Monday, 27 August 2012

27th August 1812: The trial of the 'Manchester 38' at Lancaster Assizes

Lancaster Castle c.1830: an engraving by Richard Parry from an original by William Westall
More than 2 months after they had been arrested at a meeting in Manchester, the trial of the 'Manchester 38' began at Lancaster Summer Assizes at Lancaster Assizes on Thursday 27th August 1812.

The trial began between 10.00 and 11.00 a.m., and the indictments were first read. All of the prisoners pleaded Not Guilty. The Counsel for the Crown, Mr. Park (the Attorney-General for the County Palatine of Lancashire) pointed out to the Jury that the effect of the Special Commission in May on the public mind had been diminished because so few people of the thousands that had taken part were tried. He stated that the large number of defendants on trial in this case could have a greater effect, especially as since the 9th July 1812, the penalty for such offences as they were accused of was now death.

Two of the prisoners - William Washington & Thomas Broughton - were charged with administering the oath to the informer, Samuel Fleming, the Crown's star witness. The other 36 prisoners were accused of aiding, assisting and consenting to the administration of the oath.

The prisoners' defence was led by a team that included none other than Henry Brougham, although he was acting only for Thomas Broughton, the man who Park contended was one of the two administrators of the illegal oaths, and the one accused of being most enmeshed in conspiracy.

Park then went on to introduce the Crown's witness, Samuel Fleming, and the events he said he was witness to, setting out the Crown's case. Fleming was an Irish weaver who had come to live in Manchester 9 years ago, a former soldier in Ireland who had joined the Local Militia in Manchester. Park stated that it was 'common practice' to get such men involved amongst the 'unlawful combinations'. The link between Fleming and with what was to occur was Thomas Broughton: Fleming lived in the house where Broughton had resided, and through coming to know him, Broughton had tried and succeeded to get Fleming involved in nocturnal meetings in fields around Manchester. Park contended that Fleming was resistant to be 'twisted in', so much so that one night he was shot at as he was leaving his house. It was at this point that Fleming approached his commanding officer in the local militia, Colonel Sylvester, who was also a magistrate. Sylvester and Joseph Nadin, the Deputy constable of Manchester, now arranged for Fleming to alert them to a meeting, in order that they could make arrests.

The evening of 11th June 1812 came, and Fleming met Broughton at the Elephant public house on Tib Street in Manchester, where a meeting was due to take place. The meeting was later adjourned to another pub nearby, the Prince Regents Arms, in an upstairs room. Broughton & Fleming drank in the bar downstairs, and Fleming at last expressed a wish to be twisted in. Broughton went up and downstairs a couple of times before telling Fleming he could proceed upstairs. Once there, Fleming
contended that he witnessed William Washington administer the oath to 3 other men before he did the same to Fleming. Fleming contended that, after this, Washington gave him the signs and countersigns which could be used to identify another similarly 'twisted'.

Fleming then said he had left at 10.00 p.m. to alert Colonel Sylvester & Nadin, with Nadin then proceeding to the pub with a troop of Scotch Greys and making the arrests, initially of 37 men, as Thomas Broughton was downstairs.

After outlining the case for the prosecution, Park began to examine witnesses, starting with Samuel Fleming. He brought out details, which included an allegation that in being introduced to the political underground by the defendant Thomas Broughton, he had attended meetings in St George's Fields near Manchester, and that on one occasion in the week before the 20th April 1812, there had been an intention to go the Middleton and burn down Burton's steam loom factory.

The defence objected strongly to the introduction of this information, saying that it had nothing to do with the charges, but the Judge, Baron Wood, overruled them.

