On Saturday April 1st 1820 members of the Radical Committee for organising a Provisional Government posted a proclamation demanding the reform in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. So began the Radical Rising, also known as the Radical War or Scottish Insurrection of 1820. It would see some 60,000 workers go on strike across central Scotland, but would eventually end in failure and the execution or deportation of its leaders.
In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain had entered a period of economic depression. Industrialisation had squeezed the earnings of skilled weavers, who between 1800 and 1808 had seen their incomes halved. On top of this, the punitive effects of the Corn Law artificially inflated the price of bread affecting the lives of all workers. Parliamentary reform had failed to keep pace with demographic change and so the desire for reform, or even revolution, was in the air.
In August of the previous year, the Peterloo Massacre saw a crowd of 60-80,000 protesters attacked by members of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, resulting in the deaths of 18 with hundreds more injured. The event resulted in demonstrations across Britain. In Scotland, a memorial rally in Paisley on September 11th led to a week of rioting and cavalry were used to control around 5,000 ‘Radicals’. Protest meetings were also held in Stirling, Airdrie, Renfrewshire, Ayrshire and Fife, mainly in weaving areas. Shortly after saw the formation of a 28-man Radical Committee for organising a Provisional Government, which was elected by delegates of local "unions". The Committee decided to arrange military training for its supporters, giving some responsibility for the training programme to a Condorrat weaver with army experience, named John Baird.
The French Revolution was still fresh in the mind of the government who feared that similar events might unfold in Britain. As a consequence the Government sought to suppress calls for reform through spies and agent provocateurs. In Scotland, these agents infiltrated the Radical Committee and so when they met in a Tavern in Glasgow March 21st 1820 they were raided and arrested. It was reported a few days later that those arrested had confessed to a plot to split Scotland from England and restore the Scottish Parliament.
At a meeting on March 22nd the weaver John King addressed a crowd of around 20, which included another weaver called John Craig, the tin-smith Duncan Turner, and "an Englishman" called Lees. There King told them that a rising was imminent and all present should hold themselves in enthusiastic readiness for the call to arms. The next day Turner revealed plans to establish a Provisional Government and sent a draft proclamation to print. Lees, King and Turner went round encouraging supporters to make pikes for the battles and on April 1st the pamphlets were distributed throughout Glasgow.
The Proclamation, which was signed "By order of the Committee of Organisation for forming a Provisional Government. Glasgow April 1st. 1820." Stated:
"Friends and Countrymen! Rouse from that torpid state in which we have sunk for so many years, we are at length compelled from the extremity of our sufferings, and the contempt heaped upon our petitions for redress, to assert our rights at the hazard of our lives." by "taking up arms for the redress of our common grievances". "Equality of rights (not of property)... Liberty or Death is our motto, and we have sworn to return home in triumph - or return no more.... we earnestly request all to desist from their labour from and after this day, the first of April [until] in possession of those rights..." It called for a rising "To show the world that we are not that lawless, sanguinary rabble which our oppressors would persuade the higher circles we are but a brave and generous people determined to be free."
On Monday April 3rd a strike took force across a wide area of Scotland including Stirlingshire, Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, with an estimated total of around 60,000 stopping work.
Reports were made of men carrying out military drill in Glasgow while foundries and forges had been raided, and iron files and dyer's poles taken to make pikes. In Kilbarchan soldiers found men making pikes, in Stewarton around 60 strikers was dispersed, in Balfron around 200 men had assembled for some sort of action. Pikes, gunpowder and weapons called "wasps" (a sort of javelin) and "clegs" (a barbed shuttlecock to throw at horses) were offered for sale.
In Glasgow John Craig led around 30 men to make for the Carron Company ironworks in Falkirk, telling them that weapons would be there for the taking, but the group were scattered when intercepted by a police patrol. Craig was caught, brought before a magistrate and fined, but the magistrate paid his fine for him.
Rumours spread that England was in arms for the cause of reform and that an army was mustering at Campsie commanded by Marshal MacDonald, a Marshal of France and son of a Jacobite refugee family, to join forces with 50,000 French soldiers at Cathkin Braes under Kinloch, the fugitive "Radical laird" from Dundee.
Government troops were ready in Glasgow, including the Rifle Brigade, the 83rd Regiment of Foot, the 7th and 10th Hussars and Samuel Hunter's Glasgow Sharpshooters. In the evening 300 radicals briefly skirmished with a party "of cavalry", but no one came to harm.
