The first night

Early in the morning of 8 July 1981, a small group of young men left the Nile Club which was Manchester’s leading black nightclub. As they walked along Princess Road, they were challenged by two whites, that there could never be a riot in Manchester”.[1] The taunting that blacks in Manchester knew their place came in the aftermath of five days of rioting in Liverpool which had resulted in some of the most intense urban violence in post-war England. For the youths who had just left the Nile, what made this jeering banter even more provocative was that they believed that the two whites making the insults were plain-clothes police officers.[2]

The Hytner Report into the disturbances found that at the time of this confrontation,

a white man emerged from a parked van and threw a brick through the window of a pawn shop on the corner of Raby Street and Princess Road… A few minutes later shop windows along Princess Road were being smashed by young black men and not long after that the first of a number of fires was started.

Between 3 and 3:30 am, four shops on Princess Road were looted and a petrol bomb set off at a jewellers in the Moss Side Shopping Precinct damaging six other shops. As they arrived, police and fire service have stones thrown at them by group of thirty youths. Although the Hytner inquiry later emphasised that the initial violence had been committed by mixed groups of young black and whites, the following day Chief Constable James Anderton informed the media that

Police vehicles attending and fire tenders arriving at the scene were stoned by large groups of young blacks, and there is no evidence at this moment that any white youths were involved. There is nothing significant in that because of course all the young people in that area are primarily black youngsters.

[1] Ref. 1114, Manchester Local Studies oral history collection, Tameside Local Studies and Archives Unit.

[2] Two plain clothes police officers were identified by Greater Manchester Police as being the first to attend the scene – “Latest riot outbreak in Moss Side”, 9 July 1981, LBC / IRN Digitisation Archive.

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