There really is no place quite like one’s home and, although I left Manchester in 1985, at the age of 18, to study in London, I still feel deeply connected to my city and consider myself a ‘Manc’. When I researched my first book, The Real Sherlock Holmes, about real-life Victorian detective Jerome Caminada of the Manchester City police force, it was a wonderful opportunity to re-discover my home city and find out more about its very colourful history. I wrote about Manchester again for my latest true crime book, Who Killed Constable Cock? but this time I loitered in the suburbs.
I grew up in Old Trafford, close to Whalley Range and Chorlton-cum-Hardy. Famous for its sporting connections (I’ve never been a sports fan!), it is a reasonably quiet suburb of Manchester, about four and a half miles south-west of the city centre. Yet, almost exactly a century before I lived there, a shocking murder took place just near my family home.
On 1 August 1876, PC Nicholas Cock was walking his beat at midnight. He had reached the junction of West Point, where he stopped to chat with a colleague when two shots rang out in the dark. The young police officer took a bullet to the chest and, shortly after, died of his injuries. His superior officer, Superintendent Bent knew exactly who the culprits were and instantly set out to frame them for his constable’s murder. This fascinating case led to a murder conviction, a startling twist and an astonishing confession by a notorious burglar.
Although I wasn’t aware of this crime when I was growing up in the area, the places that feature in the case are intrinsically linked to my childhood experience. My family home is about 200 feet from the crime scene, although the road where I lived wasn’t created until 25 years after the event. At the time, it was part of the extensive manor estate of Darley Hall, which was sold for housing at the turn of the 20th century. However, I took the bus to school everyday for 7 years just near to the spot where PC Cock received the fatal bullet.
Nicholas Cock was shot near a large house, near the junction of West Point. In the 1970s when I was still a child, it had become the Seymour Hotel, known mostly for drinking and brawling. It was one of many local pubs appearing in this case, and I spent much of my teenage years lurking in their bars. The suspects arrested for PC Cock’s murder, the three Habron brothers, used to drink in the Royal Oak (above) and the Lloyd’s Hotel (below) both in Chorlton, where many of the witnesses overheard them threatening to do away with the young police officer while they were intoxicated. The original Royal Oak building has gone, but was replaced by another pub of the same name close by. The Lloyd’s Hotel is still open to this day.
Another important link for me is the place where PC Cock was buried. His body was laid to rest in the tiny graveyard on Chorlton Green, which belonged to the old church of St Clement’s before it was re-located. When I was very young, my dad was a milkman and the dairy was just behind Chorlton Green. I have very vivid memories of visiting the depot, with the cloying smell of milk and the clanging of the metal churns, and I would have passed PC Cock’s grave many times. His headstone was removed from the churchyard in 1957, but a memorial is still there as a reminder of his untimely death.
One hundred and forty years later, I used contemporary newspaper accounts and the original trial records to re-tell this case in full detail for the first time. I visited PC Cock’s grave and many of the places that form our shared history in Chorlton. This was my home too, and I feel privileged to have an opportunity to share Constable Cock’s tragic story, which is now woven into my own much happier one.
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