Discover more from Once Upon a Time in Manchester
How the Manchester Megsmen met their match
Matthew Faulkner had been in Manchester only a few minutes when the Manchester Megsmen tried to steal his life savings. He proved an unlikely adversary
Matthew Faulkner had been in Manchester only a few minutes when they tried to steal his life savings.
A fresh faced farmer wearing a bright green coat in “the most approved country cut”, he stood out a mile as a newcomer as soon as he stepped off his train from Lincolnshire at London Road Station.
Almost instantly he was a marked man — the target of a group of Manchester conmen who preyed on new arrivals. The Megsmen.
The gang’s clever trick for outwitting the unwary was to dress in fine clothes and behave like Mancunian gentlemen.
One would act as though he knew the traveller, according to a contemporary writer named Benjamin Redfearn. Another would graciously offer to show them around town.
A third acted like a “straightforward John Bull”, who pretended to take pity on his victim “because he liked his face”.
This last rogue appears to be the man who accosted Faulkner on the platform at what is now Manchester Piccadilly.
Yes, of course he would help the 21-year-old visitor get across town to make the final leg of his onward journey to Liverpool.
“I’m a stranger to this city myself,” the conman, whose real name was John Williams, said. “And, what luck. I’m going to Liverpool as well. Let’s travel together!”
First, though, Williams insisted, they must go to a public house to celebrate their new-found friendship with “a glass or two of ale” which Williams, being a proper gent, would gladly pay for.
Williams’s recommendation? A fine establishment in Angel Meadow called the Highland Laddie, which was conveniently located just a short walk from Victoria Station and Faulkner’s Liverpool-bound train.
In reality, the Laddie and its resident conmen were known to streetwise Mancunians as being “deeply steeped in vice”. Redfearn depicted the three Megsmen in a sketch outside the pub that has miraculously survived.
One of the trio is shown smoking a churchwarden clay pipe with a long stem and wearing a top hat and chequered waistcoat. Another carries an umbrella and wears a smart jacket with a pocket watch.
The third, possibly Williams, sports a cravat and spats, has a handkerchief in his pocket and carries a cane. A large but docile dog is at his side.
Twenty minutes after their meeting on the platform, Williams was ensconced in the Highland Laddie, supping the first of three glasses of beer.
In then walked the two other Megsmen, Thomas Jackson and Charles Booth, who had presumably had followed them from the station. After their carefully choreographed entrance, they pretended not to know each other or Williams.
But soon the conversation began to flow between them, lubricated by the Laddie’s ale.
Booth, who claimed to be a shoemaker, then began to tell his drinking companions an astonishing tale — he had just inherited a fortune of £600.
It was enough cash to buy 40 horses — the equivalent of £50,000 today.
And out of a bag he then pulled a handful of glittering sovereigns — “flash California ones” — which he said he had just been given at the reading of his late relative’s will.
He bought bread and cheese and more drinks for the new before Jackson spoke dreamily of wishing he was just as lucky.
Booth then made a surprising offer — he would use the fund to loan Williams double whatever money he had in his pocket for a few pounds interest.
Jackson produced £6 and agreed the loan.
This was the moment, the carefully worked for almost magical high point of their con-trick, that the gang had been waiting for.
Faulkner, flushed with a sudden and unexpected rush of blood to the head, reached into his own bag and pulled out the princely sum of £25.
He was told to place the money carefully in Booth’s hat for safekeeping.
At that point, Jackson added a cherry on top of the cake. He and Faulkner should go out to get two receipt stamps, he suggested, leaving the other two men at the pub with their money.
It was only after they had walked through the winding streets, when Jackson insisted Faulkner return to the Laddie to check Booth and Jackson we’re still there, that he finally smelled a rat.
Back at the pub he found that the gang, along with the bag of sovereigns and the hat containing his £25, had disappeared.
“A curious case,” a Manchester Times headline later exclaimed incredulous at Faulkner’s mistake. “A Lincolnshire greenhorn.”
Faulkner, though, had two unexpected advantages over the Megsmen — persistence and luck.
Thinking the gang had fled to Liverpool, he jumped on a train to Lime Street before returning quickly to Manchester when he could not see them at the other end of the line.
Finally, though, deciding to head back home to Lincolnshire, having learned an expensive lesson about city life, he had a huge stroke of good fortune.
Who should be sitting across from him in the carriage but the three Megsmen, heading out of Manchester on what they thought would be a jolly boys’ outing with Faulkner’s money.
Calling for a constable at the next station, Faulkner had the pleasure of watching the three conmen get their comeuppance.
Their pockets were almost empty as they were arrested.
But from under their seats, the officer pulled out the damming evidence that would send them jail — Jackson’s bag of sovereigns.
Californian they might have been, but just like the three Megsmen, every one of them was a fake.
A postcard from Manchester: ‘Dear Norah, In answer to your few lines…’
This latest postcard from Manchester was sent by a Mr G Leonard to his “Dear Norah” in Devon shortly after he arrived in the city in September 1907.
Mr Leonard, who was staying at Reynell Road in Longsight, sent Norah a postcard of London Road Station where he had just arrived after a long journey from the south-west.
He signed the card “best love”.
The front of the postcard, showing the station concourse, is shown above. Reynell Road still exists today.
Unlike Matthew Faulkner, travelling to London Road station many years earlier, Mr Leonard escaped an encounter with the Manchester Megsmen who had long since been locked up.
Join me for some Manchester history chat
I’ve set up a new subscriber chat to go with my newsletter.
It’s a conversation space in the Substack app that I set up exclusively for subscribers to share your thoughts and stories as well as to ask me questions about family history problems you might have.
To join our chat, you’ll need to download the Substack app, now available for both iOS and Android. Chats are sent via the app, not email, so turn on push notifications so you don’t miss conversation as it happens.
Don’t worry though if it’s not something you want to do. You’ll still receive your newsletter by email.