Friday, 18 May 2012

18th May 1812: The Manchester spy, John Bent, files his latest report for Colonel Fletcher

On Monday 18th May 1812, Colonel Fletcher's spy 'B' (aka John Bent), finished another report for his master.

On 12th May, Bent had met a delegate called Taylor from Newcastle-under-Lyme from Staffordshire. Taylor brought the usual tale of high numbers of those 'twisted-in' and weapons ready to be used: he told Bent that 7000 men were sworn-in and they had 2380 guns, pistols and swords. Others were ready with Pikes. Irish delegates were passing through the town, bringing the usual news about hundreds of thousands being ready, that had been a feature of Bent's reports for months. Bent described Taylor as being 5'7" tall with a dark complexion, of slender build with dark eyes, a bold speaker, 'hath a good utterance' and dressed 'genteel' in black, wearing boots.

Bent had met another man from Huddersfield. He told Bent that all the local Croppers were twisted-in to an oath along similar lines they already knew about, but with the following difference:
they are to helpe haid & asist to the best of their power & ability in destroying all Mechenery who May be determental to them or deemed so and Bound to keep the secerit at the forfit of their life

Bent went on to say of the Huddersfield Croppers that "it is impossable to stop them at present".

Bent then related how the Committees in Manchester had now done all that they could to move away from machine-breaking and assassination. He related how the weavers had even stopped twisting-in, mainly because there had been a dispute between them and the spinners, tailors and shoemakers committees. Things were so bad that the spinners had stopped paying subscriptions.  The head of the weavers secret committee, John Buckley Booth, had sent his wife to the head of the spinners to demand payment, threatening to hand himself in to the authorities and to tell all if subscriptions were not paid up. The reply sent back was that Booth should 'do his worst'. In the meantime, the weavers' secret committee had destroyed their papers, fearing they were compromised. Bent gave a description of Buckley Booth: 5'4" tall, thin, 'tallow complexion' and an ex-dissenting preacher.

Bent believed that these three committees would not be allowed to send delegates to the Committee of Trades meetings and the different direction this group was now taking - that of petitioning for peace and parliamentary reform. He reported that despite the occupation of the area by the military and the other measures in place that the spinners, tailors, shoemakers, bricklayers, fustian cutters, joiners and other trades still met at least once a week.

That day, the 18th, Bent had attended a meeting of trades, to take forward the petition for peace and parliamentary reform. Delegates attended from Huddersfield, Saddleworth, Glodwick, Hollinwood, Ashton, Audenshaw, Denton, Stalybridge, Stockport & Manchester. The meeting lasted 6 hours and passed 5 resolutions: all agreed to the wording of the petition, which was read out. The committees from Saddleworth and Stalybridge funded the printing costs, contributing £1, 11 shillings and 6 pence. Bent himself was again elected to the role of treasurer and gave receipts. Bent promised to send Fletcher copies of the petition and resolutions as soon as he could.

Bent ended his report by stating that the drowned militia Sergeant Moore was an informer who had been found out. He had been working undercover for a Colonel Taylor.

Bent's report can be found at HO 40/1/1. In subsequent depositions, the weaver Humphrey Yarwood gave quite a detailed account of how the dispute between the committees had brought about an end to the 'power loom connection' and the 'business' 'in Manchester and environs'. The dispute centred around disagreements between John Buckley Booth and the treasurers for the spinners and tailors committees - Burslem and Richard Stansfield (likely Stamfield). Things became so bad that Buckley Booth feared that the two treasurers were plotting to kill him. With such an atmosphere, Buckley Booth and the two other members of the Manchester Secret Committee went to work further afield and Yarwood stopped attending meetings. Yarwood's depositions can be found at HO 40/1/1.

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