who just so happened to witness them packing up cases throughout the night and believed them to be thieves. 

@theblowup / Unsplash

The neighbour called the police and Constable Lavender brought down his beagles to search the office, eventually going on to make the grim discovery of several bodies that had been stuffed into cases, all ready for shipment to London.

After being unable to identify the corpses (as you can imagine, equipment and technology were severely lacking in those days), the constable took an advertisement out in the local newspaper stating that the bodies would be on public display the following day, and viewing would require a ticket – yes, in the 1800s it was common practice to showcase unidentified corpses in an attempt to locate their families and next-of-kin. Just imagine it.

Anyway, after a fairly lengthy process, all the bodies were claimed and re-interred. Johnson and Harrison were later found guilty of stealing bodies and sentenced to fifteen months at Lancaster Castle – the same place the Pendle Witches were executed for alleged witchcraft.

Who else won’t be sleeping tonight?

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Did you know the NHS was born in Manchester 74 years ago today?

Happy birthday to the NHS!

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University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life Sciences / Wikimedia Commons & Peter McDermott / Flickr

Today, as our treasured National Health Service marks its 74th anniversary, we’re taking a look back on its extensive history and the substantial role Manchester played in its creation. 

Life before the NHS was a bleak one; before 1900, healthcare was typically provided by charities, poor law (the local welfare committees who operated workhouses) and a criminally unregulated private sector.

Others, including many in the lower middle class, struggled to afford treatment, relying on hospital casualty departments, kind-hearted doctors or dubious folk remedies – as a result of these archaic conditions, women frequently died during childbirth and the life expectancy for men was just forty-eight.

But in 1911, that was all set to change.

Science Museum Group / Wikimedia Commons

The National Insurance Act of 1911, something that many regard as the original groundworks for the NHS, was introduced and, for the first time, provided access to general practitioners for manual labourers and lower paid non-manual workers earning under a certain income. 

However, this groundbreaking new system wasn’t without its flaws – fees for GPs were increasing for the middle class and wealthy who were outside the system, and the wives and children of National Insurance members were excluded, as was hospital treatment, meaning that many had to pay further fees or rely on older workers’ society insurance schemes or free, less reliable clinics for mothers and children.

Something needed to change.

Nearly two decades later, the Local Government Act 1929 gave authorities the power to transform Poor Law institutions and develop them into the modern hospitals we know today. And, fast forwarding another two decades and another world war, Aneurin Bevan was appointed as the minister of health and thus, the wheels for the UK’s first National Health Service were set in motion.

Bradford Timeline / Flickr

On July 5th 1948, after years of hard work from various medical and political figures who felt the current healthcare system was insufficient and needed to be revolutionised, the first NHS hospital offering free healthcare for all, regardless of class, was launched at Park Hospital Manchester – known today as Trafford General Hospital.

On that historic day, Bevan arrived to inaugurate the NHS by symbolically receiving the keys from Lancashire County Council. Nurses formed a ‘guard of honour’ outside the hospital to meet him and, from that day forward, the healthcare of the nation changed forever.

In the early days, there were of course some teething problems – not long after its launch, expenditure was already exceeding previous expectations and charges were considered for prescriptions to meet the rising costs. However, by the time the 1960s rolled around, these early adjustments were altered and it was considered to be a strong period of growth for the NHS, characterised by new developments in the availability of drugs.

Since its birth here in Manchester, our NHS has gone through many changes, improvements, updates and modernisation processes, with no one back in 1948 ever fathoming the way in which the service has developed, pioneered and expanded from Manchester across the entire country.

Nicolas J Leclercq / Unsplash

However, there’s still room for improvement.

Today, the NHS continues to face a national crisis – the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the impact that years of underfunding has had upon our health care service and the long-serving staff members and medical professionals that continue to hold it together.

In October 2020, it was revealed by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) that as many NHS nurses died from Covid than were killed during the entirety of the First World War.

But regardless of the hurdles thrown in its path, the NHS continues to valiantly serve the British public – the idea of a National Health Service once upon a time would have been unheard of, yet today we cannot imagine a life without it.

Happy 74th birthday to our wonderful NHS!

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FORGOTTEN MANCHESTER: The rise and fall of Tommy Ducks

From coffins as tables and knickers stapled to ceiling, there wasn’t a lot that didn’t happen at Tommy Ducks…

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Salford_66 / Flickr

Out of all of Manchester’s weird and wonderful institutions, the legacy of Tommy Ducks remains today as one of the all-time greats.

 But what exactly happened to this infamous boozer?

Tommy Ducks stood proudly down what is now Lower Mosely Street, and is known to have roots dating all the way back to the 1800s. 

While it is widely believed that it was originally named The Prince’s Tavern, the pub underwent a name change at some point in the 1870s after its egotistical landlord Thomas Duckworth wanted to name it after himself. 

Manchester Libraries

But rumour has it that the painter-decorator hired to replace the pub’s sign either ran out of paint and supplies or found he didn’t have enough room to fit in the full name, so improvised and come up with the name Tommy Ducks, instead.

Of course, there’s no solid evidence for this mishap actually happening, but it is certainly one of the more believable rumours about the pub’s namesake.

