The day gun totting American gangsters took over Southampton



THEY were scenes unlike any Southampton had ever witnessed before – the day gun totting American gangsters took over Southampton.

And for the most part, local police did nothing to stop them. In fact they actively encouraged them.

The mayhem was orchestrated by Chicago’s most notorious racketeer Al Capone, sneeringly denouncing another vicious hoodlum in Jack Diamond as a quitter when his gang started to open fire.

Pistol shots were however followed by – of all things – showers of confetti.

The battle for supremacy was in full progress when another gang arrived with the most unlikely ammunition – over ripe fruit, bags of soot and flour!

Come lunch time it suddenly ended – all the criminals put down their weapons, not in favour of contraband liquor but sandwiches and coffee and a lighthearted chat amongst themselves as to how it was all going.

Finally, to the amusement of hundreds, the bewilderment of strangers, the police finally stepped in and arrested the entire gangs marching them down the road towards the Bargate in prison gear.

But no one was arrested – and nobody expected them to be.

Instead they were all congratulated.

It was a magnificent stunt in aid of charity.

Southampton University students had virtually been given the freedom of the town. Just as well as they probably would have taken it anyway.

The Above Bar escapades were the highlight of their rag week that boosted cash for the Royal South Hants Hospital and the Central Council for Social Service, regarded as one of the brightest and innovative ever staged.

But that was 1931 and today they certainly would have been able to get away with some of the shenanigans. With the town centre taken over, trams and cars were reduced to a crawl and point duty police officers were having to untie traffic knots while surrounded by cheering and singing students.

Meanwhile at the corner of Above Bar and Pound Street Road one officer was forced to grin and bear it as a caterpillar of convicts marched solemnly round and round him.

The caterpillar then moved – doubtless quicker than the real thing – to the Clock Tower which featured a murderous attack on escorts who were overpowered and gently dumped over railings.

The one off day concluded with a unique vehicle rolling down Above Bar.

It took the shape of an antiquated fire engine with a hint of The Rocket about it, manned by a crew of mechanics in overalls and others in attire approaching evening dress.

The monster belched out smoke and for effectiveness rivalled the loudest motor horn ever sounded in the town, operated by another band of money chasers in an open car.





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