At the end of each shift, Eliza Stafford, a cook employed by Henry Chorley of 8 Park Square in Leeds, used to drain the dripping from her pans and sell it to a local dressmaker. She regarded it as a perk of the job.
When, in January 1865, the normally mild-mannered Chorley discovered what she had been doing, he was furious and reported her for theft. He was magistrate and, it is thought, pulled a few strings to have Eliza prosecuted and tried in private. Eliza’s supporters whipped up such public indignation that more than 12,000 people protested outside Leeds Town Hall during her trial. Although the crowd was raucous and threw snowballs, it was largely a peaceful protest. It was, however, unsuccessful and Eliza was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment in Armley Gaol.
On the day of her release, 22 February 1865, a large crowd gathered outside the prison to celebrate and parade her through the city centre. Wishing to avoid the attention, however, Eliza had secretly agreed with the governor to be smuggled out of a private entrance and sent to her sister in Scarborough.
Denied their celebrations, the crowd descended on Park Square to protest outside Chorley’s home. The mood became ugly and stones were thrown at his house. A man was knocked to the ground and trampled on. He later died of his injuries.
The Chief Constable called for reinforcements from the Bradford Police force and the army at York. The Riot Act was read and, eventually, the crowd dispersed. One man was imprisoned and four others bound over to keep the peace.
All for the sake of two pounds of pilfered dripping, two people had gone to prison, one had died, tens of thousands had taken to the streets and the army had been called in. It was a rather shameful episode in Leeds’s history, from which no one emerged with any credit.