A Martyr for Liberty - The Death of John Baker - Sheffield June 1922

In October 2015 I was contacted by reader who had come across the article I had written a few years ago on The Walkley Riot of June 1922.

"Hello! I stumbled across your account of the Sheffield Riots on the internet. My interest is that I am researching my family tree and a great aunt told the story that her father had gone off in the riots and never came back. I am wondering if you had anymore information about the prisoner that is mentioned in the report, or anything about any deaths in connection with the riots. Long shot I know!"

I replied that I would look into the matter and asked for further details

"His name is John William Baker. We think he was born late 1800’s in Sheffield. He was married to Annie Elizabeth Bradley in 1916 and had two sons, John William, and Ernest Thomas, and a daughter Elsie. Its not much to go on really. An aunt told my father the story recently. It seems he went missing around 1922".

The first thing I checked was the 1911 Census and found John living at home with his parents Walter and Ellen

His marriage was in the March quarter of 1916 in Sheffield (From the Free BMD site)

Surname First name(s) Spouse District Vol Page 
Marriages Mar 1916 Baker John W Bradley Sheffield 9c 871 
Bradley Annie E Baker Sheffield 9c 871

I then checked the excellent Sheffield Indexers site and located this burial record

BAKER, John William (Cogger, age 38). Died at 32 Union Rd; Buried on June 29, 1922 in Consecrated ground; Grave Number 23526, Section II of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

Having the date of burial was very helpful in trying to locate information in the newspapers of the period. The first was from the Yorkshire Post dated 30th June 1922 and it was rather startling in it's contents

The Hull Daily Mail carried the same report of the funeral

But as in many cases the local newspaper in this case The Yorkshire Telegraph carried a far fuller report



The funeral of John William Baker (38), 183 Penistone Road, whose death from lockjaw in Ecclesall In.rmary was thought might be attributed to a blow he might have received in the riot at Walkley on June 7, took place today. The inquest on the body of Baker was adjourned to enable evidence to be furnished that Baker received an injury during the riot. It was fully anticipated that in the circumstances there would be a large attendance at the funeral. The anticipations were fully fearless, for the attendance was greater than would probably be accorded to the greatest citizen of Sheffield. Trade Unionists, unemployed, ex servicemen and communists turned up in force. 

By 11.30 am Penistone Toad was near the house, crowded with men who had gathered there to join in procession to Intake Cemetery where the interment was to be. The start was delayed until 12.45 pm and in the interval processions of men marched to Penistone Road from the various pay stations of the unemployed. The funeral was made the excuse for a demonstration. Leading Communists of Sheffield were present and the majority of the crowd wore a paper poppy in there buttonholes the red petals indicating their persuasion and the black centre expressive of mourning. These poppies were understood to have been sold for the benefit of the widow. The leaders wore black and red ribbons. 

MANY SYMPATHISERS Early on the scene in Penistone Toad were Councillors Mrs. Wilkinson, A. Byrne, A. Smith, and A. E. Butcher, while in the throng were men who have been before the Court on charges connected with the Walkley Riot, and others who have been prominent in disturbances in the city. Bodies of unemployed men marched from their pay stations to Penistone Road, the ex-servicemen were well represented to show sympathy with the death of a colleague, and others attended to represent the Trades Council. In the procession were men who had been wounded in the war, one of these having but one leg and with a determination to follow on crutches to the cemetery. Outside the house there was little show of mourning, the crowd being apparently oblivious of the death that had laid its hand on the body behind the drawn blinds. Approximately 2000 men gathered before the house, whitely streets in the vicinity were lined with sight-seers. In front of the procession was carried across. “In Loving Memory”. The procession left the house at about 1pm. The route -Shalesmoor, Castle street, South Street, Park and Cemetery Road - was lined with people. The unemployed and others led walking four deep, and on entering the cemetery they stood two deep on the footpath while the herse and two carriages passed through to the graveside. 

SERVICE AT THE GRAVE Prior to the arrival the Rev. J.G. Speakman Vicar of St Aidan’s waited at the entrance to the cemetery in readiness as one of the chaplains of the cemetery, if he should be required to offciate. The Rev. T. E. Pickering was to conduct the ceremony and had there been a service in the cemetery church, the question would have arisen as to whether or not he was qualified to fulfill the duty. The superintendent of the cemeteries was with the chaplain to ensure that the proper procedure was carried out. However, as there was no ceremony apart from that at the graveside no question was raised and Mr. Pickering was permitted to proceed. The gathering at the grave numbered about 5000. 

