ONE hundred and fifty years ago, Darlington was gripped by fear. One Irishman was dead, shot outside a pub on Albert Hill, and another was in custody accused of murder.

The fear was that the bloody “Fenian troubles” between rival secret brotherhoods had spread to the town with the Irish immigrants who had come to work on the Hill’s rapidly expanding ironworks.

However, when the Spring Assizes opened at Durham 150 years ago this week, before John McConville, known as “Gentleman Jack” to his friends, could be tried for murder, the court had to deal with a shooting which had occurred in the same area of town just hours before another Irishman, Philip Trainer, had been fatally shot.

Puddler Thomas Finnigan, 26, was charged with “feloniously with a certain pistol loaded with powder and one leaden bullet did shoot a William Young with intent to kill and murder him”.

Puddler Young told the court that he was buttoning up his waistcoat coming out of the privy in the back yard of James Costello’s beerhouse, on Haughton Lane, when he noticed Finnigan and another man.

“I saw the prisoner with his left hand on his chest, and with the other hand pointing something at me,” testified Young. “He appeared to be supporting his right hand with his left. I then saw a flash of light, and heard a report, and something whizzed past my face and struck the wall of the yard. I then turned round and said ‘not yet, man’. I next rushed into Costello’s by the back door.”

In the ensuing melee, Finnigan said the shot was a mistake and fled – but two policemen tracked him down to the Havelock Arms, on the edge of Albert Hill.

But as PC Ianson quite literally felt Finnigan’s collar, the wanted man made a sudden movement. “He was in the act of pulling a revolver from his breast,” said Sgt Hewitt. “I rushed forward and seized it across the revolving part. I pulled it from him along with the pocket and part of his jacket, for the top of the hammer had caught the inside of his pocket.”

Finnigan said to Sgt Hewitt: “‘Ah! You b---, you’ve got it.”

On examination, the sergeant discovered each of the six chambers was loaded – meaning that Finnigan, who had 11 pieces of lead shot in his pocket, had reloaded since discharging it in Costello’s.

But Finnigan had a defence. “He stated that a friend asked him if he would sell his revolver,” said the D&S. “They went into the yard together to bargain about it. His friend, who was rather intoxicated, wished to fire the revolver off, but he refused to allow him to do this, and said he would fire a barrel off himself. He then fired a barrel into the air, but had not the slightest intention to hurt any person.”

In his summing up, the judge, Mr Justice Lush, said the jury had to decide whether it was an accident or not, pointing out that there was no motive for Finnigan wanting to murder Young, but drawing their attention to Finnigan appearing to draw the revolver when approached by police.

It took them 20 minutes to find him not guilty.

In discharging Finnigan, the judge sounded relieved. “If you had happened to hit him, you would have been in the greatest possible danger of being hanged. I do not see how you would have escaped execution.

“If it had been proved that you did fatally use that abominable weapon in that wicked way, and this was merely prevented by the young man ducking his head, no defence would have availed you. I hope that some law will be soon passed, preventing men of your description having such weapons in your possession.”

Finnigan walked free. Next up was McConville. If he were to be found guilty, he would have to hang. But the D&S went to press before his trial began. That story would have to wait for next week…

THE HAVELOCK ARMS was known as “the Round House” in Finnigan’s day, and so it was until it was demolished in 2002. Memories 411 tried to promote the idea that right up to demolition there were three tunnels still running to unknown destinations from its cellar.

Barbara Harris emails to put us right. “My grandparents, Norah and John Warwick, were landlords there in the 1940s, and my mother and her two brothers searched for tunnels, but never found any.”

In one way this is a sad crushing of the rumour, but in another way, if for 70 or more years there were rumours of tunnels, perhaps there was some truth in them.