Friday, 4 May 2012

4th May 1812: Two weavers from Failsworth meet the Manchester Secret Committee at the Prince Regent's Arms

Joseph Taylor, a weaver from Failsworth recently moved to Club Row, Newton Lane in Manchester, was a curious type. On the day of the first Manchester Food Riot, he had met a relative, called John Blakeley, in the streets on Manchester. Blakeley had greeted him with a gesture which piqued his interest: he put his finger to his lip and asked Taylor if he could answer it. Taylor could not, but made it clear he wanted to know more.

Blakeley made it clear to Taylor that Manchester would soon be witnessing something akin to the French Revolution, but that he would have to be conversant in signs and signals before he could know more. Blakeley taught him the following:
Question: put the two forefingers of the right-hand to the right eye; Answer: present the forefinger of the left-hand

Question: place the little finger of the right-hand under the lip - at the same time advance the right leg; Answer: stroking or rubbing the chin with the left-hand

Taylor knew a man called Joseph Duxbury was involved in something secretive, and decided to try to the signs he'd learned on him. It worked. Duxbury subsequently got Taylor to swear an oath and gave him hints about how he would find the 'principal persons' involved in what he wanted to know more about.

On the morning of Monday 4th May, Taylor set off with his friend Thomas Whitehead, a weaver from Failsworth to find out more. On Port Street, off Ancoats Lane, they met a young man whom Taylor suspected was involved in the secret business. He tried out the second signal on him, and the man, called Ben, responded with the counter-sign. Ben took them both to a cellar at No. 21 where he worked as a weaver. They talked about being twisted-in and then agreed to go for a drink at the White Lion. Ben went ahead, and Taylor & Whitehead joined him later.

At the White Lion, Taylor asked Ben if anyone could help twist-in Taylor. Ben said he knew someone who could and left, returning later with a man he called 'the Secretary'. The man introduced himself as Yarwood and gave Taylor the signal: Taylor responded with the counter-sign. Yarwood questioned Taylor, and then said they needed to go somewhere safer.

Taylor, Whitehead and Yarwood now headed for the Prince Regent's Arms on Ancoats Lane. In private in a room in the pub, Yarwood asked Taylor to tell him the oath, and although Taylor couldn't remember the oath, Yarwood was satisfied. As the landlord, John Brown, entered the room to bring coal to the fireplace, Yarwood then said he would like to read Taylor some verses from the Bible, and asked the ladlord to fetch a Bible. With the landlord present, Yarwood read to Talyor verses 25, 25 & 27 of the 21st chapter of the book of Ezekiel. The landlord left, and then Yarwood administered the oath to him, whilst he held the Bible in his hand.
I, A.B., of my own voluntary will do declare and solemnly swear that I will never reveal to any person or persons in any place or places under the canopy of heaven the names of the persons who comprise the secret committee, either by word and deed or sign, their proceedings, meetings, place, abode, dress, features, marks, complexions, connections nor anything else that may lead to the discovery of the same on the penalty of being put out of this world by the first brother that shall meet me, my name and character blotted out of existence and never to be remembered but with contempt and abhorrence. I further swear that I will use my best endeavours to punish by death any traitor or traitors should any rise up amongst us he or them and though he should fly to the verge of nature I will pursue him with unceasing vengeance so help me God to keep this oath inviolable

At the end, Yarwood asked him to kiss the Bible, which he did. Yarwood then told him the signs and counter-signs to ensure he could safely introduce himself and/or reply to others twisted-in, and said these were changed every fortnight for security reasons, and also that subscriptions were 2 pence per week. Yarwood agreed that Whitehead should be admitted as a 'friend to the cause', and swore Whitehead in too in a similar manner.

After Yarwood had told Taylor some poetry ridiculing the Prince Regent, he said there was a meeting later today, and if he was interested, he should remain at the pub: the location would be announced within 10 minutes of the meeting, again for security reasons.

Yarwood then proceeded to paint a vivid picture to both men of revolutionary proceedings in the country: that 400,000 men were ready to rise, although London was lagging behind somewhat; that army officers and sergeants were twisted in, and that one half of the army would 'be organised before the blow'; that even the Duke of York may join them and they would 'pluck him from the ungodly'.

By 6.30 p.m., up to 18 people were assembled at the Prince Regent's Arms, waiting for the meeting venue to be announced. A little man came in, who seemed to be looked up to by those present. Whitehead knew him, and shook his hand. This was John Buckley Booth, and Whitehead heard from others that he was a Calvinist preacher and he heard others called him 'Parson'.

The meeting eventually convened in the Prince Regent's Arms itself. Delegates were present from Stockport, Oldham, Middleton, Huddersfield, Bolton, Preston, Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge, Bury, Blackburn, FailsworthYarwood's words to the two men earlier, the content of the meeting proved to be agitation for a 'general reform' and a 'general change'.

Later, Taylor and Whitehead became concerned for their welfare. Accusations flew that they were spies - that they would not be allowed out of the pub until someone who had been sent to check their credentials came back - that if it were proved they were spies, their lives would be at stake. The men perceived that the landlord was refusing admittance to the room, but all the while, the numbers outside the room were increasing. Somehow, the men found a back way out of the room, but discovered that all the doors they tried to escape through were locked to them. They were detained again by one of the weavers from the meeting.

Somehow, Taylor & Whitehead eventually managed to leave the Prince Regent's Arms. Three days later, they had fled to London, and gave dispositions about their experience in Manchester before the Home Secretary, Richard Ryder, in Whitehall. They had been acting undercover all the time - most likely employed by the Stockport Solicitor & Magistrates Clerk, John Lloyd, for the purpose of incriminating the weavers present.

This has been compiled from Taylor & Whitehead's deposition of 7th May 1812 at HO 42/131 (before Richard Ryder) & HO 40/1/1 of 18th June 1812 (before Holland Watson). A letter from Vickery Gibbs and Thomas Plumer of Lincoln's Inn, dated 14th May 1812 at HO 42/123, makes it clear the men were spies. It does not say who employed them, but a letter from Thomas Maitland around this time makes it clear that John Lloyd had been employing spies to get into meetings along these lines, and the fact that the June deposition was sent to the Home Office by Lloyd suggests it was him.

Although Humphrey Yarwood's deposition of 22nd June 1812 does cover the 4th May meeting, it
perhaps unsurprisingly does not mention Taylor & Whitehead at all. It could be that Taylor & Whitehead embroidered their tale with the threats they said they faced.

According to the Pubs of Manchester blog, the building that was once the White Lion still stands, albeit solitary, on Port Street.

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