Sunday, 27 May 2012

27th May 1812: The trials of the Bolton oath givers at Lancaster Special Commission

At 9.00 a.m. on  Wednesday 27th May 1812, 12 men stood trial for aiding in the administering of an unlawful oath to Sergeant Holland Bowden of the Bolton Local Militia, at Great Bolton on the night of April 19th 1812.

The principal witnesses at the trial were the undercover members of the Bolton Local Militia, the 'blackfaces' that had appeared during the meeting on Dean Moor that evening. Although their names were left out of the newspaper reports of the trials, from notes of the trials in the Home Office documents we know the names of some of them. A couple are familiar - i.e. Colonel Fletcher's chief spy, John Stones, and his father Simon Stones. The others are: Corporal William Orrell, Corporal Lawrence Harwood. Private Abraham Kaye, John Wood & Peter Grundy.

The evidence they gave at the trial paints a vivid picture, but contrasts starkly in many respects from the evidence given 5 months later by others present at the meeting when they 'un-twisted' themselves before the authorities. Our account of the events of April 19th is drawn from these sources and not the trial account.

Fletcher's spies attested that they were sent to Dean Moor by their commanding officer, Adjutant Warr, to observe what happened and arrived at 11.00 p.m. to find 100 others there. Before they were allowed to join everyone, they were challenged by a man armed with a rudimentary pike for the password and offered the correct counter-sign.

The spies attested that John Hurst (37) was 'General Ludd' on the evening, and conducted the meeting. They said he had his face whitened and was armed with a pistol and a kind of Halberd. They said it was he who calmed the group down when there was an alarm that cavalry were approaching, and outlined the plans to go to Chowbent, first to meet with others and then to proceed to Westhoughton.

The trial was largely concerned with the oath being forcibly administered later to the Bolton Militia Sergeant, Holland Bowden, when the group came across him at Hulton Lane Ends. The spies attested that Joseph Greenhalgh (22) had said of Bowden "He's nothing but a spy, he's a sergeant in the Bolton Local Militia; damn him, I know him, either twist him or puff him (i.e. shoot him)". The spies also said that a hatchet was held over Bowden's head whilst the oath was administered to him.

The others accused at the trial were: Christopher Medcalfe (41), James Brierley (30), Henry Thwaite (24), Thomas Pickup (51), Samuel Radcliffe (35 - who had been acquitted of being involved in the Westhoughton incident at the trial the day before),  Joseph Clement, William Gifford, John Hays, Peter Topping, and James Knowles.

With Bowden being unable to identify any of the prisoners as to having been present that night, the identification of the accused was left Stones and his men. That they centralised the role of the accused and minimised their own role and involvement was to be expected. After the trial concluded at 7.00 p.m., the jury took just 30 minutes to find Medcalfe, Brierley, Thwaite, Pickup, Hurst, Radcliffe and Greenhalgh guilty. The other men were acquitted.

This has been compiled from the Lancaster Gazette of 30th May & 6th June 1812, and notes from the trial at HO 42/132.

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