Preston thief carted off to police in a wheelbarrow after pub raid

Local historian Keith Johnson looks at the case of a burglar who bit off more than he could chew when breaking into a Preston pub...

Thursday, 6th February 2020, 5:00 pm
The Princess Alexandra (pictured in 1989) was the scene of the commotion in 1871

In August 1871 the landlord of the Princess Alexandra inn on Fylde Road was Evan Bretherton who lived within along with his wife Elizabeth and their six children from who ranged from teenagers to infants.

On the third Friday of the month all the family had retired to bed shortly after closing time.

Shortly after 2 o’clock the following morning Mrs. Bretherton was awakened by a noise at her bedroom window, and immediately afterwards saw the window shoot up, and a dark figure stealthily creep through. The figure passed along the room and through the bedroom door to the stairs.

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Mr. Bretherton having been awakened by his wife, jumped out of bed and followed the intruder.

He caught up with him half way down the stairs, and in a tussle they rolled to the bottom together.

A fierce struggle then took place, with the intruder declaring that if the landlord did not let him go he would slit his throat. Evan Bretherton nonetheless kept hold of the man, and the pair struggled upon the floor in the dark for some considerable time.

Mrs. Bretherton ran down the stairs as the struggle continued and fell over the pair of them, banging her forehead that began to bleed profusely. By this time a couple of the children had become aware of the trouble and their screaming alerted a couple of lamplighters who were passing the premises.

Despite her distress Mrs. Bretherton opened the front door and the lamplighters joined the fray. Eventually, along with the landlord, they were able to overcome the intruder who was bound with a clothes line. The police were soon on the scene and the intruder, who continued to give stubborn resistance, was carted to the police station in a wheelbarrow.

It had been quite a struggle with the intruder having bitten and scratched like a wildcat according to Mr. Bretherton, a couple of bite marks on his arms were testimony to the ferocity of the encounter.

Later that Saturday Harry Johnson, aged 25, described as a man of colour, appeared at the Preston police court before the magistrates.

According to the arresting officer Police Sergeant Keefe the prisoner was a shoemaker by trade who had recently been working in Preston as a labourer at the Railway Carriage & Iron Company.

In view of the serious nature of the crime Johnson was remanded in custody until the following Wednesday at which time he was committed for trial at the next Preston Sessions in mid October 1871.

Appearing before the chairman Charles Roger Jacson he maintained his plea of not guilty, but after hearing evidence from the Bretherton’s and the lamplighters the jury took little time in delivering a verdict of guilty.

Johnson having feloniously entered the premises and reacted in a violent manner as his attempted burglary was thwarted.

The chairman concluded proceedings by sentencing him to twelve months in the House of Correction.

The Princess Alexandra, known at times as the ‘Ole In The Wall’, closed its doors in the 2000s and was eventually converted into student accommodation in its location next to the Fylde Road railway bridge.