Monday, 10 October 2011

10th October 1811: a letter from a Lancashire informant

On the 10th October 1811, Colonel Ralph Fletcher, a JP, Local Militia Commander and member of the Orange Order at Bolton-le-Moors, received a letter from one of his informants in Lancashire.1

The writer, who he called 'B',  painted a very vivid picture of secret committees and the political underground in that County. Writing on the 5th October, 'B' reported that he had just got back from a meeting attended by 140 delegates, held in a field, a mile from the Toll Bar at Mottram, Cheshire (on the border with Lancashire). The purpose was to discuss the sending of a delegate on a trip through several counties, to test the political, economic and social waters, and how the delegate must exercise care & sensitivity so as not to be discovered. Those gathered would reconvene at Gee Cross, a few miles up the road, in a fortnight, with reports from their local areas about the numbers of people who wished to be involved in 'the Business', as the 'B' puts it.

'B' talks of the widespread nature of the discontent in the land: there is talk of delegates travelling between Glasgow and Ireland, with Stockport in Cheshire being some kind of central meeting place of importance. There is talk of possible assistance in 'the Business' from France.

More revealing is 'B's' insistence that the country areas are more advanced than the towns in their readiness for change: the Manchester Committee is chosen by delegates from Saddleworth, Royton, Hollinwood, Glodwick and Ashton-under-Lyne, all places in Lancashire, with the Committee meeting in the Falstaff Hotel in Market Place.2

The fact that the content of many of these discussions, as far as 'B' could ascertain, were largely concerned with petitioning the Prince Regent and Reform and vague about anything else is part of the strange character or Lancashire and Cheshire Luddism, which would only emerge into the open 5 months later. Fletcher's mysterious informant was to write many more letters over the coming months.
1. The letter can be found in HO 42/117. In a letter written to the Permanent Under Secretary of State, John Becket, on 12th October 1811 (which can also be found at HO 42/117), Colonel Fletcher names the agent as 'B'.
2. Just under 70 years later, the Falstaff Hotel would host the founding delegate conference of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) on 3rd January 1881.

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