Park continued to examine Fleming along the lines of the case he had outlined earlier, and got Fleming to state that he had observed the landlord, John Brown, (who was also on trial at the Assizes in a separate case) putting up curtains in the upstairs meeting room before he was twisted in. He also stated that he had talked with a defendant, Isaac Birch: the prosecution was aware that at the hearing where the 38 were initially charged, Fleming had sworn several times that a prison officer called Evans in the lineup was Birch, whilst the deputy constable Nadin had tried to force another defendant, John Knight, to stand near to Evans. Led by Park, Fleming insisted that his identification of Evans for Birch was a mistake, since on the 11th June Birch was wearing a hat all night, and when the 38 were charged, he was not: he insisted that the fact Birch was bald-headed meant that he didn't recognise him without the hat.

Fleming then went on to state that he had been ordered to go downstairs and wait there, and after drinking for a while with Broughton, left the Prince Regents Arms to divulge what had happened to Colonel Sylvester and Nadin.

Fleming was then cross-examined by Mr Scarlett, one of the counsel for the 37 men. Scarlett got Fleming to admit that he went to the meeting on the 11th June, in order to become twisted-in, at the behest of Colonel Sylvester & Nadin, and that Sylvester had given him money since then. Fleming also stated that he had entered the upstairs room at 10.00 p.m., then left to go downstairs, but had not lingered to drink with Broughton, and went straight to Colonel Sylvester's. Scarlett got Fleming to estimate the time taken for him to arrive at Sylvester's house, and then fetch Nadin - he estimated that he did not bring Nadin back before 11.00 p.m.

Scarlett also demonstrated that Fleming was inconsistent about who he knew at the meeting, and how he was then able to identify them when they were charged 3 days later. Fleming admitted that other than 4 people he knew personally, he could not positively say that any of the others were present at the meeting, and that he had not seen them since they were charged over 2 months ago.

At an interval another counsel for the defence, Mr Williams, pointed out that the indictment had Thomas Broughton administering the oath to Fleming, but the evidence thus far had held that he was not in the room at the time Fleming was twisted in, and that this undermined the whole case. Henry Brougham echoed the objection, but it was overruled by the Judge.

Colonel John Sylvester, the Manchester magistrate and Local Militia commander then took the witness stand. He confirmed to the prosecution his earlier contacts with Fleming and also that he had come to him at 11.00 p.m. on the night of the 11th June. Henry Brougham made sure the time was highlighted in his brief cross-examination.

The Deputy Constable of Manchester, Joseph Nadin, next took the stand. In cross-examination by Mr. Williams, he estimated that he arrived at the Prince Regents Arms by 11.30 p.m. and though he insisted he took all the papers from the meeting room, he was clear that he did not find a Bible (the prosecution had alleged that a Bible was used in the oath ceremony). Williams uncovered more inconsistencies in the prosecution's case: they had maintained that Nadin had heard voices calling out numbers when he arrived, and that the front door was locked - yet under cross-examination, he only admitted to hearing the indistinct voices of 2 people talking, and that the door was unlocked - he even pushed it open himself.

When the landlady of the Prince Regent's Arms, Elizabeth Brown, took the stand, the prosecution had difficulty getting her to swear that Thomas Broughton was downstairs on the 11th June, as was outlined in their case. Furthermore, under cross-examination from Brougham, she stated that William Washington did not come to the pub before 10.45 p.m. that evening, which was 45 minutes after the time that Samuel Fleming maintained he had left the public after being twisted-in by him. Mrs Brown also stated that Fleming had arrived at the pub at 7.00 p.m. that evening, before the meeting took place, and had been served 2 pints of beer, but had not gone into the upstairs room at all.

The prosecution's case then drew to a close. The prisoners were asked if they wanted to make statements to the Jury:
Mr. Baron Wood. William Washington, have you anything to say in your defence?