Anyway, the pub settled with its abbreviated name and went on to quietly serve the good people of Manchester throughout the 1900s.

But then the 1970’s arrived, and Tommy Ducks started to gain a different kind of reputation, with it quickly becoming one of the most sought after boozers in the city – quite the accomplishment considering it was stood in the middle of a recently-demolished estate.

Rose McGivern / Facebook

One of the pubs more popular legacies is its makeshift tables – for reasons unbeknown to most Mancunians today, someone had the bright idea of using glass-topped coffins as tables, one of which was kidnapped by a rival pub for a while.

One of the coffins even featured a skeleton, which many people were adamant was a real one.

Tommy Ducks was also renown for having ladies knickers and bras stapled to the ceiling above the bar, with female punters allegedly been invited to remove their undies upon arrival (yes, before their first drink!).

The pub played home to these kind of shenanigans for the next couple of decades and, by the 1990s, it was one of the last standing buildings in the area, which lay in ruin following a mass demolishment.

Andrew Simpson

However, in 1993 the pub’s temporary preservation order – arranged by punters and supporters back in the 1970s – expired, plunging its future into uncertainty and doubt.

Greenalls Brewery, which ran the pub, was also coming under increasing pressure by fat cat developers to sell up and shut shop.

Tragially, the temporary preservation order expired on a Friday, meaning that the council offices were closed for the weekend. And because the order couldn’t be renewed until Monday morning, demolition began in the early hours of Saturday.

While Greenalls was eventually fined £150,000 for their act of destruction, it was still too late – Tommy Ducks and its abundance of coffins and bras was gone forever.

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It’s 26 years since the devastating IRA bomb and the people of Manchester are still waiting for justice

Why was no one ever arrested for the attack on our city?

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Manchester Fire / Flickr

Twenty-six years ago on this date, Manchester fell victim to one of the biggest bombs ever exploded in the United Kingdom. 

It was a beautiful, unusually sunny morning in Manchester on June 15th, 1996 – England were about to take on Scotland in Euro ‘96, football fans were swarming the city centre for the next day’s Russia v Germany fixture at nearby Old Trafford, and the Arndale Shopping Centre – built just twenty years prior – was heaving with weekend shoppers. 

However, the festivities of the warm summer’s day were all set to change when a security guard on the other side of the city received an anonymous tip off. 

Sometime after 9:38am, Gary Hall – a security guard at ITV’s Granada Studios – took a phone call from a man with a ‘very calm’ Irish voice, as per The BBC.

The anonymous man went on to inform Gary that he had planted a bomb in the city centre and it would be exploding in one hour. Following the phone call, the police were immediately notified and they sprung to action locating the bomb and evacuating 80,000 people from the area. 

However, this proved to be quite the task. At first, people were not keen to go; it was the 1990s and Mancunians had become seasoned to bomb scares.

One hairdresser allegedly refused to let his clients leave because they still had chemicals in their hair, arguing it would be ‘too dangerous.’ Alternatively, a group of workmen wanted to stay put because they were on weekend rates.

Slowly, though, the severity of the situation began to sink in, and authorities were able to successfully evacuate the centre, with some people screaming and running for their lives. 

Amid the chaos, police spotted a stationary white lorry parked on double yellows outside of Marks & Spencer with wires running from its dashboard. A bomb squad was swiftly dispatched from Liverpool; however, their attempt to dismantle the device using a remote-controlled robot failed.

At precisely 11:17am, the 3,300lb device exploded.

Smoke mushroomed above the city as the explosion shattered glass windows and rained building debris onto the people below. In the aftermath, emergency services scrambled to deal with the injured civilians – around 220 of them, to be precise – and fire crews searched shops and offices for casualties.

Yet despite the horror and the devastation, not a single person was killed in the explosion.

Nevertheless, Manchester’s city centre lay in ruins. Historic landmarks such as Manchester Cathedral and the Royal Exchange Theatre needed what has been estimated to be billions of pounds worth of repairs and renovations and, most gravely, hundreds of people were left with life-changing injuries, both physically and mentally. 

And yet, over a quarter of a century on from the devastating attack, the people of Manchester are still waiting for justice.

Quite remarkably, an arrest for whoever was responsible for the bomb was never made – it is widely believed that, while both Greater Manchester Police and Special Branch investigations identified the prime suspect, he was never actually arrested because of fears it could derail ongoing peace negotiations in Northern Ireland.

Graham Stringer, who led the council between 1984 and 1996 and who is today MP for the city’s Blackley and Broughton constituency, told The Independent: “I am sure the security services know who did this and I think it got caught up in the peace process.

“It’s appalling. In a democratic society, for someone to blow up the centre of a major city and injure hundreds of people, and then get away with it? It is wrong.”

In a 2006 review, GMP said there was no longer any ‘realistic possibility’ of a prosecution. 

Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Mole said: “The Manchester bomb affected many people which is why the case has remained open and has been kept under constant review. As the 20th anniversary of the incident approaches, it is now the right time for another assessment of the case in order to identify and explore any possible potential investigative opportunities.

“If new information comes to light it would be considered, and I would urge anyone with information relevant to the investigation to get in touch with police.”

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