Prelude to PEterloo – key events in 1817

1817 – PRELUDE TO PETERLOO-

Talk at Birmingham & Midland Institute 2nd June 2017

Friday 9th June 2017 sees the 200th anniversary of the Pentridge Uprising- This has attracted substantial interest with at least 4 events planned this spring and summer. Trevor James spoke on Pentridge (Thompson’s spelling, which will be used here)in this hall three months ago, the West Midlands Centre for Local History staged an event six weeks ago though Derbyshire is not in the West Midlands, there is a day conference on the Pentridge uprising on June 9th at Derby University, and the Thelwall conference on 23rd July sees Richard Gaunt talking on the theme Pentridge – a Nottingham affair?

However I have discovered only one talk about the March of the Blanketeers, which I personally gave in Salford on the 200th anniversary in March. The contrast points up vital issues in the treatment of working class history, notably the preference of historians to favour violent confrontation over peaceful campaigning. Even if the violence gets nowhere.

But this is not for today. Today I want today to do three things – (A) to rescue the March of the Blanketeers from its current obscurity and to contrast the Blanketeers March as a seminal event in contrast to the dramatic but sterile happening of the Pentridge Rising later in the year. Historians seem to regard the Rising as more important than the Blanketeers, but it was a dead end. Would be revolutionaries failed to provide an effective challenge to the government, unlike the Blanketeers who unsettled the status quo. It is the BLANKETEERS which are important.

(B) I will challenge the view that the Blanketeers and Pentrich plus other attempted uprisings (Ardwick, Folley Hall, Sheffield) in the troubled year of 1817 were serious insurrections which led to Peterloo and the 6 Acts of 1819. The record shows that the government did NOT face a serious revolutionary movement and revolution was not on the political agenda. I will be supporting the thesis advanced by Adam Zamoyski in PHANTOM REVOLUTION* – that there was no revolutionary threat in Europe after the defeat of Napoleon but the ruling classes were paranoid.

Pentridge was the only uprising in 1817 which showed a serious revolutionary intent, and paradoxically, showed the revolutionary threat was wholly exaggerated, and the part played by Oliver the spy was immediately controversial. While politicians could not be entirely sure they had tracked all the plotting, leading politicians could not find evidence that there was a serious revolutionary threat. By the end of 1817 they scaled down overt repression.

  1. I will contend that the Blanketeers unwittingly set the precedent for Peterloo. The Blanketeers led government politicians to realise that the workers in South Lancashire did not pose a revolutionary threat, as a conventional military response had stopped the march. The national government of Liverpool and Sidmouth while deeply reactionary, had an extensive network of spies which provided evidence of popular movements. The military under Major General Byng also looked back to the Blanketeers and concluded no exceptional threat was in prospect in 1819. Alas the local magistrates had concluded after the Blanketeers that they could not handle large scale protests without major disturbance, and set up the volunteer Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, which did most of the damage at Peterloo. The Blanketeers had frightened the magistrates in Manchester who consistently over reacted.

While Peterloo is traceable directly to the March of the Blanketeers, no similar lesson can be drawn from the events in the East Midlands. The rebels at Pentridge I will argue were not influential in what happened at Peterloo in any way.

I am not arguing there were no revolutionaries. There were certainly revolutionaries plotting in 1817 and links between Manchester and the insurrectionaries across the Midlands, and Samuel Bamford clearly knew who they were. But they remain obscure and Bamford** never revealed what he knew. The extensive network of spies did not discover major threats, and indeed it was the role of Oliver the Spy as an agent provocateur – allegedly creating the threat he reported on, which immediately became controversial – which had the most significant effect on public opinion.

A The Blanketeers

The first priority to understand what was happening to working class politics in 1817 is to bring the now largely invisible March of the Blanketeers into focus.

