Monday, 23 April 2012

23rd April 1812: The Manchester spy John Bent reports on riots, a new role and a delegate from Birmingham

On Thursday 23d April 1812, the spy 'B' aka John Bent filed another report for Colonel Ralph Fletcher.

On the 18th, he had received a letter from someone called Mann in Leeds, who related to him the 'mischief' done in that area by the Luddites, who could not be stopped by the military or civil authorities. On the same day, Bent met with people he knew from Royton, Oldham, Saddleworth & Stockport who reported their 'high glee' about the food riot in Manchester that day, and noting that since the riot at the Manchester Exchange buildings ten days ago, a different cast of political characters were now active.

On Sunday 19th, Bent had attended a meeting with many of the heads of District Committees and discussed organisational matters such as leadership and the payment and collection of subscriptions

On Monday 20th, Bent had been at the Manchester Executive Committee meeting in Ardwick, and had been elected treasurer of that body, promising to let Fletcher know 'all the particulars'. Bent had heard reports that there were 4 men from London who were purporting to be from a committee, but people were wary because they were answering any of the agreed signs that identified committee members to each other.

Bent also said that he had heard that someone who had been arrested at Stockport recently who may have revealed to the authorities who he was in contact with. Bent pointed out to Fletcher that there were many others active in the Stockport area, and the loss of one activist would not spell the end of the Committee there.

On the 23rd April, Bent had met a delegate from Birmingham who was making a short stop in Manchester, ultimately heading to Glasgow via Preston and Carlisle. The delegate said that 3000 were twisted-in in Birmingham, and that they could lay their hands on within 1 or 2 days if summoned. Bent did not know his name but said that his number was 457, and described him as 'stout' with a dark complexion and hessian boots.

Bent ended his report on a note of concern about the 'dangerous' situation he was in, and trusted Fletcher to make arrangements for him so that he would be secure.

The report can be read at HO 40/1/1. The man arrested in Stockport that Bent alludes to was most likely Thomas Whittaker.

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