Friday, 6 April 2012

6th April 1812: Colonel Ralph Fletcher informs the Home Office about plans to fire Westhoughton Mill

Bolton le moors 6 April 1812


Since my last, affairs of daily become more serious, but as the Post is every moment expected—I defer the detail until a further opportunity.

By the Inclosures which I have just now received you will perceive the dangerous Extent of the Treasonable Plans indicated, and that Revolution and not Regulation is sought after.—It appears that Waddington the Bolton delegate is one of the Bolton secret Committee with whom our Confident had the address to make himself acquainted; and by that means got introduced to the delegates after the meeting was over, and came at the Information.

The Question is now how to prevent the horrid Consequences that would result from a full Execution of their diabolical Plans.—I have apprised my Brother magistrate Mr Hampson and intend was as little alarm as may be to apprise the Revd Mr Prescott of Stockport and some of the magistrates and Heads of the Police at Manchester—and at Blackburn, but have not yet digested the best mode of making the Communication.—I concur that it will be proper to suffer the Traitors to proceed as far as may be without actual mischief—in order the more effectually by the apprehension of a greater Number of the actors to come at a Knowledge of the first movers. —It would be desirable to have an order to examine Letters at our Post office in order the more effectually to discover the Persons in other Places with whom they correspond.—Can you give me any Authority for such a Purpose?

It is, as you will observe in Contemplation on the Part of the Bolton Traitors. to set fire on Thursday night to one Factory, only, situated in Westhoughton about 4 miles from this Town – but as there will be a meeting on Wednesday night it may possibly be determined to proceed to further Extremities.

In Haste

I have the Honor to be
your most Obt Servant

Ra: Fletcher

This letter can be found at HO 40/1/1. It refers to the report given by the spy John Stones to James Warr of the Bolton Local Militia about the delegate meeting in Salford on 5th April 1812.

What is curious about this letter, and how historians have treated it, is how there is an assumption that there was a plan laid at the Salford meeting to set fire to the Mill at Westhoughton on Thursday 9th April. Stones report of the meeting does mention that Thursday 9th April was the date from which the committee at Salford wished to 'make a beginning', but his report is also clear that 'the Weaving Factory in Westhoughton should be burned on Monday  night [13th April] only unless they were some other arrangement made at the Meeting on Wednesday Night next'. However, a day later, it became clear that the Bolton Secret Committee of weavers had moved the date for Westhoughton forward.

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