Monday 11 June 2012

11th June 1812: 37 men arrested at Peace & Parliamentary Reform meeting in Manchester

The White House (previously the Prince Regent's Arms) in 1967
In the evening of Thursday June 11th 1812, political repression in the North of England plumbed new depths.

Ever since the rioting in and around Manchester of April, the voices for parliamentary reform inside the workers organisations had been stronger than those urging direct action and machine-breaking. Colonel Fletcher's spy, John Bent, had recorded those debates and the activity of the Manchester Committee which was now concerning itself with petitioning Parliament and addressing the monarch. The meeting to finalise these documents was to take place at the Elephant public house on Tib Street in Manchester at 8.00 p.m. on that Thursday night.

John Knight, a 49 year-old manufacturer and ex-handloom weaver, as well as a political radical, seems to have been one of the driving forces behind the meeting. He had previous personal experience of repression, having been sent to prison in 1794 for 2 years for making a seditious speech in Royton, Lancashire. So when he arrived at the Elephant and was told by someone present of the strong rumours that the Manchester Deputy Constable Joseph Nadin would interrupt the meeting, his initial instinct was to stand firm.

But Knight then heard that a sizeable number had already assembled at another public house nearby - the Prince Regent's Arms on Ancoats Lane - the old haunt of the Manchester Secret Committee. Knight therefore decided that the meeting should reconvene there, and upon arriving, they found a room that he estimated could hold between 40 and 50 people.

By 9.45 p.m., all of those expected were present and everyone had got a drink and the meeting began to proceed to business, by now 2 hours late. Knight made sure that everyone present introduced themselves, stating their occupation and place of residence, and then proceeded to read the resolutions of the 26th May meeting, and then the address and petition. A debate followed, with Knight making it clear that he was not in favour of direct action and machine-breaking, but that he considered that petitioning was the way forward. The meeting was interrupted by the landlord, John Brown, informing the group that it was 11.00 p.m. and that pub was now shut to new customers and he wanted to close, and so Knight decided to move to financial matters and to close the meeting as soon as possible.

As the contributions were being paid on the top table, the Deputy Constable of Manchester, Joseph Nadin, entered the door carrying a blunderbuss, quickly followed by around 30 Scotch Greys with muskets, all with fixed bayonets. Nadin advanced to the top table, and challenged Knight and another man who had only been there around 15 minutes, William Washington, to declare the purpose of the meeting: upon being told 'peace and parliamentary reform' and being handed a copy of the printed resolutions, Nadin said he didn't believe them - that the meeting was a pretence and a cover for something else.

Joseph Nadin, the Deputy Constable of Manchester
Nadin then set about ordering the arrest of all of the 37 men present. They were all searched, and their names, occupations and addresses were taken. Finally, their hands were tied and they were taken to the New Bailey court-house/prison at Salford. Knight challenged, who admitted he had no warrant, but told the men that Magistrates were already sitting at Salford.

The names, residences and occupations of the 37 men arrested subsequently appeared in the Lancaster Gazette of 20th June 1812, and are as follows:
From Manchester: John Knight, manufacturer; William Washington, agent (debt collector); Simon Simmons, spinner; Charles Woolling, spinner; Robert Thorneley, spinner; William Coppock, fustian-dresser; John Kershaw, joiner; Charles Smith, cutter; Thomas Harsnett, shoemaker; Thomas Cannavan, calico printer; Joseph Tilney; Daniel Jevins, turner and filer; Stephen Harrison, tinplate worker; Edward McGinnes, bricklayer; James Hepworth, broker; Rycroft Hepworth, weaver; James Lawton, spinner; Robert Slack, turner and filer; James Buckley, spinner; James Boothby, weaver; Edward Phillips, weaver.

From other places: John Howarth, a cutter from Salford; Thomas Cooke, a weaver & Eric Oldham, a hatter , both from Denton; Randal Judson, a warper from Audenshaw; John Haigh, a weaver of Brody Lane, near Oldham; Thomas Wilkinson, a weaver from Failsworth; Charles Oldham, a hatter & James Knott, a hatter, both from Hyde; John Oldham, a sawyer from Stalybridge; Aaron Marvel, a weaver, from Hollingworth, near Mottram; John Godly, a hatter, from Newton, near Hyde; Edmund Newton, a spinner, from Hadfield, Derbyshire; Aaron Whitehead, a Weaver, from Ashton-under-Lyne; John Newton, a bricklayer, of Roundthorn, near Oldham; James Greenwood, a weaver & Isaac Birch, a Weaver, both from Droylsden.
Knight was not to know at that stage, that it was one of those initially present at the meeting - a weaver called Samuel Fleming - who had brought the authorities down on the men present. He had previously approached a Manchester Magistrate and former commanding officer of the local militia he had belonged to, Colonel Silvester, informing him that he was being urged to take an illegal oath by a man called Thomas Broughton. Silvester set about arranging for Fleming to become involved with and to be twisted-in by Broughton and any co-conspirators, leading the authorities to them. On the 11th June, Fleming had seen his opportunity - after meeting with Broughton and going to the Prince Regents Arms, he left the meeting early at around 10.00 p.m. and informed Silvester and Nadin about it & his alleged 'twisting-in'. We know the rest.

This account has been compiled from the Lancaster Gazette and Leeds Mercury for 20th June 1812 & John Knight's 'A Correct Report...' (1812).

It's not clear if the spy John Bent was present at the meeting at some point during the night. There are no reports from him in the Home Office papers after his last one on June 7th for the rest of 1812, and although he is mentioned by his master Colonel Fletcher subsequently, it is not with reference to this meeting. It would have been unusual for Bent to not attend a meeting as significant as this, and he had been present at others prior to the 11th. It is possible he was there and left early, as others did, and also possible that he had been tipped off beforehand, but we have no evidence, other than that he was not one of those present when Nadin arrived with the soldiers.

The Prince Regents Arms (latterly the White House, although it was known by this name in 1812 as witnesses at the trial call it that) no longer exists. It stood at the junction of Laystall Street (formerly Lees Street) & Great Ancoats Street (opposite Ancoats Retails Park), until it was demolished in 2005. Given that the portion of land it stood on now lies derelict, it is difficult to understand why Manchester City Council allowed this precious artefact of working class history to be demolished in the first place.

The ghost of the Prince Regents Arms, by historyme

You can read more about the pub at the historyme and pubs of manchester websites.

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