MYSTERIOUS window-slashers were touring the North-East 100 years ago this week attacking scores of plate glass shop windows in many towns.
“The sensation of the moment is what is popularly known as the window-slashing campaign,” reported the Echo’s sister paper, the weekly Darlington & Stockton Times. “The activities of the mischievous people engaged in it are so widespread and mysterious that something like consternation reigns.”
The elusive window-slashers, said the D&S, walked apparently innocently along but had a diamond or a glazier’s cutter hidden in their hand, which they drew across the window.
“Whether the agents are men or women or, as seems probably, both, remains to be seen,” said the paper. “Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is considerably exercised over the matter.”
The week had started with 300 windows in Sunderland being slashed along with 30 in West Hartlepool and 41 in West Stanley. “At Stockton, nearly all the windows on the west side of the High Street were damaged,” said the report. “In one case, the letter ‘R’ could be read, but in the others some sharp instrument had been drawn straight across the glass.”
The “senseless practice” had continued the following night with windows in Middlesbrough, North and South Shields, Seaham Harbour, Wallsend, York and Grimsby being targeted.
“As in one instance at Stockton, a window at North Shields was marked with the letter ‘R’, which was several times repeated.”
Thousands of windows across the country were slashed, causing tens of thousands of pounds of damage, in the early summer of 1921.
The D&S suggests that the cause was a mystery, but everyone suspected that supporters of Sinn Fein and the IRA were behind the outbreak. As Memories 519 told, the Irish, who wanted the south of their home island to break away from the control of the British government, were causing mayhem by simultaneously torching haystacks from Tyneside to Teesside.
Window-slashing was probably another of their activities, although Communist copycats, seeing the fear that the campaign was causing, may well have been behind some of the attacks.
No one was found guilty of window-slashing, and the IRA leadership only admitted involvement in three incidents: one involving hundreds of windows in London, another involving “all” windows in Chelmsfield and a final one in June 1921 in which the eight principle stores in Middlesbrough were slashed.
The campaign then finished as discussions to partition the island began.