PEACE IN OUR TIME... THE CHORLTON DRIFT

by Manchester Area Psychogeographic

Friday October 31, as we look up into the night someone shot a cop in the suburbs of Victorian Manchester. Two Irish labourers were first convicted. Then the notorious villain and antihero Charles Peace confessed. And later someone disinterred the cop's body… Meet at the Seymour on the junction of Seymour Grove and Upper Chorlton Road, 7.00pm. Thence to Chorlton Green, and Jackson's Boat.

If MAP actions have in the past failed to get many people out of their beds during daylight hours, the Halloween descent upon the unsuspecting folk of Chorlton notched up our highest number of drifters so far. And credit is due in this respect to the welcome appearance of comrades from West Yorkshire. Its funny how, in a pub full of pissed people, you generally manage to recognise the other psychogeographers, even if you have never been introduced

We explained the story. The pub in question, the Grove, formerly the Seymour, stands in the vicinity of the shooting of a policeman, killed according to the records by the infamous burglar and desperado, Charles Peace. This was on the night of August 1-2, 1876. Peace confessed to the killing when he was in prison awaiting execution for other crimes. Prior to his confession, three brothers from Co. Mayo, Frank, John, and William Habron, were arrested for the Chorlton murder. It was said they had a feud with the cop, P.C. Cock, and were overheard talking about it in a pub. Several witnesses said they'd plotted to blow him away. Peace claimed he witnessed their trial from the public gallery of the courtroom. William Habron was found guilty and sentenced to hang. He had his sentence commuted and was sent to Portland Prison to do penal servitude for life. William had been breaking limestone for two years when Charles Peace confessed.

Confusion reigns as to where exactly the murder occurred. It may have been outside the Grove pub itself, or, according to one senior citizen we chatted to at a bus stop, it may have happened over the road, in front of an old wall. There is a legend of a bullet hole in some brickwork, but we couldn't see one in the dark. Peace said he fired one shot wide, which may have embedded itself in a wall, before he fired the fatal round, which, on impact, caused Cock to utter his last words: "Ah, you bugger." We walked off towards Chorlton Green, where the tale continues.

En route, near the baths, we gathered round a modest Edwardian semi at 51 Kepel Road where another set of brothers once lived, who also, according to some sources, have crimes to answer for. For this is the birthplace of the Gibbs - Maurice, Barry and Robin. Yes, the Bee Gees lived, and presumably learned to sing, in Chorlton, and first sang in public, it is said, at the Gaumont Cinema nearby, before emigrating to Australia in 1958.

Pressing on to the Royal Oak (the same name, but probably not the same building, as the pub the Habrons were overheard dissing the copper in), we stopped for a pint and plotted a route to Chorlton Green Cemetery.

PC Cock was originally buried here. But his gravestone was vandalised and they moved it, and possibly him, somewhere else. Where? Again we encountered conflicting accounts from all sources. Possibly the stone was kept at the former police headquarters on Chester Road. Our OAP informant told us it was at another police stronghold in Preston. But Chorlton Green is not a Peaceful place, we realised. The Horse and Jockey caters wholeheartedly for the youth market these days and unfortunately the Beech, undergoing repairs and refurbishment, may go the same way. Beech Road is fully gentrified, restaurants and wine bars proliferate. We ended up in an example, the Lead Station - where we felt thoroughly out of place but proud to be so. Formerly it had been the local cop shop, where PC Cock presumably kept his helmet.

And what happened to Peace? He hanged, at Armley Prison in Leeds, on February 25, 1879. Refusing to wear the white hood, he said, "Don't. I want to look".


First published in Manchester Area Psychogeographic 9, Spring 1998.

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