Motorcycle thief makes dramatic bid to escape from arresting officer in Preston

In early March 1921 Thomas Edward Holden, aged 29, of Rochdale appeared before the magistrates at the Burnley Police Court accused of the theft of a Harley Davidson motor cycle manufactured in 1920 and worth £165.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 2:02 pm
Updated Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 2:02 pm
Penwortham Cop Lane station
Penwortham Cop Lane station

He pleaded guilty to the crime and before sentence was passed the magistrates heard how he had visited a cycle dealer in Burnley and asked for a trial run on the bike.

Holden riding off and not returning ended up in Manchester where he offered the bike to a motor dealer, asking for £30 which the dealer readily agreed to pay, making out a cheque for Holden. Only after reflecting on the purchase did the dealer become suspicious and after telling his bank to stop payment of the cheque he altered the police. Within a couple of hours Holden visited the bank and after being refused payment returned to the motor dealer's premises where Det. Insp Shillito was waited to arrest him.

The magistrates after their deliberations informed Holden, a former soldier in the Lancashire Regiment, who had left the army in 1920, that considering he had been on probation in 1916 following a couple of convictions for theft, a term of six months imprisonment was appropriate. Later that day he was escorted to Preston Gaol to begin his sentence.

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On the last Tuesday of March 1921 Holden was escorted by train to Southport where he faced another charge of stealing a motorcycle prior to the Burnley crime. Once again he pleaded guilty and the Southport magistrates sentenced him to a further six months in prison with hard labour.

Proceedings complete he was escorted back to Southport railway station and on to the late afternoon Preston bound train. The train stopped at Cop Lane, Penwortham where a handful of passengers got off and as the train restarted Holden, despite being manacled, made a dash to the carriage door and unlocking the handle jumped on to the rails. The prison warden reacted quickly and leapt on to the track also. His pursuit of the prisoner turned into a lengthy one as Holden headed towards Preston through the fields. The warden's hue and cry attracted the attention of a platelayer and a soldier who joined the chase.

Eventually, an exhausted Holden was captured in the Avenham Park area and was taken to the Preston railway station, where the warden collected documents left on the train. Holden then had the company of the warden and a couple of constables as he was taken handcuffed on to the electric powered tram that took him back to Preston Gaol. Fortunately, the warden and the prisoner has only the odd bruise and bump after their ordeal and that night Holden was back in his prison cell.

Major Augustu Benke who was the Governor of Preston Gaol in the 1920s claimed his intention was to return the criminals to society as better people. Under his command the prisoners woke at 6 o'clock and after washing and dressing had an hour of physical drill. Their working day was from 9 o'clock until 6 o'clock at night with a break for a mid day meal. The meal eaten in their cells included soup, meat and fresh vegetables. The work undertaken by the prisoners included the manufacture of thousands of pairs of clogs, hammocks for the Admiralty and mailbags for the GPO.

The Penwortham Cop Lane railway station was opened in 1911 by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway and was a victim of the Beeching report, closing in 1964 like many rural stations, and the construction of the Penwortham By Pass removed the last traces of its existence.