william burke

william burke

From Our Archives - Helmet of PC Tom Jewes

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Constable Tom Williamson Jewes of Manchester City Police, aged 25 and married for just over one year, drowned on 16 June 1933 trying to rescue a man who had fallen into the River Irwell near to Victoria Station. William Burke fell into the Irwell after apparently trying to rescue a cat that was stranded on the footing of Victoria Bridge. PC Jewes who was on point duty at the time immediately went to the bridge parapet where he paused only to take off his helmet. He then lowered himself down a rope and swam out into the river. He managed to take hold of William Burke and the two struggled to regain the rope. But in those days the River Irwell was notorious for its polluted, poisonous waters. With the rope almost within their grasp, both men disappeared below the surface and panic broke out on the bridge. A member of the public entered the water and managed to get hold of Tom and his friend, PC Les Stephenson battled to revive him, but it was too late. William Burke’s body was recovered separately. The tragedy shocked Manchester, especially when friends of William Burke came forward and claimed that the rescue of the cat had been deliberately staged. Former boxer William “Battling” Burke had, it was said, seen a cat moving around on the bridge. He told his friends to fasten a rope to the parapet and telephone the newspapers about what he was going to do. He had hoped to make some money for them all when the public witnessed his bravery. Ironically the cat remained on the footing throughout the incident and was later brought to safety and placed in a home for stray cats. Tom Jewes’ funeral was possibly one of the greatest Manchester civic occasions of the 20th century. Borne on a fire tender, Tom’s coffin carried both a floral tribute and the helmet that he had passed to the bystander on Victoria Bridge, moments before his fateful descent on the rope. Starting off at the old Albert Street Police Station, the procession moved along Deansgate. The coffin was then embarked at Victoria Station, taking Tom to his final resting place in his home village of Whittle-Le-Woods. An estimated 100,000 people lined the route, and behind the coffin walked civic dignitaries and 400 members of the Force. In a final act, the Manchester Police Band sounded the last post over his grave in the simple country cemetery of the Church of St. John. A memorial to Tom was later placed in Bootle Street police station and officers were required to salute it when they passed. Now descendants of Tom’s family have donated a photograph album of Tom’s funeral to the GMP museum, a framed memorial tribute commissioned by the Chief Constable and most poignant of all, the helmet that Tom handed to an onlooker on that fateful Friday evening in 1933. PC Les Stephenson, who had tried so hard to resuscitate his friend, went on to supervise life saving courses for police officers and was one of the driving forces behind the building of the swimming baths at Wythenshawe. The tragedy also had one happier outcome, when Les later married Tom’s sister Amy.