Sunday 8 July 2012

8th July 1812: A spy sent from Manchester is 'twisted-in' by an old man at Halifax

John McDonald and John Gossling were two assistant constables in Manchester. They had both been sent into West Yorkshire by the Manchester Deputy Constable, Joseph Nadin, with a view to infiltrate clandestine workers' organisations.

The spies arrived in Halifax at noon on Wednesday 8th July 1812 and headed straight for the first public house they could find, the Crispin Inn. After ordering and eating a meal, they left to find somewhere to stay, and having done so, returned in an hour or two. Before long, they were talking to locals, and were soon in conversation with a man called Charles Milnes. They talked generally about the state of the country, and Milnes began to open up about who he knew and what he had been up to; that he had stolen 60 rounds of ball cartridges from a soldier in the Cumberland Militia, but had been found out and had fled when the military searched him and tried to take him before an official. He subsequently hid out on Dean Moor for 3 weeks. He also told them he knew the two men killed at Rawfolds very well, and also another Luddite who had acted as an officer in the attack on the mill. Having gained Milnes confidence, McDonald tried to engage him in talk about how to become involved with the Luddites. Milnes made it clear that before conversation on that subject could go further, he would have to be twisted-in.

After a further discussion, McDonald agreed to the proposal. McDonald later swore that Milnes said "I will take you to a man who has been in the business nearly twenty years, and he will do it for you tonight".

Leaving Gosling behind, the two men made their way to the home of an elderly hatter called John Baines.  Milnes said to Baines "I have brought a friend here; he is a stranger, but he is a very good fellow, and he wishes to be a brother." McDonald noticed that Milnes had raised his voice slightly, and Baines had cupped his ear - the old man was hard of hearing.

"Then we must be handy," said Baines "for we shall have the watch and ward here soon; some of my neighbours have laid an information, and they are often searching my house."

McDonald looked around - 4 others were present, including a young boy, evidently the old man's son. They all sat down together and began to talk. Baines repeated his concerns about the Watch and Ward - McDonald said "I will go as soon as I have done."

The old man then produced a small book, which McDonald assumed was a bible, and bade them all to stand up. Baines' youngest son, the boy who was present & called Zachariah, stood with his back to the door of the house.

The old man Baines said "take the book" and held it out to McDonald, who complied. Baines asked him his name - McDonald lied and said "John Smith", and Baines said "John Smith, say after me;" and Baines administered the oath. Afterwards, Baines urged McDonald to kiss the book, and he complied.

McDonald offered to buy everyone a drink, but the old man Baines declined, owing to the Watch & Ward. Leaving Zachariah with his father, McDonald went out with the others present, they being the old man's other son, John Baines junior, William Blakeborough, George Duckworth, and Milnes. They headed back to the Crispin Inn, with Duckworth deciding to go home before they went in.

In the pub and in the presence of his three new contacts, the spy McDonald boasted openly to the other spy Gossling that he had got himself twisted-in, and Milnes told Gossling he had introduced him. The five men drank and talked more, before they all left the Crispin Inn between 12.00 - 1.00 a.m., with the three Halifax locals walking the spies to their lodgings, none the wiser about their new friend's real identities and intentions.

This is from Howell (1823, pp.1074-1092).

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