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Sunday, 26 September 2021

University of 3rd AgeJerome Caminada - the Real-life Sherlock Holmes

Speaker: Joe O'Neill

The guest speaker at Todmorden u3a's monthly meeting was Joseph (Joe) O'Neill, who gave an illustrated presentation about the life and times of Jerome Caminada, a nineteenth century policeman and detective in Manchester.

The officer's police career started in 1868, in 'A' division of the Manchester force, which covered areas including Deansgate, and the famous, or infamous, Deansgate Slum.

Joe told us that the rate of crime in the whole of Manchester was six times that of Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield and four times that of London. Earlier in the century, life expectancy for the whole of the country was 40 years, in Manchester it averaged 27 years, and in Little Ireland, a nearby Manchester suburb, it went down to 17 years. A local church minister, Alfred Alsop, described a substantial number of the community as 'the scum of the city'.

One of the main contributors to crime was alcohol. It was found that half of the offenders, and a third of victims were affected by drink. In the 1980s, a survey of Hulme, Manchester showed there were 12 public houses. A hundred years earlier, a similar survey showed there were around 600 pubs in that area.

Jerome had a very early initiation to police work on his first day on duty. He would have been expected to work a 14-hour day, walking a beat at a rate of 2.4 miles an hour, for a weekly wage of one pound, one shilling and sixpence. A well-known criminal in the area named Mick Quinn welcomed him by threatening to kill him, before knocking Jerome unconscious and making off. Jerome came round and pursued Quinn through streets and alleys before arresting his assailant. An early sign of what was to follow.

Jerome soon showed that he was a highly effective, diligent and proactive officer. Joe told us that the main job, or mindset of the police, was to prevent crime rather than trying to arrest offenders. Jerome was having none of this though, and was proactive in making arrests for varied offences, and cultivation of informants. He was promoted to sergeant in the detective department after only three years of service.

From then on, Jerome's reputation and effectiveness became widely known and acknowledged. One of his most famous cases was 'The Manchester Cab Mystery' in 1889. The brief circumstances were that a cab driver picked up two men, one much older than the other, who asked to be taken to an address in South Manchester. Sometime into the journey, the cab driver found that the younger man had got out of the cab, leaving the older man fatally injured still inside. 23 days later, Jerome had identified and arrested the suspect, who had administered a drug to the victim, a mill owner called John Fletcher, before stabbing him and stealing property. The killer, Charlie Parton, was sentenced to hang but this was commuted to imprisonment.

Joe described examples of the diversity, and number, of arrests and other police work done by Jerome throughout his career. The numerous crimes included forgery, terrorism, and those connected with horse racing. The racecourse offences included bogus betting slips and organised pickpocket gangs preying on racegoers. Jerome had free rein to travel throughout the UK and abroad, to pursue criminals and gangs, and had a phenomenal memory, recognising and arresting murderers, forgers, and other criminals.

After encountering a distraught mother of a boy sentenced to death, Jerome appealed to the court to have the sentence commuted to imprisonment. The prisoner, some years later, married Jerome's niece, and lived until 1951.

Jerome resigned from the police in 1889, and in later life founded an enquiry agency, and bought houses to rent.

He died in March 1914, and his eulogy was given by a retired judge called Edward Perry, who described Jerome as 'a kind man with a kind heart'. Judge Perry had, years before, been shot three times by a criminal named Taylor while sitting in court. Jerome directed that the judge be taken to a nearby doctor's rather than the hospital further away, which saved his life.

Joe's fascinating account of a remarkable policeman, and his answers to their questions, was much appreciated by our members.

The next Todmorden U3A Monthly Members Meeting by Zoom will be on Thursday 21st October 2021 at 1.45 p.m. open to all fully paid-up members.

Our speaker for October will be Roger Browne and the Great American Songbook

Not yet a member? You can attend one talk free by requesting an invitation to this zoom event. We're always delighted to welcome new members. Contact details: website at www.u3atod.org.uk or email at info@u3atod.org.uk.

Many thanks to Colin Sanson for this report


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