The Battle of Bonnymuir
The next day, Tuesday April 4th, Duncan Turner assembled around 60 men to march to Carron, while he carried out organising work elsewhere. Half the group dropped out, however the remaining twenty five, persuaded that they would pick up support along the way, set out under the leadership of Andrew Hardie. They arrived in Condorrat, which was on the way to Carron, at 5am on April 5th. Waiting for them was John Baird who had expected a small army, not this bedraggled and soaking wet group. He was persuaded to continue the March to Carron by John King, who would himself go ahead and gather supporters. King would go to find supporters at Camelon while Baird and Hardie were to leave the road and wait at Bonnymuir.
The authorities at Kilsyth and Stirling Castle had however been alerted and Sixteen Hussars and sixteen Yeomanry troopers had been ordered on 4 April to leave Perth and go to protect Carron. They left the road at Bonnybridge early on April 5th and made straight for the slopes of Bonnymuir. As the newspapers subsequently reported:
"On observing this force the radicals cheered and advanced to a wall over which they commenced firing at the military. Some shots were then fired by the soldiers in return, and after some time the cavalry got through an opening in the wall and attacked the party who resisted till overpowered by the troops who succeeded in taking nineteen of them prisoners, who are lodged in Stirling Castle. Four of the radicals were wounded".
The Glasgow Herald mocked the small number of radicals encountered, but worried that "the conspiracy appears to be more extensive than almost anyone imagined... radical principles are too widely spread and too deeply rooted to vanish without some explosion and the sooner it takes place the better."
The end of the Rising
On the afternoon of April 5th, before news of the Bonnymuir fighting got out, Lees sent a message asking the radicals of Strathaven to meet up with the "Radical laird" Kinloch's large force at Cathkin. The next morning a small force of 25 men followed the instructions and left at 7 a.m. to march there. Among them was the experienced elderly Radical James Wilson who is claimed to have had a banner reading "Scotland Free or a Desart" [sic]. At East Kilbride they were warned of an army ambush, and Wilson, suspecting treachery, returned to Strathaven. The others bypassed the ambush and reached Cathkin, but as there was no sign of the promised army they dispersed. Ten of them were identified and caught, and by nightfall on April 7th; they were jailed at Hamilton.
Large numbers of those arrested were imprisoned in various jails across central Scotland. On April 8th The Port Glasgow Volunteers, who had served in Paisley during the strike, returned to Glasgow as an escort for five prisoners to be taken on to Greenock jail. They met minor hostility while marching through the town of Crawfurdsdyke, but as they approached the jail the situation escalated.
While handing over the prisoners stones were thrown at them from higher ground to the south of the jail, forcing them to seek shelter A hostile crowd gathered, and shots fired in the air failed to calm the situation. The Volunteers continued to be assaulted as they returned along Cathcart Street, as stones and bottles were thrown at them from an ever increasing crowd. As they approached Rue End Street they fired sporadically into the crowd, killing and wounding several of them. The mob pursued the Volunteers into Crawfurdsdyke, then returned to break open the jail. A magistrate urged the crowd to desist, but with no forces to resist them, agreed to release the prisoners who then escaped. A large group set off to burn down Port Glasgow, but were halted at that town's boundary by armed townsfolk who had barricaded the Devol's Glen Bridge. Greenock magistrates arrived, and dispersed the crowd.
The rising by this point was now over and by the end of April hundreds of Radicals fled to Canada. 88 men were charged with treason. James Wilson, Andrew Hardie and John Baird were convicted and sentenced to death. Wilson was hanged and beheaded on August 30th, watched by some 20,000 people, first remarking to the executioner "Did you ever see such a crowd, Thomas?". Hardie and Baird were executed on September 8th, also by hanging and beheading, which would be the last beheading in the UK. May hundreds more were transported to penal colonies in New South Wales or Tasmania.
The effect of the crushing of Rising was to effectively discourage serious Radical unrest in Scotland for some time. However, the cause of electoral reform continued, and with the Scottish Reform Act 1832 Glasgow was given its own Member of Parliament for the first time.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
On this day in 1840 an unsuccessful Chartist rising took place in Bradford. In the wake of the failed Newport Rising in November of the previous year and the conviction of its leaders for high treason, Chartists in the Yorkshire town took to the streets to continue the fight for reform. The event would however be an unmitigated disaster.
Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain that existed from 1838 to 1857. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country and South Wales. The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic, including a vote for every man twenty-one years of age, a secret ballot and equal constituencies.
Prior to events in Newport, the Yorkshire and Welsh Chartists had been in contact, agreeing in September 1839 that Chartists in South Wales and northern England would rise simultaneously. Arms had been collected, bullets cast and an insurrectionary network established throughout the industrial towns and villages of West Riding in preparation. In October however, a delegate from Bradford visited South Wales and tried to persuade the Welsh leader, John Frost, to postpone the Welsh rising, as the Yorkshire Chartists were ill-prepared. Despite these pleas Frost was not to be dissuaded and so it was promised that Bradford would rise once Newport was captured.
As the Welsh rising neared, the Yorkshire leader Peter Bussey got cold feet and went into hiding leaving the northern Chartists leaderless and the Welsh Chratists isolated. On November 4th the Newport Rising failed and shortly after John Frost was arrested. In December he was convicted of high treason and although he would eventually be deported, he was originally sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered; this would be the last time such a sentence would be handed out.
In Yorkshire, as in other places, there was much anger at the death sentences passed to Frost and the other Newport leaders. In Bradford Robert Peddie came to the fore eager to replace Bussey as leader and take action in response. Peddie hatched a hasty plan with other militants to take the town at night, plunder the shops and banks and then, with the assistance of other West Riding towns, size the local iron works (a major manufacturer of arms) before moving on to raise further insurrections at Dewsbury, Sheffield and the East Midlands. They would then march on the capital.
The Bradford rising was however doomed from the very beginning, having already been infiltrated by a spy. Around 40 armed men gathered on the night of January 26th, but when they marched on the town centre just after midnight, they were met by authorities who were well prepared for them. Chartist contingents from Dewsbury and Halifax never arrived – the messages calling them had been entrusted to the spy, who had naturally never delivered them. The Bradford Chartists were quickly rounded in and set to trial in York. On Wednesday March 18th Peddie, and three others were found guilty of riot and conspiracy. Their sentences were therefore lighter than those at Newport, with Peddie receiving three years hard labour and nine others lesser sentences.
By the spring the government had largely suppressed Chartism through mass arrests and the imprisonment of most national leaders, scores of local activists and hundreds of the rank-and-file. The first and most dramatic phase of Chartism was at an end and efforts moved onto a process of internal renewal and more systematic organisation.
This model was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
On this day in 1839, around 10,000 Chartists, led by John Frost, marched on the town of Newport, Monmouthshire, in what would become known as the Newport Rising. It was the last large-scale rebellion to take place in Britain and would result in the deaths of 22 demonstrators, who were shot by troops guarding the Westgate Hotel. The leaders of the rising were convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, though their sentence was later commuted to transportation.
Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain that existed from 1838 to 1857. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country and South Wales. The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic, namely:
The Newport Rising occurred in the wake of the House of Commons' rejection of the first Chartist petition in July 1839 and in August, the conviction and imprisonment of Chartist Henry Vincent in Monmouth Gaol. Because of Vincent’s imprisonment, the authorities were alert to the possibility of a riot. They had not however anticipated the potential scale of the reaction until November 3rd and so, the day before the Chartists would arrive, began to make hasty perpetrations. Frost and his associates had gathered around 10,000 people on their march towards Newport, many of whom were armed with home-made pikes, bludgeons and firearms. 500 Special Constables were sworn in and troops sent were sent for to bolster the 60 men already present in Newport. Crucially, 32 men of the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot were stationed at the Westgate Hotel where Chartist prisoners were held.
The Chartists arrived in Newport on November 4th. The exact rationale for the confrontation is uncertain, although it may have its origins in Frost's ambivalence towards the more violent attitudes of some Chartists, and the animosity he felt towards some of Newport’s establishment. They arrived at the small square in front of the hotel at about 9.30 am and demanded the release of Chartists they believed to be held inside. A brief but violent battle ensued. Shots were fired by both sides, contemporary accounts indicating that the Chartists attacked first. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the superior training, disciple and firepower of the soldiers quickly broke the crowd. The Chartists did manage to enter the building temporarily, but were forced to retreat in disarray. After a fiercely fought battle, lasting approximately half an hour, around 22 Chartists had been killed and upwards of 50 had been wounded.
