Sunday, 8 April 2012

8th April 1812: Secret weavers meeting at the Brick Kiln, near Bolton

In the evening of Wednesday 8th April, weavers from Bolton held a secret meeting at the site of a Brick Kiln, near the Lord Nelson public house in Bolton.

Peter Gaskell, a weaver from Bolton-le-Moors, had met John Stones earlier in the daytime. Stones had collected dues of 2 pence from him, and told him to attend at 12 midnight. Stones hinted that the purpose of the meeting would be something beyond a gathering. Gaskell protested that he had no weapons of any kind, but Stones made clear his intent telling him that "those who did not attend would be in greater danger than those who did attend" - those found to be shirking "would be torn out of their beds." Another local weaver, William Rothwell, was also told by Stones to attend, and that the meeting would give orders to proceed to the mill at Westhoughton.

Later on, Gaskell got word that the meeting had been brought forward to 8 p.m.

William Rothwell knew the tenor of this gathering was different. Though he had been at meetings before, this was the first time he had seen anyone in disguise, albeit only one person out of the 30 that he estimated were there. Another veteran of meetings, Oliver Nicholson, was there. He observed that Stones and two other men - someone called Hardman and William Orrel, were directing much of the business on the night.

The air was alive with tension. And then someone called out that Constables were on their way: panic ensued, almost everyone ran, most of them through a clay pit which had a pool of water some 2 feet deep at the bottom of it. As they ran, they at least one of them stumbled and went full-length into it.

Rothwell was running with a group that included Stones. Stones was cursing them all and their 'soft souls'. He pulled a pistol from his coat and vowed "I'd shoot the first man who offered to take me." Rothwell had had enough, telling Stones this was his last meeting, to which Stones said "you're damned soft."

Stones left the group later. He'd noticed his father was absent and thought he might have fallen in the water in the clay pit.

This has been compiled from the depositions of William Rothwell, Oliver Nicholson & Peter Gaskell, which can be found at HO 42/128.

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