The day trivial pursuits brought tragedy to Sunderland family

Johnson Sreet.
Johnson Sreet.
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People often find the strangest things to argue about – from life or death issues to trivial matters such as the weather.

Sadly petty disputes can escalate into insults or even fisticuffs; especially in the “good old, bad old days” of bygone Sunderland.

James was treated at the Infirmary before being transferred to the Children's Hospital. Surgeons tried frantically to save the youngster's life. Sadly, being so weak due to the amount of blood that had been lost, James died while under the anaesthetic.

James was treated at the Infirmary before being transferred to the Children's Hospital. Surgeons tried frantically to save the youngster's life. Sadly, being so weak due to the amount of blood that had been lost, James died while under the anaesthetic.

 “One such spat in the town’s infamous Johnson Street would turn from minutia to murder in minutes,” said local historian and author Norman Kirtlan.

 “Johnson Street had once been a grand terrace of houses, occupied by the better-off workers from nearby Hartley’s Glassworks and the Lambton Coal Company.

 “But by the end of the 1920s many of the fine houses had become tenements and, among the hard-working folk, many characters abounded.”

 The depression had been tough on Charles Jackson, who was forced to work as a labourer at the town’s electricity works after losing his well-paid shipyard job.

The razor sharp bread knife had bounced from the table and sliced into the lad’s neck, cutting into the carotid artery.

Norman Kirtlan, local historian and former police inspector.

 Just to make ends meet, and feed his growing family, he had to take on weekend shifts – often finishing after 7pm following hours of hard graft.

 “At around 8pm on September 14, 1929, Charles’ wife Winnie returned to their Johnson Street home after visiting neighbours,” said Norman.

 “There she found Charles alone with the youngest of their three lads, seven-year-old James. Both were complaining that they hadn’t eaten all day.”

 Winnie, moaning about men being quite useless, set about making supper. Once it was ready, she sarcastically asked if Charles could “manage” to cut a loaf.

 As he reached for the knife, however, so young James started pleading for his dad to buy him a dog – with Winnie growing more impatient by the minute.

 “The subject of canine ownership was brushed aside with a laugh, and Charles then began spouting forth about the pros and cons of pedigree dogs,” said Norman.

 “But, as he started listing the types he thought would be ideal pets, should they ever come into a few quid, Winnie interjected with a few sharp quips.

 “And, as she repeatedly questioned his canine knowledge, so Charles became more and more frustrated – but he kept on carving the bread while reciting facts.”

 Eventually, as Charles turned to the topic of illnesses suffered by pedigree greyhounds, Winnie threw back her head and let out a loud laugh.

 “Aye, you know all about dogs,” she snorted. “Being a bloody mongrel yourself!”

 That was it – Charles saw red. He stood up and slammed the bread knife down onto the table, turning on Winnie to demand what she had meant by such a remark.

 Screams of agony, however, stopped the argument dead. Turning, they found James lying on the floor with blood oozing through his fingers.

“The razor sharp bread knife had bounced from the table and sliced into the lad’s neck, cutting into the carotid artery,” said Norman, a former police inspector.

 A panic-stricken Charles wrapped a towel around the wound, before dashing to the nearby infirmary with James. Sadly, weakened by blood loss, the youngster died.

 Within hours Charles was arrested on suspicion of murder, but it was immediately obvious he had never intended to hurt the boy. Instead, he was charged with manslaughter.

 The following weeks were spent in deep desperation. Charles was unable to work or eat, and spent his time just counting off the days until his trial at Durham 
Assizes.

 “Is your husband a sober man?” asked Justice Hawk of Winnie during the hearing on November 18. “Yes,” she replied. “He is a good husband and a good father.”

 Her answer obviously resonated with the judge and, during the summing up, he told the jury he felt deeply sorry for Charles – and that he believed the death had been a terrible accident. The jury agreed and, after just a few minutes, they returned a verdict of not guilty.

 “Regardless of the verdict, Charles would serve a self-inflicted life sentence. He could never forgive himself for that one moment of madness that would cost the life of his dear son,” said Norman.