Thursday, 26 April 2012

26th April 1812: Colonel Ralph Fletcher updates the Home Office about affairs in Bolton

Bolton 26 April 1812

Dear Sir/

Being absent on the 23rd & until the Evening of the 24th instant—and on the 25 being engaged in the Business of the unfortunate disturbances that have agitated & do still agitate this Neighbourhood – I have had no opportunity to investigate properly the important subject contained in the Letter addressed to the Right Hon’ble Secretary of State – from Charles Gregory & James Nisbet— the President & Secretary of a Committee said to be formed in this place to represent the Weavers of this Neighbourhood.

That the Wages of the Weavers are much lower than formerly, cannot be doubted – and I, for one, very much lament that they are so—but at the same time the [pattern] drawn with said Letter appears to me to be overcharged—my Observations on the subject I beg Leave to postpone until a further Opportunity – when I will endeavour to transmit such Information as shall appear to me the best founded both in relation to Wages & Price of Provisions at the time (11 April) when the said Letter was dated —

My letter of the 22d (but sent off 23d) you will have received. That brought down the Account of disturbances to that date— Two advertised meetings of an Inclosure obliged me to attend on the 23d & 24 on private business — on the latter of which days a mob assembled at Chowbent about 5 miles from here & threatened Westhoughton Factory – before alluded to — the manager of that work being apprized of the Intention – sent to Bolton for military Aid—the Greys under Captain Bullen set off & on their arrival found no assembly there of any Consequence to be regarded—the Captain conceiving the Intelligence to be a Hoax left the place – declaring that he would not move again but on the order of Mr Hulton – a magistrate of the Neighbourhood. The Seditious had their Spies who on seeing the militia march off – (as it since appears) – returned to the mob (concealed at about a mile distance behind Hedges &c) & in about Two Hours afterwards—the multitude assembled round the Factory – & from breaking the Windows at last set fire to and consumed the Premises to the damage of 6000£—The manager had previously set off himself — (not without great personal danger) to apprize the Officer of the Greys of the Mob being reassembled—but it was too late to save the Property — the whole Mischief being done before the second Arrival of the Greys.

The above is a short account of the Transactions during my absence.—On returning Home – & on the Return of the Greys – it was thought that Chowbent being the place from which most of the Incendiaries were supposed to come from—I dispatched 80 of the Local (under my Command) under the direction of Adjutant James Warr — to Chowbent with a View to arrest such of the Rioters—as from secret & open information he could procure any account of—

[From] this place Bolton the detachment set off at nine P.M. — and returned before Six AM on the 25th – with 22 Prisoners – arrested at different places within an Extent of Country of 3 miles square—on the arrival of such a Number both Mr Hampson & Mr Hulton were requested to meet me—and at noon we [entered] on the Examination—By yesterdays post—we apprized you of those we had committed—and from Intelligence this day received I think several of the others who were remanded—will be fully committed to Lancaster to take their Trials.—but of this you shall be informed on the Event.—

Very dangerous is the State of the mind of the lower orders from the High Price of Provisions & the incessant Endeavours of the disaffected—as you will see from Mr Chippendale's letter (adjutant of the Oldham Local) and also from B’s communication.—I need not draw your attention to the Arms of which B says the disaffected about Stockport are possessed of—After the Exhibition at Middleton we can scarcely doubt the Information—Will it not be proper to authorise the Peace Officers (or even military) to search for & seize arms that are in possession of suspected persons?

You will [perceive] that the 4 May is a period fixed on. I entertain no doubt of some early attempt being made throughout the manufacturing parts & even the Capital of the United Kingdom – but it may be deferred from time to time until those who lead shall give the Signal.

It certainly is not for me to form a complete Judgement on so important a Subject—but I venture to mention that it appears to me in the present Conjunction of affairs – not improper for his Majesty's Government—to move for a Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. You will excuse the Liberty I take in such suggestion—and I have the Honor to be

Dr Sir
Your most Obt Servant
Ra. Fletcher

The Watch & Ward act I trust will be immediately put in execution we have 400 Constables in the Town to be sworn in tomorrow—I fear not any open force but secret attempts in this particular Neighbourhood

Would not a Special Commission to try these & other Rioters within this County be a proper measure?

To John Beckett Esq

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

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