In the aftermath more than 200 Chartists were arrested and twenty-one were charged with high treason. The main leaders of the Rising, including John Frost, were found guilty and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Though it was later commuted to transportation, they were to be the last people to be sentenced to this punishment in England and Wales. Frost was transported to Tasmania.
In response to the conditions, Chartists in Sheffield, the East End of London and Bradford planned their own risings. Samuel Holberry led an aborted rising in Sheffield on January 12th 1840; police action thwarted a major disturbance in the East End of London on January 14th, and on January 26th a few hundred Bradford Chartists staged a failed rising in the hope of precipitating a domino effect across the country. After this Chartism turned to a process of internal renewal and more systematic organisation, but the transported and imprisoned Newport Chartists were regarded as heroes and martyrs amongst workers.
Frost was given an unconditional pardon in 1856 and immediately returned to Britain. He retired to Stapleton near Bristol and continued to publish articles advocating reform until his death there, aged 93, in 1877.
This model was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
We know we’ve already given this away with our many social media posts, not to mention our blog about Peterloo, but we want to make sure you have this firmly in your diary.
The Great Western Brick Show is back on October 5th and 6th at STEAM Museum in Swindon. We'll be there with our epic new model to commemorate the Peterloo Massacre, which had its 200th anniversary this year. Once again it promises to be a great event and we hope to see lots of you there!
Book your tickets at the museum’s website:
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On this day in 1819, 60,000 to 80,000 people gathered on St. Peter's Field in Manchester to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. Constituency boundaries had failed to keep pace with the profound effects of industrialisation, with the burgeoning cities bereft of representation, while so-called rotten boroughs, which returned MP’s form just a handful of voters, held a disproportionate sway over government. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, high unemployment, depressed wages and famine, exacerbated by the punishing effects of the Corn Laws, had resulted in a strong desire among the working classes for change.
Previously planned meetings had been banned by local magistrate, who feared rioting or even a full insurrection; the events of the French Revolution and its aftermath were still fresh in the memory of the ruling classes. The meeting on the 16th of August was therefore held with the declared aim “to consider the propriety of adopting the most LEGAL and EFFECTUAL means of obtaining a reform in the Common House of Parliament“.
Among others, the crowd was there to hear the radical speaker Henry Hunt. However, no sooner had Hunt arrived at the hustings, constables assisted by the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry pushed through the crowd to arrest him; the charge would be sedition. The day had already seen its first casualty when 2-year old William Fildes was knocked from his mother’s arms by a galloping rider as he raced to catch his fellow Yeomanry on their way to the field. Now, having carried out the arrest, the inexperienced and possibly drunk riders of the Yeomanry began destroying the banners and flags of the hustings before turning on those in the crowd. In the ensuing melee, the Yeomanry began striking indiscriminately at the crowd with their sabres and trampling them with their horses. Hemmed into the field by its narrow exists as well as the bayonets of 88th Regiment of Foot, who blocked the main thoroughfares, the crowd was unable to disperse effectively.
The Corn Laws were tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported food and grain enforced in the United Kingdom between 1815 and 1846. They were designed to keep grain prices high to favour domestic producers. While they enhanced the profits and political power associated with land ownership, they also raised food prices and the costs of living for the British public.
As a result 18 people would lose their lives and a further 400-700 injured. The massacre was given the name Peterloo in an ironic comparison to the Battle of Waterloo, which had taken place four years earlier. Historian Robert Poole has called the Massacre one of the defining moments of its age. In its own time, the London and national papers shared the horror felt in the Manchester region, but Peterloo's immediate effect was to cause the government to crack down on reform, not embrace it. It would not be until the Great Reform Act of 1832 that Manchester would be able to elect MPs of its own.
Peterloo 200 years on
Furthermore, in a partnership with the Age of Revolution and The University of Kent, the authors and publishers have created a free twenty-page schools’ version of the graphic novel specially adapted for teachers wishing to explore the events in the classroom. Its aim is to help students to understand the event, and to identify links and symbols that bridge periods and topics. It will provoke insights into the nature of political protest in British history, its representation in art, and its relevance to the world today. Find out more and download the schools' version at:
Our model, which will depict the massacre and the local landmarks that existed in 1819, will go on display at the Great Western Brick Show in Swindon on the 5th and 6th October. Find out more and buy tickets at:
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