In 1894, Tommy Burns dived deep into his dressing-up box in a bid to evade police who were out in force to stop him diving off a bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal.

Tommy advertised his planned dive off the top girder of the newly-opened Trafford Road Bridge at Old Trafford and as usual, huge crowds turned up … and so did the police.

Trafford Road Bridge
TRAFFORD ROAD BRIDE: Huge crowds blocked the road as they waited to see Tommy Burns dive from the top girder into the Manchester Ship Canal. Photo: asaph_art, flickr

Several newspapers covered the event including the Manchester Times of Friday 15th September which described how Tommy’s planned dive two days earler had been thwarted by police who had been patrolling the bridge.

Tommy was escorted from the bridge ‘amid howls and groans from the crowd’ and released after giving an udertaking that he would not attempt to dive that day.

He kept his promise but the following day he returned and, according to the newspaper, his attempt to dive off the bridge had ‘a rather amusing termination’.

The presence of six constables patrolling the bridge had attracted large crowds by the time Tommy and his manager Arthur Dale arrived in a cab. They realised it was impossible for the dive to take place and drove off. An hour later, Mr Dale returned in a cab and:

This vehicle, like the other, was immediately surrounded, and the attention of the police was at once concentrated on the ‘cabby’ and mysterious ‘fare’.

While this diversion was going on a fish dealer’s spring cart had been driven on to the bridge unnoticed and a person attired as a market woman – straw hat, loose print bodice, and print dress – was slowly descending. The ruse had almost succeeded when a police officer more curious than the rest went up to the ‘woman’ and the game was up.

He cut a curious figure as he was marched away along Trafford-road in his feminine attire, beneath which he wore a flesh-coloured swimming costume, and none more than he seemed to enjoy the fun.

Tommy was bailed to appear at Salford Police Court the following day when he was fined £1 (about £110 in today’s money) for causing an obstruction of the ‘public thoroughfare’.