William Washington. My Lord, and Gentlemen of the Jury, if I was not in this situation, but capable of being called upon to give evidence on the present occasion, I should most solemnly state, upon oath, that there is no truth in the charge against us; and I have no doubt, but one and all of my suffering companions would do the same; indeed, by our plea of NOT GUILTY, that declaration is already made by each of us; so that you will have to try on which side the truth lies. For myself, I repeat my innocence; and as a proof of that, I declare, that I was not in the room at the time that Fleming has fixed upon, nor for some time afterwards; in fact, I had been employed and much engaged that evening, in levying an execution, as will be proved to you, beyond the possibility of contradiction, and I was not able, therefore, to go to the meeting till within a quarter of eleven o'clock, when the outward door of the house was shut, as can be proved, as well by Mr. and Mrs. Brown; so that it is utterly impossible that I could have administered an oath to Fleming, or any other man living, at the time, and in the way, I have been charged with. Fleming has said, that the oath was administered soon after ten o'clock, and that the house door was open when he went out; it therefore follows, that as I did not arrive until after the doors were shut, that I was not in the house at the time and suppose so foolishly and wickedly to have acted.—I say foolishly, because I must be considered as the most unthinking blockhead living, and so must also the rest of these prisoners be, if what has been stated be true. But, Gentleman, is it likely that such a body of men, should so far disregard their own safety, as to commit so serious a crime with the room door open, in the presence of so many unknown characters; and more especially so, when you find some intimation had been given of Mr. Nadin’s intended visit?—Such an expectation, if we had any guilty object in view, would naturally have increased our caution, and not slackened it into such indifference. But that is not all—Where is the BIBLE that is spoken of? All our papers were seized, and everything taken from the table, and from the persons of all the prisoners, but yet no Bible, or other book, was found; nor any paper, or other document, confirmatory of the story now told by Fleming; but, on the contrary, every paper seized is consistent with the true motives and object of the meeting, connected as it was with former meetings, to petition for peace, and a reform in parliament. I crave your most serious examination of the facts in evidence, and hope you will compare them, and the nature of the offence charged, with the probability and improbability of the case; after which, I consign myself and all that is dear to me, on this side the grave, into your hands, as an honest impartial Jury of my country.

Mr. Baron Wood successively asked the prisoners, what they had say in their defence? And they addressed the Court the following effect.

Thomas Broughton. There were a few men came to my house, and asked me to go round, to see how many would pay a penny a piece, towards the trial of apprentices.—That was all the meeting I was at.

Thomas Cooke. I have nothing to state.

John Haigh. My Lord, and Gentlemen of the Jury, the first time I heard of this meeting, was on Monday, the 8th June, when a man left a handbill at my house, containing resolutions to petition for Peace and Parliamentary Reform. Another meeting was to take place on Thursday, the 11th June, at the Elephant; I let some of my neighbours see this handbill, and I told them I was going to Manchester; they requested I would endeavour to get a copy of the petition: I was therefore there to hear the petition read, and to get a copy, and nothing else.

Thomas Wilkinson. Gentleman, all I have to say is, that the declaration of Fleming, is totally false: I attended the meeting for the same reason, seeing the handbill.

Charles Oldham. I have nothing more to say, than what has been said.

James Knott. I have nothing more to say, than what has been stated by the others.

Charles Woolling. The things alleged against me are utterly false: coming from my work I heard of the meeting, and merely went to hear the petition and address read.

Robert Thornley. I know nothing of any meeting but this: as I was going from my work, a number of people said, there was to be a meeting, to hear an address and petition for peace and parliamentary reform read: I thought there could be no harm in going to hear them read, and these papers were heard read. As to the charge laid against this, we are as innocent as the child unborn.

Simon Simmons. Some nights before 11th June, being out of employ, I was engaged by the committee to occupy a certain place, to procure names to the petition, and post-up handbills. On Thursday, the 11th June, I was sent for by Mr. Washington, and he desired me to take the book and the resolutions to the public-house; he informed me, he was going to make a levy, and take an inventory of goods, and that he would be there as soon as possible: I went with these things, and left them, and I stopped whilst Mr. Nadin came there.

William Coppock. I was told I was a petition for peace, the Prince Regent Arms, and I went to hear the petition read.

John Oldham. I have nothing to state but what has been stated before.

Aaron Marvell. Gentleman, a few days before the 11th June, a man shewed me resolutions agreed to for a petition and address for peace and parliamentary reform; and he told me of the meeting at the Elephant—I have a great desire to hear them read.

