DESPERATE affray in Durham. So said a headline in the Darlington & Stockton Times of September 11, 1869 – exactly 150 years ago this week. It required reading on…

“On Thursday, a notorious character named Robert Todd, alias Beanlands, and a prostitute named Ann Wilson, alias Soldier Nan, were charged before Durham magistrates with being drunk and disorderly on North Road on Wednesday afternoon and assaulting PC John Dawson in the execution of his duty,” said the report.

At 2.30pm on the day in question, Todd and three other people were spotted creating a disturbance “opposite the head of Milburngate”, and PC Dawson ordered them to move along.

“Todd, using some very bad language and referring to an old grudge against Dawson, refused to stir, suiting the action to the word by attempting to push the officer down,” said the D&S. “Dawson drew his baton, but Supt Wilson coming up recommended him to remove the prisoner to the station without using his staff.

“Todd, however, violently resisted, and on Dawson producing a pair of handcuffs to put on him, he seized hold of the bracelets, wrestled them from the officer’s hands, and threw them through the plate-glass window of the neighbouring spirit vaults of Mr Robson.

“Meanwhile, the occurrence of the scuffle had got the wind amongst the dwellers of Horsehole and Framwellgate, who hurried up to the scene of the fight, and their sympathies being decidedly adverse to the police, they commence by every covert act that could be devised, such as hustling, tripping them up, and the outsiders throwing stones to facilitate the escape of the prisoner.”

We’ve never come across Horsehole before, which doesn’t sound a particularly salubrious place to live on the Milburngate waterfront, and we’re rather surprised to see that the local bobbies were so unpopular with the local people that they resorted to tripping them up.

However, the report says that with the help of a butcher, Todd was restrained. But then…

“The woman Wilson then came up, forced her way into the centre of the crowd armed with two large stones, one of which she threw at Supt Wilson, knocking his hat off, and the other grazing the face of Dawson.

“Todd then sprang to his feet and with the assistance of the woman Wilson, and his friends in the crowd, he succeeded in making his escape, as also did the woman.

“They were both, however, subsequently apprehended. They made no defence. Todd had been 16 times previously convicted at Durham borough police court, besides an almost equal number of times by county magistrates, and he was sent to gaol for three months hard labour.

“Ann Wilson had been 14 times previously sent to goal (gaol is a ridiculous word and here the newspaper from 150 years ago got its letters in a twist) from this court, and she was now sentenced to one months’ imprisonment.”