Wednesday, 11 April 2012

11th April 1812: Colonel Ralph Fletcher updates the Home Office on the work of his spies

Bolton le Moors—11 April 1812


Since my last of the 7th instant when I informed you that the Executive Committee of Manchester had countermanded the commencement of the projected Firing of Factories on account of the still unprepared State of the Capital, nocturnal meetings in the open air have daily taken place—at which since Wednesday a more military organisation began to be practised. The Chief at that and the subsequent meetings was habited in a sort of mask with a Beard flowing down his Breast—& his words of command passing through this medium—were disguised so as to prevent the speaker from being known —He bore a long staff in his Hand—and assumed & was accosted with the Title of General—He exercised his men at their Toings & marchings—and directed the Heads of Tens—to drill their respective divisions—and each man to attend armed in the best manner he could;—and in order to try their courage, he suddenly ordered them to disperse saying the Horse were approaching—which they did in such a Trepidation that several got immersed in a Pool of Water near the Place of meeting in the Darkness of the Night. On their meeting again the Evening after—the General (a different person, but habited as before) reproach them with their want of Firmness—and they mutually engaged with each other—not to be so cowardly in future. Their numbers were from 60 to 70 persons, including 8 who were introduced that Evening for the first time & sworn in (or twisted).

You will doubtless have been made acquainted with the result of a Public meeting called at Manchester on the 8th instant—and you will have been furnished with the inflammatory Hand Bill circulated previously in all the neighbouring Towns & even Counties.—It is said that Mr Ottiwell Wood a Dissenter of the Unitarian school, had used much mischievous Industry to raise an opposition to the laudable Intentions of the Promoters of the meeting—whereby & by means of the said inflammatory Hand Bill (of Cowdroy’s) a mob was collected in some Instances from Towns 8 or 10 Miles distant—the result of which has been that the Exchange Rooms have been gutted of their Institution to the Damage of 800 or 1000£—this although an apparent Evil, may be productive of ultimate good— a tendency to alarm the well disposed into Exertion—who are to apt to repose in Indolence and to turn a deaf Ear to the reports of danger – until it approaches the Threshold of their own Dwellings.

(B informs me that an Irish delegates of the Name of Thomas O'Brien, was in manchester on the 8th instant & saw the mob—He rejoiced greatly as the circumstance and acquainted B. that he left Dublin five weeks ago—and had been in London and had been there introduced to the Executive Committee—that there were two other Irish Delegates present in the Committee — one of whom was to return by the Way of Glasgow the other by the Way of Milford—and he himself by the Way of Liverpool. He says Bonaparte has engaged to furnish 30000 Stand of Arms & 10000 men—and that the Irish are determined to sever themselves from England—He stands about 5f—6i high – is of a reddy Complexion— was well draped in Black—and appeared from the fluency of his Speech to be a Person of good Education.)

Notwithstanding the continual Increasing Industry of the disaffected - I treat that with the Exertions of the well disposed men of Property (if they can be aroused) the Peace of the Country may be preserved from the meditated Firings—In a Communication with the manchester magistrates yesterday – it was recommended that personal Sacrifices of Time must be made by those whose Property is so much expens & indeed by all who have Property of any Kind at Stake—that something of the Nature of Watch and Ward should be established in which respectable Persons should personally take an active part—and that the military should not be too often called upon to do what the civil power (with proper Exertion) might be able to prevent.—as in case of the projected universal Firing [obscured] [illegible] some night—it would be impossible to provide a military Force sufficient to counteract it.

If the low wages of Weavers (although they have been a little advanced) could be encreased so as to meet the present high price of provisions;—it would doubtless tend to alleviate the distresses & to lessen the Complaints of the Poor; but how to accomplish so desirable a measure, in regard to provisions, is perhaps beyond the Competence of Government; with respect to Weavers wages—though it be very delicate to start from—yet as it is acknowledged by almost all the master manufacturers, that an advance of 5 per cent on the Value of the Goods, when sold would not operate to lessen the demand it would seem to follow, that, if they could agree to advance the Weavers Wages 15 per cent (equal to about 5 per cent on the article) it would tend to the Benefit of the Weaver without injury to his Employer. But this they cannot agree to do amongst themselves to the Extent desired. There is however a Statute 1 Jas 1—which authorises magistrates at their Easter Quarter Sessions to rate Wages not only of Labourers but of all others—and lately in the Term Reports–July 1810 or 1811 the case came before the King's Bench in an appeal from the Paper manufacturers of Kent—the result of which was that the power of the magistrates to rate Wages was recognised – and that they had a right to exercise discretion therein.

It has been mentioned amongst the magistrates and will be further agitated next Week (though perhaps not formally) whether it will be prudent to provoke an application from the Weavers to this effect—Your opinion as to the Propriety of such Step would be very agreeable to me who has the Honor to be


Your most Obedient Servant

Ra: Fletcher

To John Beckett Esq

This letter can be found in HO 40/1/1.

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