John Howarth, on the 11th June, John Gee came and desired I would go with him to hear a petition the peace read: as my hand was scalded, and I could not work, I agreed to go with him; I stopped till seven o'clock, in the Market-place; I agreed to go to the Prince Regent’s Arms; I went up stairs, and Mr. Nadin came in about half an hour afterwards.

Err Oldham. I have nothing to say, but what has been already stated.

John Kershaw. My Lord, and Gentlemen of the Jury, it is well known by many here, that I was sent to the meeting by the trade: I was appointed to be present by the trade. Me and another person were desired to attend: I had not time to attend at the time proposed, but when I had an opportunity of attending, I went up in my working dress; I went to the Elephant, but the people were dispersed. A man said, is not this a meeting for peace and parliamentary reform? They did not wish to be disturbed. He asked me whether I would go to the meeting at the Prince Regent’s Arms? I thought, as I had promised, I would attend: in consequence of that, I went forward; I staid till between nine and ten o'clock, but no business was transacted—I happened to have no money; I had been to Kersal Moor, seeing the soldiers. This person went out soon after —I sat there while Mr. Knight read the resolutions, until Mr. Nadin came in. I believe it is well known that I abhor such things as we are accused of; I avow eternal abhorrence for the witness has expressed—nothing of the kind was administered, or thought of as an oath.

Charles Smith. On the 21st May, I was informed by Mr. Washington, and Mr. Bent, a respectable cotton-merchant, that in a few days there would be a meeting, for the purpose of considering the best mode of addressing the House of Commons for peace and parliamentary reform. The resolutions, now read, then passed: I was called upon to take the chair, and to prepare the said petition and address. I have, since that night, attended several committee meetings, and the resolutions appeared in the Statesman newspaper, on the 3d June, and it was well known that a public meeting was to be on the 11th June, respecting how funds were to be raised. About half-past eight I was at work, and saw Cannavan; I asked him why did not go to the meeting? He said, it was removed to the Prince Regent’s Arms—I went there; the ranging the company occupied the time till nine, when the resolutions and the address were read. About a quarter past eleven Mr. Washington came in—no oath was administered; and what has been adduced by Samuel Fleming, is utterly false and groundless.

Thomas Harsnett. I have nothing to offer but my positive assertion, that the alleged charge of administering the oath, is a fabricated falsehood.

John Knight. Had not those who have gone before, taken up so much time, I should enter more at large into the nature of the accusation, but as they have sufficiently occupied your attention, I shall be brief:—I was one of the few who were first to go to the room; I staid there till Mr. Nadin came—I solemnly declare, that no such thing as an oath was ever proposed—I deem this sufficient, and as much as if I was to speak an hour.

Thomas Cannavan. What has been adduced by Samuel Fleming, is utterly false, and will be so proved to your satisfaction.

Joseph Tinley. As I stated at the New Bayley, I only went to hear the petition read. I rely with full confidence on God, and the verdict of a British Jury.

John Godley. I went to the meeting for nothing but to hear the resolutions and address read—I went for that and nothing else.

Daniel Jevins. I attended the meeting, for the purpose of hearing the petition and address read.

Stephen Harrison. I have nothing further to say, than what has been already said.—What has been adduced by Samuel Fleming is utterly false.

Edward McGinnes. I have nothing to say, but that no such thing as an oath was ever administered.

James Hepworth. I never heard any thing of an oath named; what has been said by the soldier is absolutely false.

Rycroft Hepworth. What Fleming has said, is absolutely false. I happened to be there, I went to hear the petition read.—Nothing else passed in my presence.

James Lawton. I do not wish to say any thing.

Robert Slack. Gentleman, I have nothing to advance, but what has been said—the accusation is entirely false.

Randal Judson. Gentleman, before the 11th June I heard there was to be a meeting, for an address to the House of Commons, for peace and parliamentary reform, and I attended the meeting with no other view than to hear it read.

