Thursday, 9 February 2012

9th February 1812: Incendiarism in Manchester

At 2 p.m. on Sunday 9th February, someone noticed smoke emerging from the top storey of the warehouse belonging to Messrs Haigh, Marshall & Tideswell in central Manchester. Shortly afterwards, a fire had taken hold and was visible from the outside. Those working in the building did their best to save the goods inside, mainly cotton products, which were hurled from the windows into Marsden Square below, where the warehouse was situated.

Despite the exertions of many people who had gathered to try to put it out, the fire grew out of control and by 6 p.m. of the whole building has been consumed. £100,000 worth of goods were held in the warehouse, but the efforts of those who had removed as many goods as possible meant that the damage was limited to £30,000. The firm was insured against loss.

In March 1811, the owners had received a threatening letter from a 'CP Clonmell', and the local newspapers talked of incendiarism, but owing to the complete destructiveness of the fire, the actual cause was never established. According to Robert Glen (1984, p.173), it's possible that Haigh was involved in a factory belonging to Spencer, Haigh & Co. at Stockport which had been picketed by striking workers in 1808.

At some point during the preceding week, a fire was started in a factory belonging to Peter Marsland (aka 'Peter the Great') which was situated on Oxford Road in Manchester. However, the fire did not get hold at all, and was put out before it could do any lasting damage. A large match buried in cotton was found, and some suspects were arrested but no charges were brought and the case was apparently not reported in the press.

The Haigh, Marshall & Tideswell fire was reported in the Derby Mercury of 13th February 1812, in an account apparently drawn from a Manchester newspaper. The details about the threatening letter sent to HM&T, and some of the facts about the fire at Peter Marsland's factory are from a letter written by John Lloyd, a notorious Stockport solicitor, to Viscount Bulkeley on 11th February 1812. He was writing from the New Bailey prison in Salford, where he spent the day examining suspects in the Marsland fire. The letter can be found at HO 42/120.

The apparent cause of the Marsland fire is mentioned in a letter from a J Mayer to the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval of 11th February 1812, which can also be found at HO 42/120.

The losses of £30,000 are eqivalent to £1.5 million (RPI) or £20 million (average earnings) at 2009 prices.

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