Sunday, 22 April 2012

22nd April 1812: Colonel Ralph Fletcher updates the Home Office on the situation in Bolton

Bolton le moors April 22. 1812


On monday night 20th instant I just gave you an hasty minute of the proceedings of the Seditious (the mail not allowing time for any detailed account.)

On Saturday 18th instant I received Information of intended assembly to take place at 10 o’Clock PM in a Field near my own House, at which were expected to attend from 200 to 300 Persons, who were to march from thence in 3 divisions, one of which was to assail my House, the second to burn Mr. Thos Ainsworths house and Warehouse and the 3d to do the same by Mr Hewitts; and the disaffected from Chowbent, with the aid of a Delegate from hence, were at the same Time to burn down a Weaving Factory in Westhoughton about 5 miles from this Place on the Wigan Road. I apprized the several Persons thus intended to be injured and furnished Guards of our Local, under the direction of our Adjutant James Warr, introduced into the several Places are secretly as possible. I requested Captain Bullen of the Greys & he promptly consented to attend us every assistance.

It was necessary that these Horse, in order to be at Westhoughton, should muster & leave Bolton soon after 10 to enable them to reach at the expected Hour (11). This matter of the Cavalry alarmed the seditious Leaders and deterred them from attempting the Execution of the whole of their plans.—Some 30 or 40 mustered in the said field who were soon however ordered to repair to Dean Moor (another Situation 2 Miles distant) where the General caused them to pass in Review (about 11 o'Clock) by their several Companies of tens (altogether short of 100) he holding a Pistol in one Hand and a Pike in the other, and asking the several persons as they passed, if they had any [such], to shew them (meaning the Pistol). Some had Pistols and shewed them – others who had not said they had none. The General ordered the Captain to muster their several men after the Business should be over to see their Punctuality. They then were moved off the Parade Ground towards Chowbent a Village 5 Miles from hence on the Warrington Road—and as they went – they met with a Serjeant of the Local under my Command, of the Name of Bowden whom they compelled to be twisted or sworn before they would let him go. (This circumstance, notwithstanding the Disguise will probably enable us to bring Conviction home to many of them, as we had several Confidents present, some of whom will I doubt now be able to identify, both the Person who administered the oath & also many of those who were present and aiding therein.)—Only two persons joined before they arrived at Chowbent—though the General had expected 300 who when joined together were to have undertaken the destruction of the Westhoughton Factory aforesaid; but finding themselves disappointed it was proposed by someone of the Company to break the Church Windows – which however was declined – and after giving 3 Cheers and firing off 3 Pistols they were ordered to disperse. Several of them had their Faces blacked.

A Part in returning passed the House of the Revd James Hampson (a magistrate) alarming him & his family by firing off 3 pistols near his door at about 2 oClock A:M of Monday—making use of threatening Words at the same time—but doing no other mischief. In the Interval I had taken a party of 36 Local towards Westhoughton – to intercept any Stragglers – but they having passed along Byeways eluded us.

Cavalry & Infantry returned to Town about 5 AM, or 8 AM. Crowds assembled & intimidated several Farmers to sell their articles at reduced Prices, but this continued but a short time as the military were ordered out & assembled to protect the market—and it being necessary that the Greys should have some respite from duty – it was deemed proper to request the Yeomanry Cavalry under Major Pilkington to assemble, which they immediately did.

About 7 oClock PM – considerable Crowds collected on the sides of the Streets, and it being apprehended that some Violence would be attempted were they suffered to remain—I read the Riot Act, and ordered the Military to disperse the People, and the Civil Officers to clear the Public Houses – both which was done in about 20 Minutes – and the Town appeared to be quiet until Ten PM—when an alarm of Fire was given and the Greys were again mustered.—Some Incendiaries, or persons unknown, and set Fire to an Hay Rick, the property of Mr Joseph Ridgway, Half of which was saved by the Exertions of the military & others.

Yesterday the 21st instant a few Hundred assembled about 8 AM—who disturbed the Town by their Shouts but did not however venture on any further mischief at this time—at midnight another Alarm of Fire was given and the civil officers (a Part of whom have constantly been on duty for several days past) proceeded to the Spot, which proved to be a Shed on Rope Walk.—Our Confidential Men have assured me that it was set on Fire by the Seditious—and that their settled Plan is – by Firing in Secret to distract the Peace of the Country.

A person of the Name of Clarke was seen to carry Implements of the Rope Manufactory & throw them into the Fire and as his account of himself before the Magistrates is so inconsistent & contradictory—and we entertaining no doubt of his being concerned in the Firing of said Shed – we have committed him to Lancaster & bound over the Witnesses to appear against him.

From all these threatening appearances in this [diversion] and the actual Bloodshed in Middleton near Manchester (of which you will doubtless have received an account from other magistrates)—and from the plundering in various places within 6 or 8 miles, it has been deemed proper by the 3 magistrates here assembled this day to strengthen the military Force, (without calling upon Government for more regulars) by ordering out 132 men of the Local Regiment under my Command (which 132 are now actually assembled on duty) being 10 Private & one Corporal per Company), which added to the permanent Staff of said Regiment about 20, and to 50 men of the different recruiting parties in this Town who have been furnished with spare Local arms – will make our Infantry Force about 200, & which together with Captain Bullens Greys (60) & Major Pilkingtons Yeomanry (40) – will, I trust, under providence be sufficient to resist any attempt of the Revolutionists in respect to open Force.

The Local having assembled on several occasions previously to the legal order of this day, I presume, if their Services cannot be charged, in the regular pay of the Regiment, yet then I may be permitted to remunerate them from some other Source.

Our Quarter wishes me to request to know how he must draw for the subsistence of the men ordered out for the by the magistrates as aforesaid.

The Execution of the Watch & Ward Act, (as you will have been informed), has been determined upon within the Hundred of Salford, containing nearly one Half of the Population of this County. It meets the general approbation of all loyal persons of Property, and although the Tumults that have occasioned its Enactment have much to be lamented, yet by exciting the Indolent to Exertion, Good may eventually result to the Country from it.

B: is got into a Confidential Situation. He acquaints me that Intimidation is the principal Trust of the Revolutionisis anonymous threatening Letters &c &c and he is induced to think that there are some so desperate as to undertake private assassination &c

You will excuse this long Epistle—I have missed the Mail – & this will be a day later than its date imports. I have the Honor to be

Your most Obed Servant

Ra: Fletcher

[To] John Beckett Esq

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

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