Preston police in dramatic Hansom cab chase

Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at police car chase with a difference...

Thursday, 5th April 2018, 12:13 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th April 2018, 12:26 pm
Suspects in a Hansom cab were chased by the police in a car

Police cars in hot pursuit of criminals is a common sight these days.

But, not surprisingly, the events of the second weekend in September 1905 caused quite a stir when Preston detectives, in a requisitioned motor car, chased the occupants of a horse-driven Hansom cab.

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After all it was only in 1918 that Triumph motor cycles were introduced for officers on patrol and police superintendents were provided with cars. That weekend the police in Preston were asked by their colleagues at Bolton to keep a lookout for two young men and a young woman who they wished to question with regards to a theft.

On the Sunday morning when Detective McGuire reported for duty he was told of the search and he thought the fugitives could be three young people he had noticed minutes early travelling along the road to Blackpool in a horse-drawn Hansom cab. Along with Detective Moss he procured a motor car and went in pursuit. When the detectives reached Freckleton they overtook the Hansom cab on the Lytham Road and signalled the cabman to halt.

Convinced that the occupants of the cab matched the descriptions given to them they resolved to take them into custody at Preston. Identifying William Woods as the man who had allegedly stolen £45 from his employers Messrs. Wm Abbott & Co. of Bolton they insisted he travel back with them, asking the cabman to follow with the other two suspects. After a scuffle with Woods he was bundled into the motor and the officers set off for Preston with the hansom cab at their rear. A little later the occupants of the Hansom cab took advantage of a bend in the road to drive off in the opposite direction.

The detectives after delivering Wood to the Preston police station turned their vehicle around and went in pursuit of the cab, catching up with it at the Market Square in Lytham. The driver was by then inside the cab and it was being driven by Charles Roscoe with the other fugitive Maria Lowe also sat in the cab.

The chase had caused much excitement in the neighbourhood and a crowd gathered as the Hansom cab was escorted to the Earl Street police station where the three suspects were questioned before being taken to Bolton. When they appeared before the Bolton magistrates Woods, aged 20, was charged with stealing £45 from his employers and the other two were charged with receiving stolen money.

The court heard that Wood had been trusted to take a cheque to the bank to be cashed for payment of employee wages and had not returned. It was claimed that Roscoe, aged 21, had agreed to meet him after he left the bank and that the pair along with Maria Lowe, a married woman, had then gone on a spending spree.

Called to the witness box Wood, a former soldier, stated that after he left the bank the pair had caught the train to Blackburn and accidentally met Lowe there. He stated that in Blackburn he spent £4 buying a suit, overcoat and boots and that Roscoe had spent a similar amount on a suit, vest, cap and boots. Whilst he treated Mrs Lowe to a dress, umbrella and shoes spending about £2.

Shopping complete they caught a Hansom cab to Burnley and later travelled to Preston where they booked into a hotel for the night. Arranging for the cabman, who they paid 10 shillings, to stay at the hotel so that he could take them to Blackpool early next morning. When Roscoe was questioned he stated he could not remember how much Wood gave him as he had been drinking.

The magistrates found Wood and Roscoe guilty and sentenced them both to three months in prison with hard labour. Lowe was then discharged, although she had to hand over the clothes purchased for her, leaving the court in a blouse, skirt and shoes that she claimed she had bought herself. The magistrates concluded proceedings by praising the Preston detectives for their smart capture.