The 1961 Cannon Street Riots
Britain in the 1960s could be a cold and unforgiving place. In August 1961, large-scale clashes broke out in Middlesbrough after a sailor Hassan Said was caught up in a fight with John Joseph Hunt, an eighteen year-old apprentice moulder. Hunt was killed and Said was later charged with his murder.
Saturday evening, people left the pubs and began to circulate in the
streets. A crowd formed. People set fire to a café. On the Sunday, the
attacks continued. An Arab-owned butcher's shop was attacked. There were
further clashes on the Monday. As one newspaper reported, 'Police with
truncheons drawn charged a crowd of five hundred after bottles were
Cannon Street area of Middlesbrough where the fighting took place was a
tough, working-class district, a neighbourhood where policemen were always
required to work in pairs. One centre of the fighting was the Taj Mahal
café, owned by an English woman Mrs. Meah, who was married to a
The Daily Mirror blamed thugs, 'hooligans [were] whipping up hatred against coloured people ... coloured folk hid themselves, a café was wrecked and set on fire and 12 policemen were hurt.'
The Middlesbrough Magistrate Alfred Peaker told the rioters, 'I have no doubt that this affair started through some individuals visiting public houses and then trying to whip up feeling against some of these coloured people living in the Cannon Street area. The evidence shows that the coloured population were quiet and peaceful and never did anything at all to give any provocation. But they were attacked.'
Different press reports tried to make sense of the context in which the riots took place. The Guardian blamed a lack of social spaces where black and white could meet. The Daily Telegraph explained the riots in terms of poor teenage manners. The Yorkshire Post identified saw the riots as an industrial protest.
was the closest the North East has ever come to a full race riot.