For this talk I will be indicating why the events of 1817 shaped the events of 1819, and taking issue with the classic account by E P Thompson in his MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS***. Thompson brackets the the Pentridge Uprising with the Blanketeers and Peterloo, also the view of Robert Poole, the other major historian to have written recently about working class activity in the north in 1817. I have enormous respect for Thompson who taught me as an undergraduate and I agree the book is a classic. But he does not bring the events in the provinces into focus, notably with his obscure statement about the government’s attitude to working class activity in 1817 that

This co-incidence of persecution and confusion is the background to the tangled story of the March of the Blanketeers, the Ardwick conspiracy, and the Pentridge rising” (1)

The tangled story is not disentangled by Thompson partly because he links the three episodes together, but more because he views the rising as the crucial episode. As an orthodox marxist when he wrote the book, Thompson looked for revolutionary activity, over-emphasising what happened at Pentridge.

The key to the events which took place in the working class areas unsettled in 1817 is that popular politics was taking a different course from recent years. Workers realised the dominant strategy, Luddism, had failed in the face of state repression based on armed power. A constitutionalist road had been developed by the Hampden Clubs and the popular press, Cobbett and his collaborators, creating mass support for constitutional and legal agitation. The insurrectionary Pentridge rebels were clearly extra-constitutional and led nowhere, while the activities in St Peter’s field in 1817 and 1819 were legalistic and mobilised thousands. It was the Blanketeers’ rigorously constitutional approach which was to prove influential.

So what was THE MARCH OF THE BLANKETEERS?

The Blanketeers were a group of workers who planned to march peacefully to London with a petition on parliamentary reform and it is not a mere coincidence of geography that in BOTH 1817 and 1819 the focus of attention is St Peter’s Field and peaceful protest.

As we will see, the Pentridge rebels were dramatic and eye catching, but the Blanketeers, clearly constitutionalists, were the essential foundation for Peterloo. So lets try to bring the Marchers and the Rebels into focus to explain what they did, and compare the men who only carried blankets to the Pentridge rebels who were carrying weapons.

WHAT AND WHY THE BLANKETEERS?

The Blanketeers aimed to take a petition for parliamentary reform to the Prince Regent, the official head of government in the place of George III who had gone mad, by marching from Manchester to London, carrying blankets to sleep by the roadside if they could not find billets on the way. Their name was derived not from their occupations (though they may have made blankets), but the key fact was they were carrying blankets to sleep on while trekking to London. It is estimated 12,000 people mobilised to send the marchers off – some witnesses say double that number- some less – in St Peter’s Field in Manchester on March 10th 1817. This was to be the location of Peterloo 29 months later.

The Manchester demonstration happened against a background of political repression. Habeas Corpus had already been suspended and Liverpool’s government was reviving Pitt’s meaures of the 1790s. Under this pressure, the national reform leadership collapsed. Thompson rightly says that “It was the heroic age of popular radicalism, but, on the national scene, its leaders rarely looked heroic and sometimes looked ridiculous”. (2) William Cobbett, the leading reform journalist escaped to America and in Manchester William Benbow and other well known leaders went underground – and new leaders emerged. These were not known to Samuel Bamford and remain obscure to this day.

It is clear though that they were inexperienced, John Bagguley was said to be only 18, but they were resourceful and had the confidence of the local community, which turned out in numbers and supported a marching group of some hundreds of workers = though the precise number is not clear. These men were determined to exercise their legal right to take a petition to the Prince Regent, virtually the only avenue open to them as petitioning was guarunteed by the Bill of Rights. We do not know who invented the tactic of marching to London and very little about the new men as Drummond, John Bagguley and their colleagues emerged out of nowhere. They were innovative, thoughtful and without intending to do so invented the tactic used for now two centuries of the march to London, setting the scene for the Jarrow Marchers, the Aldermaston Marchers and the People’s March for Jobs among others.

It is easy to neglect the fact that the Manchester reformers simply would not be repressed, and their willingness to challenge the government, constitutionally, was of the greatest historical importance.

