Friday, 25 May 2012

25th May 1812: The Lancaster Special Commission commences

Baron Alexander Thomson (left) & Sir Simon le Blanc (right)
On Monday 25th May 1812, the special Assize to try those committed for trial during the recent disturbances in Lancashire - a Special Commission - commenced at Lancaster Castle, where the prisoners were also held.

The Judges presiding over the trial - Baron (Sir Alexander) Thomson and Sir Simon le Blanc - had arrived at 6.00 p.m. on the previous Saturday, having left London on Thursday 21st May, and were met by the High Sheriff, Edward Greaves, before proceeding to formally open the court on the same day. The Leeds Mercury of 23rd May informed that Mr Justice Chambre and Mr Baron Graham were also present.

Monday began with the swearing-in of the Grand Jury, who were as follows:

Joseph Radcliffe, of Royton, Esq. Foreman,
Isaac Blackburne, of Bank-Hall,
John Birley, of Blackburn,
Thomas Drinkwater, Irwell-House,
William Farrington, of Shawe-Hall,
Henry Fielden, of Witton,
Ralph Fletcher, of Tonge-with-Haulgh,
Thos. Gillibrand, of Chorley,
Nathanial Gould, of Salford,
Wm. Hulton, of Hulton,
Wm. Horton, of Rochdale,
Strethill Harrison, of Lancaster,
Wm. Jones, of Broughton,
John Lever, of Alkrington,
Thomas Leyland, of Walton,
Edmund Rigby, of Ellel Grange,
Benjamin Rawson, of Darley,
Miles Sandys, of Graithwaite,
John Silvester, of Chorley, and
John Simpson, of Hope, Esquire.

The foreman of the Jury was Joseph Radcliffe, the Magistrate from the West Riding who had his hands full dealing with Luddites there. His pre-eminent position these trials is a fact rarely mentioned by historians. Also notably present was Colonel Ralph Fletcher. Even allowing for the wide differences between the modern trial system and that of 200 years ago, it would be difficult to pick a more prejudiced and partial jury than this.

The Lancaster Gazette of 6th June 1812 gave a brief, summarised account of the Judges' charge to the Jury:
An admirable Charge was given to them, by Baron Thomson, in which he stated the law which applied to the different cases which would come before them. Persons breaking into warehouses, mills, or shops, and setting fire to them, or stealing or destroying any goods therein, were guilty of felony, without benefit of clergy. Persons guilty of administering or aiding and consenting to the administering of unlawful oaths, were liable to seven years transportation. He concluded with exhorting them to use their utmost endeavours, in their respective neighbourhoods, to restore and promote the public tranquillity.
The Court was then adjourned to the following morning, when the trials would commence in earnest

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