Saturday, 14 April 2012

14th April 1812: Secret weavers meeting at the Rope Walk, near Bolton

Joseph Lomax, a crofter from Darcy Lever near Bolton, had heard talk at his workplace (Thomas Hulme & Co, a bleachworks) of secret meetings taking place on the moors at night. It was a subject the men often talked about - how General Ludd was gathering 200 to 300 of his men, all of them equipped with swords. Lomax was so curious that he had been out at night several times with his friend John Fisher to see if he could find the General. On Sunday 12th April 1812, they had gone out on to Deane Moor, but had not found a soul. On their way back, they had met Arthur Holden from Hag End who told he knew where they met - at the Rope Walk - and if they wanted to see the General, they should go there in two nights time and bring as many others as they thought would be interested.

Lomax and his discussed it the following day, and almost all of them - 20 to 30 men - were interested in going along. On Tuesday 14th, between 8 and 9 p.m., Lomax set out with Fisher, heading for the Rope Walk. At Damside, they met Richard Taylor, who asked if he could join them. Together, they called on Arthur Holden at Hag End. Along the way, Lomax began to express doubts, but Fisher encouraged him to continue. Passing Sweet Green, they met James Knowles who was drunk, but agreed to join them.

Not long afterwards, Holden said it would be better if they approached the meeting in pairs rather than one group. Lomax proceeded with Fisher as far as just opposite the Rope Walk. He started to get cold feet again, but Fisher and Knowles - who had caught up with them by them - urged him not to turn back. About a dozen gathered there by now, and Holden and Taylor appeared: Taylor asked them to stay whilst Holden went to enquire about admitting them to the meeting. Holden shortly returned, telling the group they were admitted.

As he walked into the field, he could see 2 or 3 groups of men at a distance - he estimated there were about 60 men there all in all. He and others joined with them. He noticed a straggler behind, who was hailed by one of the group and said in return "Church Steeple", which allowed him to join them.

The apparent leader of the group then said that those who new tonight had to come forward, and as the dozen or so walked towards him, he motioned that they should form a circle around him. Lomax looked at the man closely. In the dim light, he could make out he was wearing what looked like a blue coat and his hat was rather shabby. Lomax thought he recognised him, and before long he'd remembered someone like that hawking books at his workplace. Just then, the man began to speak.

The man said they all needed to take care who they talked to and what they said about the meetings, and that some they met would have ulterior motives, whilst others would be 'babblers', and they were the most dangerous. For £2 or £3, such characters might tell Colonel Fletcher all. He said he hoped that many of those new to the meeting - who he knew were from Hag End and Lever Lane - would not 'babble' and tell, like others from such places had done in the past, for if they did, the meetings would be jeopardised and they'd up being transported.

The man with the shabby hat made it clear that the meetings intended the 'destroy the present wickedness that reigns in this Country' and began to walk away from them. He urged the to contemplate what he had said, and that he wanted them to make a 'solemn obligation'. Richard Taylor piped up that he agreed, and one or two others chimed their support.

The man ordered them to go to the corner of the field, and they met there another man with a brown coat, with a white handkerchief covering his face, save for his mouth and eyes. He held out a large book and said "well, men, take hold of the book" - they all reached out to touch it and he asked them to repeat after him the oath:
I [name] on my own voluntary Will and accord, do declare an solemnly swear, that I will never reveal to any Person or Persons, in any Place or Places, under the Canopy of Heaven, the Name or Names of any Persons who compose this secret Committee, their Secret Proceedings, Meeting Place, Abode, Dress, Features, Connections, or any thing else, that may lead to a discovery of the same, either by Word Deed or Sign, under the Penalty of being sent out of the World, by the first Brother who shall meet me, my Name & Character blotted out of Existence, and never to be remembered but with Contempt and Abhorrence. And I furthermore do swear, that I will use my best Endeavours to punish by Death, any Traitor or Traitors should any rise up amongst us, wherever I can find him or them, and though he should fly to the Verge of Nature, I will pursue him with unceasing Vengeance, — So help me God, — and assist me to keep this my Oath, inviolable.
 When they had finished, the man in the mask said they could all now join the rest of the group.

Later, Lomax noticed that about six people were apart from the main group when one of them called out "representatives of town" and several broke away from the main group to join them. After a few minutes, they all came back and it was announced the next meeting would be on Thursday 16th April.

On the way home, many thoughts went through Lomax's head, and he was more than a little frightened, but a vague feeling of excitement at such a strange happening made him feel he might go back.

This is taken from the deposition of Joseph Lomax, which can be found at HO 42/122. I have used a version of the oath which is closest to the one Lomax describes in his deposition (which is paraphrased).

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