Thursday 22 March 2012

22nd March 1812: Secret weavers meeting near the Workhouse, Bolton

The next secret meeting of weavers in Bolton we know about took place on Sunday 22nd March. In John Stones' report of the 21st March, he states that "There will be a Meeting next Sunday Eveng at 8 o'clock next Field to the New Poor house".The 'New Poor house' was the workhouse in Bolton, built around 1810, and standing ironically on Fletcher Street (named in honour of Colonel Ralph Fletcher).

Peter Gaskell, a weaver from Bolton, had "heard of shoutings and night meetings" and was curious enough to "try to find them and know what they meant". As he approached the workhouse, he met John Stones who challenged him as to his purpose. Gaskell explained what he was looking for, and Stones took him back to his house to wait for others to arrive and they then headed back to a field near to the workhouse.

There they met others, including John Fielding and Joseph Edge (who left before the end of the meeting) and the whole group constituted about 20 other people. According to Gaskell, they talked about being organised and newcomers were asked if they were "twisted in" (meaning had they received an illegal oath). Gaskell was asked this by Stones, but lied that he was. Each in the group was given a number and also divided into 'classes' headed by certain members of the group. Stones decided to admit Gaskell to his class, and John Fielding later remembered that Stones had dubbed himself 'Colonel Wardle'.

At the end of the meeting, a countersign was agreed for the next meeting the following night - this was to be 'Nottingham'.

Gaskell left with Stones and went back to his house. Stones gave him 2 pieces of paper with numbers on - for Gaskell the number 5, and for another man called James Becket the number 6.

Stones' report is at HO 42/121. The depositions of Gaskell and Fielding can be found at HO 42/128.

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