Weaste Cemetery

Biographies of people buried between 1900 & 09

Alice Booker (1845 - 1900)

Alice Booker was one of the victims of the Salford Poisoned Beer Scandal of 1900/1.


She was born Alice Richardson in 1845 in Ancoats, Manchester and baptised on 31st August 1845. Her parents were John and Dinah (nee Rowley) Richardson, who were married at St Mary the Virgin Church, Eccles in 1842. John was a Maker Up, and they were both from Pendleton.


In 1864 Alice married William John Booker at Manchester Cathedral. John was a Carriage Maker and in 1871 they lived at Hancock Street, Pendleton with children Mary A (born 1868) and Sarah E (born 1870) as well as Alice's mother Dinah. In 1881 the family lived at 5 Higher Green, Pendleton with Mary Ann and Sarah Emma. In 1891 they lived at Buxton Street, Pendleton and both daughters were Cotton Weavers. On 21st November 1899 John died and was buried at Weaste Cemetery. On 27th November 1900, Alice died of peripheral neuritis and an investigation began.


At a special meeting of Salford Health Committee on Monday 26th November, Dr Tattersall, Medical Officer of Health for Salford, presented a preliminary report. He said that during the last four months a total of 41 people have died due to peripheral neuritis, multiple neuritis or alcoholic neuritis. He said that in the same period 66 deaths were due to alcoholism compared to 22 deaths in the first 7 months of the year. The symptoms suggested poisoning by arsenic in local beer, so he had called an urgent meeting with the Manchester Brewers Association and beer was analysed. The analysis found that indeed, traces of arsenic were present. At first it was thought that the arsenic was from the sulphur that was used to treat the hops to prevent blight. But then they had found arsenic in sugar used for brewing. Owing to a shortage of sugar, the brewers had purchased sugar supplies from a Liverpool company named Bostock's, but how did arsenic get into the sugar?


During processing, sugar is stripped from the cane by sulphuric acid. The acid is usually made from pure sulphur, but due to the increased cost of sulphur, Bostock's had used pyrites (iron sulphide) to make sulphuric acid. The arsenic was in the pyrites, which was transferred to the sugar


On Tuesday 4th December an Inquest into the death of Alice Booker was held at the Langworthy Hotel, Langworthy Road, Pendleton. Alice was a 54 year old widow who had lived in Ash Street, Seedley and died on 27th November. She had been complaining of pain and weakness for 6 months. About 3 weeks previously she had had some beer and was unable to walk and lost the use of her wrists. Although her death certificate said that the cause of death was peripheral neuritis, the Inquest was adjourned sine die. She was interred in Weaste Cemetery on 1st December 1900.


A later Inquiry found that there had been 115 deaths: 28 male and 87 female drinkers, and that casual beer drinkers seemed to be more prone to the effects of arsenic.