Edmund Newton. I went to the meeting, for nothing but to hear the petition read; and I declare, the accusation is entirely false.

Aaron Whitehead. I have nothing to say, but what I stated in my examination. I made it in my way to call at the meeting, when I got to the Elephant I was informed the meeting was removed, and I followed it to the Prince Regent’s Arms. I went to no other purpose but to hear the petition read—I never heard any thing else while I was there.

James Buckley. There is nothing I wish to say.

John Newton. I have nothing to say.

James Boothby. I have nothing to say, but that the accusation is false.

Edward Phillips. I can state nothing, but what has been already advanced.

James Greenwood. I cannot add any thing to what I said on my examination.

Isaac Birch. When I went in I doffed my hat, and never put it on till Mr. Nadin came into the room.
The defence questioned a witness called William Cummins, who had been at the Elephant public house prior to the meeting, and had joined the meeting at the Prince Regents Arms later, leaving at 11.00 p.m. after the landlord had asked that the meeting be concluded. Cummins stated that, as he was coming down the stairs, Nadin arrived. Contradicting Nadin's evidence, he stated that Nadin passed him on the stairs and went into the meeting room, without ensuring that he went back into the room, and that he was later locked out of the pub. Crucially, he also attested that William Washington had arrived at the meeting only a few minutes before 11.00 p.m. Under cross-examination from the prosecution, Cummins further stated that Nadin had ordered him to go downstairs, rather than back into the room, as Nadin had said.

The defence brought another witness, Thomas Hepworth, who was also at the meeting that night. He also stated that he had left at 11.00 p.m. when the landlord asked for the meeting to end, and that William Washington had arrived only 5 to 10 minutes before that.

Both of the defence witnesses who were at the meeting stated that no oaths had been sworn in their presence.

Richard Scott was also a defence witness. He stated that he had been with William Washington in the daytime on 11th Jun, who was working as a general agent (i.e. debt collector) on a job at Gee Cross in Cheshire. They had arrived back in Manchester at 9.00 p.m. and Washington had met Scott at the Sir Sidney Smith pub on Port Street in Manchester for a drink, and had remained there with him until 11.00 p.m.

Thomas Johnson was also called and confirmed that he had been at work with Washington in Gee Cross on the 11th June, and drank with him and Scott at the Sir Sidney Smith, leaving them both there before 11.00 p.m.

Isaac Bland, the landlord of the Sir Sidney Smith was also called by the defence. He confirmed that Washington left at 11.00 p.m. - he stated he remembers the time not only because the clock had struck, but also because his wife had locked the door before eleven and he had to unlock it to let Washington out. He also stated that the clock was set ten minutes early, to induce people to leave earlier than closing time.

Nadin was called again, and challenged about his testimony about seeing a man on the stairs whom he ordered to go back into the meeting room. He disputed this was William Cummins, and stated that the man he saw was bigger in physical build.

The case of the defence was then concluded.

In summing up, the Judge, Baron Wood, highlighted the contrary testimonies as to the time William Washington attended the meeting, and the time Fleming contended he was twisted-in by him: the Judge himself had earlier made a point of asking Fleming what time he left the Prince Regent's Arms, and he had replied 10.30 p.m. He also highlighted the contrary times given for Nadin's arrival, and the fact that Nadin found no Bible, upon which Fleming had attested he had rested his hand to swear the oath.

Baron Wood went on to make it clear that the only evidence for the oath being administered to Fleming was that of Fleming himself, and that several other witnesses contradicted him. Similarly, for the time that Washington had attended the meeting. He commented that it "seems to me, that the witness for the prosecution being so contradicted, it makes an end of the case, and that the
prisoners must be acquitted", but that ultimately, the Jury must decide who they believed.

When the Jury reconvened later, they found William Washington, and all of the other defendants Not Guilty. The trial ended at 2.00 a.m. on Friday 28th August 1812, around 14 hours after it had commenced.

This has been summarised from the account in Knight (1812).

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