The chips were down for outdoor bookmaker

CHIP IN ... a bookmaker in Shields Market took the equivalent of �6,000 in two hours.
CHIP IN ... a bookmaker in Shields Market took the equivalent of �6,000 in two hours.

RECENT talk about the nightclubs in Shields of the 1960s and 1970s era has made reference to the gambling which was such a sophisticated feature of them in their early days.

Chemin de fer, blackjack, roulette – they created the slick, rarefied atmosphere of the London casino.

Gambling is one of those things that reflects social change.

This was an era of aspiration, of increasing post-war wealth.

Having a flutter had become about more than just hoping that your football coupon came in.

Contrast it with a generation or two earlier when gambling, at its most basic, was illegal games of pitch and toss.

I recently mentioned that Trow Rocks was a popular spot for this, being outside the borough (and therefore police) boundaries at the time.

I’ve learned since that Marsden was another such location, coastal nooks and crannies obviously offering seclusion away from prying eyes.

Or you might have bet on a horse, which had its own – not always legal – rules.

A case which came before magistrates in the town towards the end of the 19th century is a startling example of the appetite for gambling.

I loved it when I came across it, not least because it helps date how long folk have been indulging in chips in the town – potato ones, not roulette!

It concerned a 24-year-old man from The Lawe area who appeared, charged under the Betting House Act of 1853.

It seems that two detective inspectors had stationed themselves in the Market Place, where they could command a view of the south side of the square.

The saw the man position himself behind a potato chip van and, over the next two hours, observed an estimated 200 people – 200 people! – approach him.

From some he’d take a slip of paper which he’d fold and put into his pocket – it was assumed, with money inside.

Others would whisper something to him, which he would then write down in a book (it was presumed that they had an ‘account’ with him).

When he was eventually taken into custody, he was found to have 289 slips of paper on him, representing 904 bets, worth in total £93 – equivalent in value to nearer £6,000 today.

The interesting thing, though, is that although he was patently a bookmaker – he was found not guilty.

This was because, to have broken the law, he would have had to have been operating from somewhere like a house or an office. Instead, he was out of doors in a public area.

Apparently when he was acquitted, there was quite a bit of noisy approval from the gallery!