Friday, 24 April 2015

24th April 1815: Public meeting in Nottingham held in check by Magistrates, Military & Constables

The Sir John Borlase Warren public house (aka the Sir John Warren of 1815) at Canning Circus, Nottingham in 2010 (image copyright David Lally. Creative Commons License) (image has been cropped)
Being forewarned of what was planned for the day, on Monday 24th April 1815 several Nottingham constables had taken up positions around the town to observe and possibly intervene in anything that occurred amongst the unemployed demonstrators that were expected to gather 'on the forest'.

One Constable, James Lawson, was stationed at Nottingham Barracks from 2.30 p.m. At 5.00 p.m., he observed upwards of 100 men arrive at Nottingham Park nearby, near to the Sir John Warren public house, where they remained for 15-20 minutes, before leaving in the same direction they came from.

A Constable called Benjamin Barnes had spent some time on horseback, tracking the movements and assemblies of the men near the Sir John Warren. At one point, a stone was thrown which hit his horse in the hind legs. He considered that many of the men assembled there were not from the Town, but from the country areas around Nottingham.

Other Constables proceeded to the forest, the site of the proposed meeting, on horseback. One of them, Benjamin Hall, was later to depose that an individual by the name of Peter Green was present there, with about 40 men gathered around him. When Green saw the constables, Lawson said he called out "Damn you all, there are many constables on horse back but none of them can ride like you". Other groups of men were around the forest - Hall later estimated about 400 - and he spent his time confronting them and telling them to disperse, and they eventually complied. Benjamin Barnes deposed that he saw many men - 'several thousands' - coming and going from the forest that day.

Another constable, Samuel White, had seen similar large numbers of men 'on the forest'. He had enquired of them why they were gathered, and they had responded 'to petition the Prince Regent against the Corn Bill and against going to war with France'. Some of them had started a cricket match, and by 5.00 p.m. the magistrates ordered the game to be stopped and the men dispersed.

By 5.30 p.m. White observed a man he later identified as Peter Green with 40-50 men gathered about him. White said that Green ordered the men "be peaceable and quiet [and] march on", and when the body of men had progressed 30 yards, Green turned around and started to sing to the tune of La Marseillaise "march on, march on, all hands to Carlton and Gedling workhouse, there is room enough for us all" to shouting and laughter from the other men. Green continued "be peaceable and quiet, Carlton Round House yonder (pointing with his hand towards Carlton) is 2 miles off", adjourning the meeting to the new location. It was at this point that the Mayor of Nottingham ordered Green's arrest, and he was taken into custody.

According to the Constable John Griffin, the men who had been with Green still lingered for another 30 minutes, but dispersed when a heavy shower of rain came down.

The Nottingham Review of 28th April 1815 published an article about the meeting:
We understand another written bill was posted in several parts of the town, on Saturday night, calling upon the persons our of employment, to meet on Monday afternoon, on the race-ground: and it is stated to have held out a desire to the people, not to pay taxes until their grievances were redressed: in consequence of which, the magistrates issued a handbill in the morning, declaring their determination, to use every constitutional means in their power to prevent such proposed meeting from being held. They accordingly ordered the military, both horse and foot, to be under arms, and placed all the constables in a state of requisition, a number of whom were mounted on horseback. At the head of these the magistrates proceeded to the stand on the race-ground, where it was rumoured the meeting would be held, and where a party of the dragoons from the barracks were ready to act, if their services had been called for. About four o’clock persons from the town began to assemble, though not in any considerable number, not one of whom seemed to have any particular object in view, save that of idle curiosity. As many however as got together, several of the magistrates addressed in succession, expressing their sympathies for the suffering artisans and mechanics, and pledging themselves to assist them to the utmost of their power in every possible legal way; at the same time using every persuasive to induce them to retire peaceably to their respective homes, and declaring, however reluctantly they should perform the disagreeable duty, that every one attempting to disturb the public peace, should feel the displeasure of the law. One person, for making a shout, and treating the magistrates and their authority with disrespect, was taken into custody; and, with this exception, the people that came to the race-ground retired peaceably away.—Another person was taken up in the town during the evening, for opposing the constables in the exercise of their duty, and displaying other marks of disorderly conduct. A meeting, however, of at least two hundred persons was held in the park, where a paper was read, purporting to be string of resolutions, expressive of the multiplied suffering endured by the working class, in consequence of a want of trade, and the unexampled weight of taxes, under which the country groans, which evils were there stated to have arisen from a long and an unjust war carried on against the progress of opinion, and from the passing of the late obnoxious Corn Bill. The paper further expressed great abhorrence at the idea of this country’s being plunged into another war, on principles equally unjust and derogatory to the character of Englishmen with those on which the late hapless war was commenced and carried on; and concluded by proposing to remonstrate with the Regent on the subject. After the persons present had expressed their approbation of the contents of this paper, they quietly dispersed. The foot soldiers were continued on duty, and compelled to parade the streets during that night and the next day: notwithstanding which, some evil disposed persons, (bloods of the night, we suppose,) contrived to wrench several knockers from gentlemen’s doors, which was all the mischief we heard of being done.

The depositions of the constables can be found at HO 42/144.

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