Monday, 21 January 2013

21st January 1813: The political reform campaigner, Major Cartwright, arrives in Huddersfield to the alarm of the authorities

A portrait of Major John Cartwright in the early nineteenth century, by an unknown artist
At 5.00 p.m. on Thursday 21st January 1813, the veteran 72 year-old campaigner, Major John Cartwright, arrived in Huddersfield on a stop of one of his tours of the country to promote political reform. An impromptu meeting at the George Inn, where he was staying, worried the already highly-nervous authorities into sending a party to the Inn. The authorities - and the rival publication to the Leeds Mercury, the Tory Leeds Intelligencer - regarded Cartwright with suspicion, and often viewed reform and Luddism as virtually synonymous: the irony is that Cartwright's younger brother, Edmund Cartwright, was an inventor of the steam loom, the object of the Lancashire and Cheshire Luddites ire. The Leeds Mercury of 30th January 1813 wrote a long article about the encounter, which is below:

As nothing is too extravagant for Prejudice to fancy, or too absurd for Rumour to circulate, it is not surprizing that the arrival of Major Cartwright at Huddersfield, on Thursday evening the 21st of this instant, should have given rise to certain extraordinary proceedings, and to a variety of false reports.

The simple facts of the case, prior to their extraordinary proceedings alluded to, are these.—The Major arrived at the George Inn about five o'clock, and, as soon as it could be served up, got his dinner alone. Not being personally acquainted with a single individual in the town, and with only one by correspondence, he invited that person, a respectable tradesmen, to his inn.

It is scarcely necessary to inform our readers, that the tradesmen alluded to is a firm friend to Parliamentary Reform. This person had mentioned to a few others, of the most respectable characters, that he expected the Major to pass through Huddersfield the next day, that is, on Friday the 22nd, when they had expressed a wish to be introduced to that Gentleman; but it so happened that most of these particular persons were either out of town, or engaged at the time the Major did arrive, being a day sooner than he was expected. The invited person however, after having seen the Major, left him while at dinner, and having mentioned his arrival to a few others, these in succession, (some of them in humble situations) to the  number of six or seven, requested admission, that they might see and shake hands with the veteran advocate of Parliamentary Reform.

Being received with civility and requested to sit down, they had each his glass of such liquor as he preferred, paying themselves for the same, when the conversation turned, as natural to suppose, chiefly on that political object, respecting which they were all agreed in opinion, and to which they all felt the strongest interest.

Thus passed the time, until the hour approached for the patrole going its rounds, and the Major’s visitors were preparing to depart, when, on a person's knocking at the door, and then desired to walk in, they had an unexpected visit from a military officer, attended by constables.

This, as it afterwards turned out, was in consequence of the very officious activity of some person, who might possibly think of a Reformer, as the Jews, or the Gentiles (the writer forgets which) thought og St. Paul, that he was a “pestilent fellow.”

On the military officer who first entered having stated that it being rumoured that the parties were holding a public meeting for political debate, he came with a desire to join in the discussion; he was informed by one of the company that he had been misinformed; for that on merely hearing of the Major’s arrival, he had come thither for the sake of “seeing the good old Gentleman,” and he believed the same motive alone had brought thither the rest.

In a short time, in compliance with the present rules the police, all the Major’s original visitors left him; but not so the remainder; for by more, or fewer, of those he was never quitted, until the object of their visit was accomplished. Meanwhile he was entertained by various observations not much to his taste; as well as asked what appeared to him very unnecessary questions.

But there being reared up in the angle of the room, very obvious to sight, certain sheets of large paper rolled up and tied with red tape, he was given to understand that these had been pointed out to his then present visitors as papers which ought to be examined.

Under the circumstances in which the Major found himself he did not feel much inclined voluntarily to gratify the curiosity thus excited; but after many repeated requests, he so far acquiesced as to consent that the contents should be read. On this being done, it was found that the contents were the form of a Petition to the House of Commons.

In return for having thus after much entreaty, gratified curiosity, observations were made on the composition which could not be very gratifying to his feelings, and certainly, were not necessary.