In a very brief summary of only 186 words, Thompson defines the marchers as an early pressure group, but concludes that the problem for reformers was only to bring pressure to bear, writing

How was the weight of feeling in the provinces to be brought to bear on the government itself? The March of the Blanketeers, (which, perhaps, in its early planning stages, Cartwright and Cobbett may have known about and encouraged) was an attempt to bring this pressure to bear. The Lancashire men were to march

peacefully with their petitions upon London, holding meetings and gathering support on the way. There was some expectation of support from other groups of marchers from Yorkshire and the Midlands, and one of the Manchester leaders is reported to have said, ‘If we could get you as far as Birmingham, the who wd (whole would TF) be done, for I have no doubt you will be 100,000 strong’. ‘. (3)

This sketch is accurate but hardly scratches the surface of what the initiative was about, and the footnote perhaps explains why Thompson and others have been dismissive of the blanketeers. Thompson rightly says

the ‘Blanketeers’ were in fact prevented from marching by the military, more than 200 were arrested and few got further than Leek”, (4)

The implication was that had they reached Birmingham sheer numbers would have forced the government to concede reform. But the march never reached a major city – they were actually heading for Nottingham when finally stopped in Ashbourne, Nottingham being the destination of the Pentridge marchers three months later. Failure to overcome the military was decisive and the historical consensus seeming to be that the Blanketeers can be ignored. But the Pentridge uprising also failed to overcome a military force, so this comment does no more than state an obvious fact – that the state had forces strong enough to repress reform activity – which is as true for Pentridge as the Blanketeers, though only the latter have faded from history. Drama is eye catching, so the Pentridge uprising has become for historians a story far better to tell – and indeed it is a story which is a vital part of the narrative of the Working Class Movement.

THE PENTRIDGE UPRISING.

The sparsely populated area of Derbyshire north west of Nottingham was an area dominated by cottage industries with some mostly water driven factories, consisting of small and tightly knit villages dominated by family connections. It had seen strong Luddite activity but along with other Luddite areas turned away from machine breaking after the state provided enough troops to stifle Luddite activity, Luddism being dead by late 1816. Unlike most ex Luddite areas, in the Spring of 1817 the workers turned to a conspiracy for revolution. The fact that the conspiracy moved out of the communities where activists were well known in order to link up with potential activity in other areas notably Manchester, enabled the government to inflitrate spies into previously impenetrable groups of plotters.

Thompson says the government identified four centres of revolutionary agitation – Nottingham, Derby and Leicestershire – Birmingham and District – Lancashire – and Yorkshire. and a movement of delegates and correspondence between them – despite the Act against corresponding societies (5). There is little doubt that this is correct, but these were small and badly organised plots and relied on enthusiastic volunteers with time on their hands – who often proved to be paid government informers reporting directly to the authorities.

Unlike the Luddites therefore spies had access to the inner circle of the plotters, and Thompson rightly comments that “Government knew before it took place every detail of the conspiracy which culminated in the Pentridge uprising” (6) along with local magistrates and officials. The key informer was the notorious William Oliver who was in direct contact with Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, and Major General Byng, commander of the Northern Garrison of the British Army, based at Pontefract.

When this was revealed by the Leeds Mercury, before the trials, the obvious question for public opinion was why the uprising was not stopped in its tracks.

The bare bones of the uprising, as revealed in the trials of the rebels, are easily described. The leader, Jeremiah Brandreth, a Nottingham based rebel, went to Pentridge on June 5th to collect men who had volunteered for an armed insurrection. On 7th the Nottingham Town clerk, with the magistrates who oversaw law and order in the provinces, prepared for a rebellion they knew was under way, but did not try to prevent. On the evening of the 9th Brandreth collected two or three hundred men from villages at the foot of the Derby Peak – Pentridge, South Wingfield, Ripley – armed with guns, pikes, scythes and bludgeons, some – the Ludlams, Weightmans and Turners – being related, and set out to march to Nottingham fourteen miles away.

The marchers picked up recruits on the way but did not number more than 400 and at a farm where they demanded food and weapons Brandreth shot a man dead – the only violence of the night. Some of the recruits were reluctant and the plan which Brandreth outlined that “Nottingham would be given up before they got there…..they should proceed from Nottingham to London and wipe off the National Debt” – the Blanketeers also believed they could wipe off the National Debt according to Bamford – smacks of desperation. When promises did not encourage the rebels he vowed that “every man who refused should be shot”. (7) The rebels were not in fighting mood and when a force of Hussars approached them they ran away and were rounded up in the days that followed.

