The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: Remembering a crime spree in 1912

There was a time when towns like Dewsbury and Batley always seemed to have a large number of police officers looking after the interests and security of local people.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 9:15 am
Easy Targets: Pictured around 1908 is Northfield Road, one of the finest residential areas in Dewsbury where the more affluent people lived, which made them a prime location for burglars. This was one of the areas they targeted in 1912 when there was an “epidemic” of burglaries in that area in 1912. Note the lovely stone houses with their bay windows and walled front gardens. All still there, fortunately.
Easy Targets: Pictured around 1908 is Northfield Road, one of the finest residential areas in Dewsbury where the more affluent people lived, which made them a prime location for burglars. This was one of the areas they targeted in 1912 when there was an “epidemic” of burglaries in that area in 1912. Note the lovely stone houses with their bay windows and walled front gardens. All still there, fortunately.

Many of my generation will remember when you couldn’t walk very far without seeing a police officer, especially in the town centre.

Even if you went for a stroll in the park you could be sure of seeing a police officer there keeping his eye on things.

We took for granted the sense of security that goes with knowing there is someone looking after your safety and security, day and night.

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Margaret Watson.

There was even a system in Dewsbury whereby anyone going on holiday could inform the police and a check would be made on his house every night by the officer on the beat.

Yes, unusual as that might seem today, there were police officers patrolling the streets at night, trying shop doors to check they were secure.

Here in Dewsbury, we had two police stations – the borough police force situated in the town hall, and the West Riding police force stationed in Union Street.

No wonder criminals were quickly spotted and apprehended even before completing their crime and often dealt with the next morning by local magistrates.

And anyone found drunk at weekends (you didn’t see many drunks during the day) were quickly locked up and placed in the cells overnight.

My parents could recall when burglaries were few and far between, perhaps because most people didn’t have much to steal.

Very occasionally the houses of the rich were burgled, and when this happened it was so unusual it caused public outrage.

In 1912, when a number of houses in the affluent area of Dewsbury were burgled in quick succession, it was described in the Reporter as “An Epidemic of Robberies”. So alarmed were local people that there was a run on insurance companies for policies, and on locksmiths for security locks.

The police were so concerned they offered a £25 reward for information leading to the apprehension of the culprits and recovery of the stolen property.

The “epidemic” reached its height when Alderman Kilburn’s house in West Park Street was burgled during the day while he was out walking with his wife and daughter.

The following is an edited version of the article which appeared in the Reporter:

“The daylight robbery at Alderman Kilburn’s house following the recent burglaries in the district has put a lot of people in a state of alarm.

“Burglary insurance policies (at the rate of two shillings per £100) are in great demand and unbreakable locks, house-breaking alarms, steel bars and safes are selling like penny cakes.

“The robbery is still an affair shrouded in mystery after Mr and Mrs Kilburn and Miss Kilburn went out last Friday afternoon for a walk, leaving servants in the kitchen.

“An hour or two later, a safe in one of the bedrooms was found open. A safe key had been taken out of a drawer, and £250 worth of jewellery stolen.”

The report continued:

“There has been quite an epidemic of such robberies in the last few months. In June Alderman Smith Ward’s house in West Park Street was visited while he and his family were away, and two rings, bracelets and a valuable gold watch were taken.

“The same night an attempt was made to force an entry into the residence of Mr Stanley Armitage in Birkdale Road, while he and his wife were at Whitby.

“It was fortunate for them that the unknown visitor was disturbed by the barking of a dog before he could get into the house.

“The same week, Police Constable Wood had an encounter with a burglar whom he found at work on the window sill at Marmaville in Mirfield, the residence of the late Mr Alfred Rhodes.

“Sometime later the Wellington Hotel in Dewsbury was robbed during the night of a large quantity of spirits and cigars.

“During the afternoon, a suspicious looking individual was arrested in the precincts of the home of Mr Benjamin Haigh, in Oxford Road.

“Not long afterwards, a girl employed by Messrs Lobley, Clegg and Company, was relieved of the firm’s wage bag in broad daylight while she was on her way from the bank.

“Since then the Rose and Crown Hotel in Halifax Road, and St Joseph’s Convent, Batley Carr, have been visited, and in the latter case the man took away articles valued at £5.

Later, the man who had perpetrated this crime gave himself up to the police and handed the stolen property back, saying he was tired of walking about with it.”

The article concluded:

“It is a significant fact that the West Park Street robberies have been committed whilst the householders have been out.

“This and other evidence points to the culprit being a person who is aware of the movements of the various families.

“Some theorists believe that the discovery of Alderman Kilburn’s uninvited guest will help unravel the other West Park Street incidents.”