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The Press Gang

During the 18th century England was almost continually at war. This led to Crowleys iron works at Winlaton being the largest in the country supplying iron goods to the naval dockyards in London. It also meant that the Admiralty was always short of sailors for the Kings Navy. The press gang was formed to take any likely looking man they could capture to be impressed into the navy. In Newcastle, Captain Bover, the Regulating Officer of the Port was the most feared man in town. Only keelmen who did a vital job transporting coal down river were excepted.

In April 1755 a group of keelmen took a pleasure trip up river to Blaydon. Having spent some time in the Winlaton hostelries they decided on a way to earn themselves some money.They would impersonate the Press Gang and capture a few likely looking lads – not for the navy but to hold to ransom for money.

Having detained a few people they then proceded to ask for ransom money which alerted the locals to ask for their authority, but the keelmen had overlooked the fact that the men of Winlaton all being blacksmiths were strong and not afraid of a fight. The keelmen were soon overpowered and taken as prisoners to Newcastle where they were handed over and kept overnight at Newcastle Keep. The next day they were all sent aboard the ‘Peggy’ a Sloop of War and thus found that they had involuntarily joined the Kings Navy themselves, leaving the Winlaton blacksmiths to enjoy a pint at home while they relayed the tale.

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