The same night a rebel group in Yorkshire from the Holmfirth Valley some hundreds strong marched on Huddersfield in what was called the “Folley Hall” rising, despite the fact that the Sheffield magistrates had arrested delegates at a place called Thornhill Lees near Dewsbury which was surrounded by troops. Soldiers arrested the rebel leaders, possibly because there were no spies informing on their activity whose identity needed to be protected, and six faced the capital charge of treason.

The Pentridge rebels were also charged with High Treason, convicted, and three of the leaders were executed, thirteen were transported. Brandreth could have been charged with Murder but the government wanted the charge of High Treason to stick, Pentridge was clearly a plot against the government and was Treason. But while the jury convicted, the public registered shock at the role of the spy Oliver, who was accused of being an agent provocateur.

The Trial confirmed that the government had full knowledge of the plot and thus that Oliver’s role in informing the government made the government an accessory to the Rising. They knew it was going to happen and neither they nor the local authorities intervened. This did not affect the government’s charge that the Rebellion was High Treason, but undermined their case that revolution was a serious threat.

The charge that Oliver was an agent provocateur has always been controversial and there is little doubt that the plot would have happened anyway. The legal position was that to stage an armed uprising was clearly treasonable. The rebels were intent on overthrowing the government, and their plans pre-existed Oliver, who may have urged them on but did not create the conspiracy. But even if Oliver was not an agent provocateur, the fact he informed against the plotters became the dominant fact of the trial. He himself was not allowed to testify as defence counsel would have exposed the Home Office as accessories, and the government had enough evidence to prove its case anyway. But while the prosecution was successful, the bigger issue was the failure to prove that there was a wider revolutionary threat.

(B) A shift in emphasis

The Political desire for punitive action was clear in letting the rebels set out on their doomed enterprise Sidmouth wanted to make the rebels a warning to others. But the revelations about Oliver’s role compromised Sidmouth’s policy. He never admitted Oliver did more than inform the government about the plot. But the fact Oliver was telling the government about the plan undermined the government’s case that the revolution was a serious threat. Historians have been trying to find a serious revolutionary plot ever since.

Public opinion reacted negatively to the allegations the government had used an agent provocateur. Home Office had expected support similar to that Pitt had had in the 1790s, but the Sheffield 6 arrested at the end of May were not put on trial and in July a number of reformers arrested in February were acquitted it became clear that juries were not likely to convict. Although in Derby, the jury decided that Brandreth led an armed and treasonable uprising, Sidmouth was forced to rethink the policies followed in the early part of 1817, though habeas corpus was again suspended later in the year. The problem government had to face was that they could NOT find enough plotters to justify what they were doing,

Liverpool’s government had assumed the revolution was imminent. It set up the secret Green Bag parliamentary committee and claimed to have found evidence that “A traitorous conspiracy has been formed in the metropolis for the purpose of overthrowing … the established government …and that such designs… extended widely in some of the more populous and manufacturing districts” (8)

These beliefs were sufficient to induce parliament to suspend habeas corpus on 4th March 1817 and revive the Pitt Acts of 1795 which are rightly regarded as overt state repression. The mass of loyalists in the country particularly the magistrates never lost the belief that there was a storm of revolution brewing. But as the summer of 1817 passed the Home Office could not ignore the fact that hordes of revolutionaries were failing to appear.

There is no doubt that revolutionaries existed and were plotting and that Bamford knew a good deal of what they were planning from his vantage point in Middleton. In Manchester following the Blanketeers, at the end of March the local magistrates claimed a plot to burn down the city, centred in the Ardwick district, was just nipped in the bud. This was more than loyalist paranoia. Bamford wrote that he was approached on March 11th – the day after the Blanketeers marched – by an activist who told him of a plot to “Turn Manchester into a Moscow”, and wanted his support (9) which he refused. The plan to burn Manchester down as Moscow had been burnt when the French occupied in 1812 was no more than rhetoric and the so-called ‘Ardwick plot’ was a non event. Though the rebellion had not happened Bamford and other reform leaders were arrested and taken to London where the leading ministers interrogated them. Very little evidence was found, most were released without charge including Bamford who wrote up his experiences with telling clarity, and this highlighted the lack of hard evidence of revolutionary activity.

