On Friday 14 May 1915 an anti-German riot took place in Rotherham which was described to be ‘a frenzied and violent crowd of people who rampaged through the town.’ Several shops were attacked, which were rented by German people who had previously been well known in the town. Inspired by what was seen as ‘patriotism’ the mob were nevertheless intent on damage and plunder, as shop windows were broken and goods stolen out of them. The rioting started outside the shop of Mr L Fisher of Hatherley Road, Eastwood, Rotherham. Crowds began to gather outside, shouting abuse at the family sheltering within. Thankfully the police were called and no serious damage occurred.
However the numbers in the crowd swelled as the mob moved towards the town centre and the next target was Mr C Hanneman of Frederick Street. Hearing of the riots, he had put the shutters up at his shop windows, but they were quickly pulled down and smashed. In the meantime, the owner had removed the contents of his stock out of his window. Once again the police arrived and the crowd went to their next point of attack in the town centre. This was to be the shop of Mr Schonhut of Doncastergate, where stones were thrown at all the windows. One of the most damaged shops was a pork butchers shop on Bridge Street, rented by a man called John Limbach. He not only had meat products stolen from his shop window, but his house which was attached was broken into, and many of his household goods stolen.
People plundered anything they could get their hands on. They stole chairs, sewing machines, brass fenders and other articles, carrying them off in triumph. The mob then moved along College Street and towards the Red Lion Hotel, The hotel itself was owned by brewers Tennant Brothers from Sheffield, but it was rented by another member of the Schonhut family. However they found the gates leading into the yard were locked and barred. The crowd next turned their attention to the shop of Mr Wagelin of Bridgegate, which again they found locked and bolted. In retaliation the plate glass windows were smashed. Moving onto another shop owned by the Schonhut’s on Main Street, the crowd were merciless. Not one pane of glass was left intact and it was later established that approximately £440 – £500 worth of damage had been done.
News travelled fast, and now other mobs were forming throughout the town. Next was an attack made on Mr Carley’s premises on Wellgate, which was overrun. Once the premises were broken into, some of the crowd entered and furniture was thrown out of the bedroom windows into the streets below as the family hid, terrified. It was reported that it was not until the early hours of the next morning before peace was finally restored. However, it was not to last. Rioting started in Rotherham on the Saturday night around 9 pm, when once more crowds began to assemble in front of the Red Lion Inn. The Chief Constable, Mr E Weatherhogg informed his men to use their batons to try to clear the crowd away. Around 9.30 pm five mounted police appeared and they too tried without success to drive back the mob.
Missiles such as bricks, stones and pieces of slag were thrown at the horses and the various constables trying to maintain order. It was reported that there were some women in the crowd who were picking up stones and other items to use as weapons and filling their baskets with them, in order to provide more ammunition to people throwing them at the police. Officers charged the crowd, but all that happened was that they drove the rioters backwards. Instead of dispersing them, they simply moved into the area of the Churchyard and College Square. It was later estimated that there were about 100 special constables on duty that night. Indeed so many people were on the streets, that the Chief Constable was seriously considering calling out the military, which was based at the barracks in Sheffield, in order to break up the riot.
Before long, several plate glass windows were broken in the shops in the vicinity of College Street and Bridgegate. They were the drapery shop of Messrs Smith’s which was situated at the bottom of the Church Steps, another shop at the corner of College Street was attacked and further down a provisions merchant’s windows were broken. In the course of the rioting police officers were injured. Inspector Spencer had a bottle thrown at him and Police Constable Nichols received a nasty gash to his face. The Lord Mayor of the town, Alderman Coward and several of his colleagues, appealed for calm from the church steps. He later told a reporter that he had witnessed some strange sights in the town that night, that he had never seen before.
People were in the streets carrying hams, sausages and sides of bacon, which had been stolen from pork butchers shops. One woman, who was carrying a piece of pork under her apron, bragged that she would have a good Sunday dinner the next day, only to have it snatched from her by a youth.
Officers charged the crowd again, but all that happened was that they drove the rioters backwards. Instead of dispersing them, they simply moved into the area of the Churchyard and College Square. One of the first to be arrested was a man called Ernest Cotterill, a labourer of Masbrough Street. He had been in College Street, and had been seen shouting and inciting the crowd to violence. When ordered by one of the mounted officers, PC George Nicholson to go home, he assaulted that officer and was taken into custody. He had been seen previously throwing stones at the mounted police by Detective Sergeant Emsley, who knocked Cotterill down.
At some time around 10 pm Mr Weatherhogg himself was injured by one of these flying implements, which hit him just above his ear. He was knocked down and for some time remained stunned, until his wound was dressed by Dr Riddell. On Sunday morning of 16 May 1915 an emergency meeting of the Rotherham Watch Committee was called. It was agreed that all the public houses would be closed the following night in order to prevent any more outbreaks of rioting.
Thankfully it was reported that Sunday passed peacefully and that the town had returned back to normal again after two days of senseless rioting. That morning, the Mayor of Rotherham had issued a warning, advising the residents of the town to refrain from gathering together and thus hampering the efforts of the police.
Sadly the only victim of the rioting was a young boy aged 12 years called William Holmes of Stanley Street, Parkgate. It seems that at the height of the rioting on the Friday night, he had been crushed between a cable box standing 5 feet 6 inches high on College Street and a motor lorry driven by a man from Sheffield. The inquest on the body was held on Monday 17 May 1915 by Coroner, Mr W J Bradford and the first witness was the boys father. Charles Percy Holmes who told the jury that he had identified the body of his son, who had been tragically killed on his birthday.
A witness was a man called James Taylor who stated that he was standing in College Street, near the bottom of Doncastergate at the time the accident happened.
He said that the lad was somehow caught by the back wheels of the lorry, although exactly how it happened the witness could not say for sure. He said there were very large crowds thronging around in the area of the High Street, Wellgate, College Street and Doncastergate, so he did not exactly see how it happened. The driver William Henry Youle said that he worked for the Ind. Coope brewery and had passed through College Street, Rotherham on the Friday night. He was driving very slowly due to the large crowd, when he was stopped by a policeman, as he turned into the High Street. He said it was only then he was told that he had knocked down a boy.
Police Constable Earnshaw said that the crowds were attempting to break into the shop of Mr Schonhut in Doncastergate at the time the accident happened. Medical evidence was given by Dr Lyons, who told the inquest that by the time the boy was brought to him, he was already in a dying condition. He said that almost all his ribs were broken and death was due to the shock of the accident. Mr Bradford summed up the witnesses evidence and stated that most people would be aware of the riots in the town, which had aggravated and stirred up the people of Rotherham. The coroner concluded that in his judgement the accident would not have happened, if the area had not been so crowded. The jury accordingly returned a verdict of accidental death.