Friday, 20 April 2012

20th April 1812: Serious rioting across the North West of England

On Monday 20th April 1812, serious rioting broke in many towns across the North-West of England. Much of it bore the character of food rioting that was by then into its second day in Manchester.

In Oldham, the Adjutant of the Local Militia, William Chippindale, had observed large groups of people assembling in the countryside the previous day, and had heard rumours that they would be collecting in town the following day. He had only a handful of men to guard the Militia's armoury, which was a regular dwelling house, and he set about fortifying it which was complete by 12 noon. When disturbances began in earnest later, Chippindale apportioned blame to people coming into Oldham from Saddleworth ('rude uncultivated savages') and Hollinwood, the latter group being mainly Colliers. Warehouses and shops were plundered, and the crowds engaged in autoreduction. Sections of the crowd began to assess the possibility of attacking the armoury but decided against it. Chippindale then saw the crowds head en masse to nearby Middleton.

At Rochdale, large crowds came into the town from the direction of nearby Oldham & Royton, and the clamour amongst them was to carry out the autoreduction of prices that was a common theme elsewhere. There were at least two arrests and it seems a stand-off situation existed in the town for many hours before windows began to broken at around 8 p.m. The Cumberland Militia was eventually called out and the Riot Act was read by a Magistrate, William Horton. The crowds were eventually dispersed by the military and the streets locked down by 11.00 p.m.

At Bolton, crowds had also gathered to enforce autoreduction early, and Colonel Ralph Fletcher was at the forefront in calling out the military for 8.00 a.m. A 60-strong detachment of the Scots Greys was called out, along with 80 of the local Yeomanry Cavalry under Major Pilkington and 50 of the Bolton Local Militia under Fletcher himself. These were all in use to guard the market place. The guard continued until around 7.00 p.m., when even greater numbers had collected in the streets. Fletcher then decided to read the Riot Act, the streets were cleared and Public Houses shut.

The story was similar in Ashton-under-Lyne, with provision shops and warehouses being into and the produce seized. An arrest was made, with the prisoner being held at the Globe Inn in town, with crowds demanding his release. When this was refused, the pub had most of its windows put through. A Manchester Magistrate, The Reverend William R Hay was in town on other business at the time and wrote to the Home Office to explain the authorities were unable to intervene due to the lack of military. He even swore in 60 members of the Local Militia as Special Constables.

The crowd then moved through Dukinfield and on to Stalybridge, where the Granary, Corn-Mill and Warehouses of the Huddersfield Canal Company were attacked by a large crowd of people. As well as goods being carried away, at least 1000 bushels of flour and meal were destroyed, their rage being so great.

Between 1.00 and 2.00 p.m. a flour Mill at Worsley was attacked by a large mob. The machinery was damaged and much of the flour carried away. In nearby Eccles, all the shops were shut up, and the Liverpool coach heading through the town had stones thrown at it.

Much later in the afternoon, the same crowd that had assailed the Mill at Worsley arrived at Barton-upon-Irwell. A provision shop was attacked, with autoreduction being in evidence. A hundred people entered the local Mill of Messrs Gilbert, Marsdens & Co, attacking the machinery with staves and clubs: outside the crowd called out "Now or never", a by now popular slogan seen in evidence 12 days before in central Manchester and parts of Yorkshire but a few days ago. Most of the flour, either loose or in sacks, was carried away.

At many of these locations, arrests took place, with prisoners later being committed to either Chester or Lancaster Castles, depending upon which County the riots took place in.

This has been drawn from several sources: the Derby Mercury of 30th April 1812; Fletcher to HO (undated, but written on 20th) at HO 42/121, and also 22nd April 1812 at HO 42/122; the Lancaster Gazette of 25th April 1812 & 27th June 1812; the Times of 23rd April 1812; Grimmett & Thomis (1982, p.43), Chester Special Commission calendar at HO 42/123; W Chippindale to J Chippindale, 21st April 1812 at HO 40/122; W Chippindale to Fletcher, 23rd April 1812 at HO 40/1/1.; WR Hay to Home Office, 21st April 1812 at HO 40/122.

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