The contents being now known, the next object was to have possession of one of these forms, or a copy taken on the spot. Argument, persuasion, and entreaty were now renewed, not without intimations of consequences which would ensue, if the Major would not give his consent.

That which originally might have been had at a single word, of a single Gentleman, with appearances of constraint, circumstanced as he was, he steadily refused to grant; until at a very late hour, one of the parties present served on him the Warrant of a Magistrate, [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] of an information on oath, that the informant had the suspicions stated in the said Warrant; which purported to be an authority to take the Major before the Magistrate by whom the Warrant was signed.

This part of the ceremony having taken place, an attorney, who was one of the actors in this scene, said he should now make free with the Petition and take a copy, which he accordingly did.

This having been accomplished, the Major was left a to retire to his bed, about half past three o'clock in the morning. Being in the seventy third year of his age, and of regular habits, to have had his rest thus broken was not of course more convenient than it was agreeable.

About eleven o'clock in the forenoon, being called on to attend the magistrates who resided two miles off, he got into his carriage, and attended accordingly.

The copy of the petition which had been taken while he was in custody at the Inn was now read, and he certified, that to the best of his recollection, it was correct; on which the magistrate asked the attorney if the Major might not now be discharged, but on the attorney replying he wished the other examination to be taken in his presence, he was detained till two officers and a constable had given their testimony. In the progress of these examinations, the Major now and then took notice of expressions, which did not exactly tally with his recollection, although the points were not very material.

In the course of these examinations the attorney (who is not of that branch in the law, which carries with it the title of “learned in the law”) having hazarded a legal opinion on the nature of the petition in question, the Magistrate immediately observed, that it was not for him to form any opinion on that question, but merely to transmit the copy, with the other examinations to the Secretary of State; and in all other respects, while executing the duty which had been imposed on him by the information on oath, on which his warrant was granted, conducted itself towards the Major, as became one gentleman towards another. And indeed the Major was informed by his first visitor and correspondent, that there had been this delicacy observed towards him, that the serving of the warrant had been entrusted to a gentleman.

The military officers who had been examined, having noticed to the Major while with him at the Inn, what struck them as an indecorum, namely, his being in the company of persons with whom they did not think it became to associate, he now took occasion to make a few observations on that head, in order to free himself from the imputation of an ungentlemanly habit of keeping, what is called, low company, through a vulgarity of disposition; and intimating that there were occasions when it was not unfit for gentlemen to show sympathy for, and attention to the opinions of persons in the least opulent stations in life; and by way of illustration, he took notice of what very commonly occurred at Elections.

On that subject, he might indeed, had it been a fit time and place, have delivered sentiments correspondent with such as have frequently fallen from his pen, in condemnation of that intercourse for the vilest purposes, which too frequently take place between the loftiest of our gentleman, and the very dregs of vicious society in Borough towns, which I glanced at in the petition that is now sent up to the Secretary of State, as a “CAUSE of the general depravities in morals.”

It afforded the Major on this occasion, a high degree of satisfaction, to hear it explicitly declared by the professional gentleman who took the examinations, and in the presence of the magistrate, that government certainly had no desire to prevent the people from petitioning the legislature for a parliamentary reform.

The examinations already spoken of being finished, the Major was allowed to pursue his journey.

We now come to the conclusion of this extraordinary proceeding. After Major Cartwright had been suffered to depart, the persons found in his company, were summoned before the same Magistrate on a charge of what — treason, sedition, conspiracy? No, Reader, on none of them, but on a charge of tipling, of taking a glass of wine with this venerable apostle of Parliamentary Reform, after nine o'clock at night! The information having been laid upon oath, Mr. Radcliffe was under the necessity of convicting them, and they readily paid the fine. They all expressed themselves highly satisfied with Mr. Radcliffe’s conduct towards them in this business, both as a Magistrate and a Gentleman. Mr. R. observed, that if they chose to bring the same charge against informants, he would convict them also; but this they declined to do. We blush to have to add, but one of these informants was a military officer of some rank.

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