Sunday, 25 March 2012

25th March 1812: Plans for an uprising are put before the Stockport Weavers' Committee

On Wednesday 25th March, the Committee of Stockport Weavers held a meeting in a local public house. At some point during the evening, the 20 men gathered there were addressed by a delegate from Manchester, a person whose identity we still do not know to this day.

Present at the meeting was a local weaver, Thomas Whittaker. He later described the details of what the unnamed Manchester delegate said and did during the meeting.

According to Whittaker, the delegate stated that an oath was in use which went beyond mere secrecy - this oath bound men to act and to obey orders of those appointed as leaders. He described a system of organising units of 10 men directed by a Sergeant, and 10 of these units forming a company under a Captain. These units would regularly drill at night time in secret.

Going further, the delegate stated a date for a 'General Rising of the People' rising would be set in due course. Plans were laid for printing an address urging the ranks of the army to join in, with the first task following this being to seize barracks and arms and detain those of the military unwilling to join. Officers, as well as Magistrates, would be seized or killed. Banners would be raised across the country at waypoints to which the forces of the rising would rally.

Delegates were being sent out to different parts of the country, but there was to be no communication in writing. Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire were described as being in 'a very forward state', to the extent that they might not wait for other counties. The delegate said that it was estimated that the counties of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Westmorland and Cumberland would raise 500,000 men who could bear arms. The plans even extended to London, with an aim to secure the Tower of London, the Bank of England and Woolwich docks.

Finally, the delegate revealed that there was interest amongst 'gentlemen', as well as 6 cotton merchants and some manufacturers. He said that he had 'twisted in' 13 of these individuals, who had given £10 to the cause.

This is based upon a statement by Thomas Whittaker which can be found at HO 42/121.

It's not possible to check the veracity of Whittaker's statement, but to put it in context, it was essentially a confession taken after he had already been sentenced to transportation for administering illegal oaths, presumably in the hope of mitigating his sentence. Indeed, in a statement written near the end, Whittaker offers to turn informer.

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