RED FLAG’ SUNG The service commenced with the singing of the hymn. ”For ever with the Lord” after which Mr Pickering gave a short address on the words “follow me” the instruction given to Peter. The address was on the lines that had the Police and Guardians and other authorities heeded the words quoted that gathering would not have been assembled there today. After the “Red Flag” was sung the service was concluded with prayers. 

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 30th June carried a similar report and remarked that the procession and funeral was one of the largest seen in many years in Sheffield. In fact the last funeral of comparable size was that of the former Chief Constable of Sheffield Mr. John Jackson.

At this point I must place emphasis on the fact that the microfiche and the paper quality is really very poor which makes transcription difficult

The inquest on John William Baker, 38 of 183 Penistone Road, whose death from lockjaw might, in the opinion of the Medical Superintendent of Ecclesall Union Hospital, have been due to a blow 
from a police baton during the riot on June 7th a Walkley, was resumed before the Deputy Coroner (Mr J. Baldwin Young) this afternoon. 
About ten days after the riot Baker died in the institution and the doctor asked for an inquest. At the opening of the inquiry Mr Irwin Mitchell, representing Baker’s Family said it was alleged that the 
man’s death was due to an injury received in the riot, and in consequence of this allegation the inquest was adjourned until today. 

On June 28th Baker was buried at Intake and was accorded a funeral which was attended by a greater number of people than have been seen at such ceremonies is Sheffield for many years, approximately 5000 unemployed, ex servicemen, communists and other spectators being present at the grave side. The Deputy Coroner had the assistance of a jury. Superintendent Hebb of the Walkley Division of Police was in attendance. 
The Coroner had the evidence taken at the previous hearing and said they would now have to listen to the story of what took place in Providence Street. A pathological examination had also has been made. 

Ellen Baker 61. Victoria Road, Sheffield, mother of the dead man, said she was at her son’s house when he came home on June 7 - the date of the riot. He was without his cap and said he had been hit at the back of the head by a mounted policeman. He was struck by a truncheon. He said he was lucky to get out of it. 
Coroner: He suffered from facial paralysis” 
Witness: Yes he had been under the doctor. 
Mr Mitchell: How did he look when he got home? Witness: He did not say anything about any pain. 
He talked about jumping over walls and other things to get out of the way of the Police. 
Annie Haigh, also of 183 Penistone Road, Sheffield, who saw Baker on the day following the riot, said she asked him if he had got work, He replied, “No, lass, I’ve got something worse.” 
“whats that?” “Well last night I got hit on —— neck with a mounted — policeman, and it does hurt me this morning, more than what id did last night. I tried to get away, but they — were on top of me” Baker put his hands on the back of his neck.

This is the report of the resumed inquest from The Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 5th July 1922

And this is the shorter report in The Yorkshire Post dated 5th July 1922

And so John's death was not attributed to a blow from a police truncheon, but to a medical condition that had developed over the previous twelve to fifteen months. Given the weight of medical opinion and the expertise of those who were called by the Coroner, I do not think that the verdict is in doubt. What is interesting though is that the inquest was exhaustive "lasting several hours" and that "three medical men and a professor of pathology at Sheffield University" gave evidence. It is clear that the local authorities went out of their way to prove that John's death was not caused by police violence. The newspaper reports and the political nature of the events leading up to John's funeral, infer that it was police violence that was solely responsible for his tragic end. 

There is a rather sad postscript to the article. John's descendents wanted to pay their respects at the grave in Sheffield's City Road Cemetery 

"We went to the grave stone, but there wasn’t one there! I enquired as to where it might have gone and if there were any records of what had been engraved on it, but apparently there are no records that one was ever placed. I've sent an email to the solicitors mentioned in the report to ask if they are able to release any records in relation to the event… I’ll let you know if I find anything."

To date we have heard nothing. If anyone else can provide me with information on this event, please contact me 


Yorkshire Post dated 30th June 1922

Hull Daily Mail dated 30th June 1922

Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 30th June 1922

Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 5th July 1922

Yorkshire Telegraph

The Yorkshire Post dated 5th July 1922

Sheffield Indexers

1901 - 1911 UK Census

This page was last updated on 07/12/15 08:10

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