The haul from suspending Habeas Corpus was meager. Francis Place calculated by the autumn 96 people were on treason charges in England, 37 in Scotland. Thompson calculates from Home Office documents only 43 in England (10). These were tiny numbers and although intelligence gathering was not infallible, it was clear that the revolution lacked personnel.

The search for revolutionaries was becoming ridiculous and faced defeat by jury if treason charges were lodged. Sherwin’s Political Register reported on 13th September 1817 that the authorities panicked at a rumour of an insurrection at Bartholemew Fair, four regiments of horse were called out and the Lord Mayor of London searched for weapons among the stalls. None were found (11). Liverpool’s government were forced to backtrack, though like Disraeli half a century later they operated the maxim ‘Never complain, never explain’, simply allowing the legislation to expire. Habeas Corpus returned in January 1818, and the Seditious Meetings Act expired on 24th July 1818. Magistrates could no longer ban meetings of more than 50 people.

Thus the immediate outcome of the Pentridge rising paradoxically undermined the government case for repression. However with three men executed and thirteen transported, the government had made clear who operated the levers of power and could afford to relax its hold somewhat.

The prevention of the Blanketeers march, the failure of rebellions and the successful outcome of the trials of the Pentridge leaders had the effect of easing the sense of crisis which existed among Loyalists at national level. Rebellion was clearly a minority activity, while the large scale mobilisation in support of the Blanketeers had been contained – thus Westminster politicians came to think that even large numbers of reformers demonstrating were a threat that could be handled. It was a belief that was to backfire disasterously in 1819 and the roots of the Peterloo tragedy lay in 1817. It is time to look at the lessons of the March of the Blanketeers.

C) The road to Peterloo

Government was relaxed about working class mobilisation, realising that the lesson of March 10th 1817 had been that the Blanketeers had got nowhere, literally or metaphorically. The government then took little interest in the Blanketeers or Manchester politics after the collapse of the alleged Ardwick conspiracy, leaving the local situation to work itself out. The Blanketeers had paradoxically convinced the local magistrates that they posed a revolutionary threat, though in reality they had failed and tensions in and around Manchester were rising.

Both reformers and Loyalists knew after the Blanketeers that reformers could mobilise many thousands of demonstrators. Beyond that the lessons of the events of March 10th were interpreted in contrary ways. The obvious lesson was that the Blanketeers had been stopped by a very efficient military operation, under the direct control of General Byng. The magistrates had read the Riot Act, cavalry had advanced on the platform and arrested the speakers, and then dispersed the large crowd without bloodshed. Nevertheless some hundreds of blanketeers had left and marched south out of Manchester while this happened. The troops followed and captured most of the marchers at Stockport, some 200 being arrested crossing the river and the petition was never delivered to the Prince Regent. Sidmouth and his government colleagues had no reason to think that there was any need for new measures, especially as the suspects arrested after the alleged Ardwick conspiracy had mostly been released for lack of any evidence for a prosecution.

However the preparations for the demonstration of August 19th 1819 and drilling in the weeks before the event, plus the size of the crowd and the history of previous reform and Luddite activities which had led to confrontation convinced the Loyalists who dominated the magistrates’ in Manchester and Salford that revolution was imminent and they needed to suppress working class activity. They had already organised with the government to police the event with troops, there being no police force save a few constables led by deputy constable Joseph Nadin, and prepared to act along the lines used for the Blanketeers. However they had concluded from the experience of the Blanketeers that they could not rely on the regular troops arriving in time if there was a rebellion and the magistrates had previously decided to set up a volunteer cavalry, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry. This was the force which committed the most serious assaults at Peterloo.

Thinking among the local Loyalist magistracy in Manchester and Salford who controlled local government in the area simply could not accept that the failure of the March of the Blanketeers had demonstrated their success in controlling reform using Byng’s regular troops. Despite the failure to find evidence that the Blanketeers would be followed up by an insurrection in Manchester – the Ardwick plot – they remained convinced revolution was brewing. They approved of the Acts passed in 1817 particularly the ability to prevent meetings of more than 50 people, and were disconcerted and alarmed when the Acts was allowed to lapse, leaving the Reformers to plan for another big meeting. Loyalists in the provinces especially Manchester came to believe, that revolution was again on the horizon.

