John McCullagh May 23, 2005
TwnView022.jpg

It was Peter Hughes mentioning his boyhood friend Marty Gill that brought two other names to mind. In my class of ’66 there was a John Gill. I do not know what became of him. But it was the story of Jimmy Gill (known as Jemmy) that I wanted to tell.

 Jimmy was in his prime one hundred years ago. And a fine fellow he was – a steeplejack, and there was still then much call for his services as the town of the time – as you can see from the photograph – was still dotted with mill chimneys.

Jemmy failed to answer a police summons one time in connection with a minor crime he had committed. When the police came to arrest him, Jemmy ran from his home to the mill chimney where he was doing repairs. Placing himself in his steeple-jack’s chair he hoisted himself right to the top.

And there he stayed, while the police below watched him day and night. But Jemmy was both patient and determined. As stalemate reigned the police reluctantly and occasionally sent up food to him whenever he lowered his billycan. There were different times then and Jemmy was informed of the law that stated that the warrant that bore his name could not be enforced on Sunday (that was the kind of law the Stormont Government specialised in!).

Each Saturday night as the clock on St Mary’s Church beyond struck midnight, Jemmy descended, swinging down to a hero’s welcome. He enjoyed Sunday in the company of his friends and revelled in the hospitality of the many newspapermen who had come from far and wide hearing of his notoriety. Just before midnight on Sunday night, to the cheers of his assembled fans and the deep chagrin of the police force, the boul’ Jemmy climbed up again to his perch. 

 Sadly one Sunday evening while he was enjoying his freedom, and at the height of his revelry, some ‘dirty dog’ tampered with the clock on his mantelpiece. The hands of that clock indicated that it was not yet midnight when two burly constables entered with the news that it was, in fact already midnight and Jemmy was under arrest! 

He had to do his time! But there was a silver lining. Such had been his notoriety that on his release Jemmy Gill was engaged to do a tour of the Music Halls and tell the story of how he had placed himself – quite literally – far above the long arm of the law!!

Leave a comment.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.