Friday, 24 February 2012

24th February 1812: Bolton weavers meet at the Gibraltar Rock & swear illegal oaths

The Gibraltar Rock, as captured by Google Street View in 2009

Somewhere between the end of February and the beginning of March 1812, a small meeting of up to 8 weavers from Bolton met at the Gibraltar Rock public house near the Town.

Also at the meeting were 2 delegates from a weaver's committee at Stockport. These men led the meeting, explaining their past attempts to gain some redress for the dire situation facing hand-loom weavers in Stockport. That they had met with the local Rector, Charles Prescot, who was also a magistrate, explaining the extent of unemployment and the contrary increase in steam loom weaving in the area. Prescot had suggested that they visit Richard Ryder, the Home Secretary, but that when they did this, Ryder had rebuffed them, commenting that steam looms "were of great service to the State".

The Stockport delegates conclusion was stark: since government was not prepared to act, then they must take matters into their own hands. The Stockport men proposed the adoption of an "oath of engagement" among the group: one of the Bolton weavers present was James Lyon, and a Stockport delegate beckoned to him to come outside the room. He was shown the oath in private and asked to read it out to the group, which he did. But Lyon felt uncomfortable, and stated to the room that he would not take the oath and advised others not to do so. There were murmurings of agreement amongst the group, and another local weaver, William Gifford, spoke against the oath, pointing out that he was a member of the local peace committee. Finally, another Bolton weaver called Samuel Kay pushed himself forward - he agreed to take the oath there and then, in front of the Stockport men.

That this meeting was held only a few days after a public meeting to petition for peace and parliamentary reform indicates that different political currents were moving amongst the weavers, with different objectives and methods.

This has been compiled from the depositions of Oliver Nicholson, James Lyon, Robert Long and Robert Waddington who were all present at the meeting. The depositions can be found at HO 42/128. The date is vague 'end of February/early March', and I have chosen this date as it is 7 days before another meeting in Bolton.

In detailing their negotiations with first the local and then national Government, the Stockport weavers were relating a course of events that had taken place 12 months beforehand in early 1811, and which has been covered most extensively by Robert Glen (184, pp.168-169).

The Gibraltar Rock still stands to this day at 244 Deane Road in Bolton. This view from Google Street view was captured in 2009, and shows that it had been in use as a public house, until recently.

A more up to date view from the Lost Pubs Project shows that it has now been converted into a convenience store (photo credit Mike Faherty under a Creative Commons License). Happily, the owners have retained the historic name.

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