The pubs around old Hartlepool were usually jam- packed but, for some reason of late, there was little business to be had.
“Something was very wrong. The streets were just too quiet and the tills just too empty,” said historian Norman Kirtlan.
Indeed, when Sergeant Bowman toured the town’s bars on September 25, 1872, he found things suspiciously quiet.
But the officer knew exactly what the problem was...
“Shebeens – illegal drinking houses – had been set up in sculleries and front rooms all over town,” said Norman.
“The booze often arrived via foreign sailors, with locals buying it up tax free before selling it on to trustworthy friends and neighbours.
Shebeens – illegal drinking houses - had been set up in sculleries and front rooms all over Hartlepool. It took a police operation involving an old lady’s netty to catch the crooks.Norman Kirtlan, local historian.
“Bowman was, however, one step ahead of the Shebeeners – having just heard a whisper about one such establishment in Back Anne Street.”
The house in question was occupied by John Lindsay and his midwife missus. Neither had been in trouble with the police before.
But neighbours had noticed a sudden increase in traffic up and down the Lindsay’s garden path, and duly passed on this tidbit to Bowman.
“Bowman and a colleague wasted no time in securing the use of an old lady’s netty, where they concealed themselves on September 26,” said Norman.
“It was just after 7am when the first customer, labourer Martin Brown, shuffled furtively into view – quietly tapping at Lindsay’s back door.
“A sixpenny coin was handed over and Brown was rewarded with a glass of whisky, No sooner had that been consumed, then a second was supplied to a thirsty Brown.”
The officers had seen enough to prove the offence and duly emerged from the netty, making a hurried charge for the Lindsay’s back scullery.
“Mrs Lindsay claimed the alcohol was for use in her role as a midwife – but a search of the house told a different story,” said Norman.
“Other bottles were found, and there were enough whisky glasses lying about to show that the house had been swinging from the rafters the night before.”
Lindsay was charged with selling liquor without a licence and, after magistrates threw out his midwife story, he was fined £5 for the offence.
“A few years later, when another Shebeen opened, the cops found felons were now in the habit of searching local netties for concealed constables,” said Norman.
“One intrepid lawman even resorted to dressing up as a tramp and living rough for a few days, in order to gain evidence against an illegal boozer.
“The ruse worked like a dream, and not a single old lady was deprived of her netty during those bygone police operations.”