An exactly opposite set of reactions came to dominate attitudes among supporters of Reform. They understood the failure of the Blanketeers, which was reinforced by the failure of strikes in 1818 and the convictions which followed, Bagulley and others being imprisoned for supporting strikes. But while the Blanketeers had failed, they had demonstrated strength in numbers and had survived persecution. As the government moved away from over repression the movement revived. As the legal straitjacket was removed through 1818, the reformers regrouped and planned for future activities, the Manchester activists being encouraged by activities elsewhere notably Birmingham to revive constitutional agitation.

The formula which had underpinned the sending off of the March, a mass mobilistion, speakers on a platform in St Peter’s field, and journalistic coverage, was the formula used to be used for a mass demonstration on August 19th 1819, though it remains unclear what was to be achieved. There was this time no national petition. The assumption seems to have been that sheer numbers would force concessions.

The authorities had no intention of being forced by numbers into concessions. Faced with a large mobilisation, the Loyalist local politicians planned to use the formula they used of reading the Riot Act, sending troops to first arrest the leaders and then to disperse the crowd but with the object this time of intimidating the reformers and preventing a revolutionary upsurge. They communicated with the Home Office and gained some support from Whitehall where Sidmouth and his fellow politicians remained fearful of revolution. However the government’s legal officers, aware of the constitutional rights to petition and meet to consider petitioning, or as the Peterloo organisers put it, “to consider the best ways to effect parliamentary reform”, were not in a position to make a hard and fast ruling. The demonstration could certainly be banned – but only if there were clear signs of illegal behaviour, rioting or worse. If that happened, the magistrates could then use the formula which had worked with the Blanketeers. But if there was no evidence that the crowd had overstepped the mark, the demonstration could not be stopped. The government left the magistrates to judge when the mark had been overstepped.

The magistrates laid their plans for August 19th 1819. Up to the point where the magistrates ordered troops to intervene, the authorities were following exactly the procedure that had worked on March 10th 1817 against the Blanketeers. There is no doubt that the Blanketeers had been dispersed but this was a much larger crowd and the reformers did not expect cavalry to attack a defenceless crowd using specially sharpened sabres. The question that has to be asked is why the formula worked in 1817 – and went so disasterously wrong twenty nine months later.

While this question will come to the fore as the 200th anniversary of Peterloo comes into view, it is for debate why in 2017, the 200th anniversary of Pentridge has attracted serious attention, but not the Blanketeers. Their role in the history of the Reform movement and prefiguring Peterloo is clear. They are considerably more important than Pentridge, though the intervention of Oliver the Spy made that a major contibution to defining the limits of government power. But in terms of working class politics, it has no long term effect. This cannot be said of the Blanketeers. While they failed, ever afterward, radicals have organised marches from Provincial cities to London, mainly in the C20th. The Hunger Marchers, the Aldermaston Marches, the People’s March for Jobs and so on – all start with the blanketeers.

It remains very curious that they have become so very invisible.

Trevor Fisher 2nd June 2017

Select Bibliography

*Adam Zamoyski Phantom Terror Collins 2014

** Samuel Bamford Passages in the Life of a Radical, Frank Cass 1967

*** E P Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, Gollancz 1963 (1st Edition)

Notes

  1. E P T The making of the English Working Class, Penguin Modern Classics 2013, p702

  1. EPT op cit p 691

(3) EPT op cit p711-712

(4) EPT op cit p712

(5) EPT op cit p714

(6) EPT p538.\ This is in the section where Thompson comments on the effective spy network.

  1. EPT on Pentridge and Yorkshire, p724-6 Brandreth quotes p724.

(8) E P T p700

(9) Samuel Bamford, Passages in the Life of a Radical, (Autobiography Vol II), Frank Cass 1967 p37

(10) EPT p700 footnote 2

(11) EPT footnote p761 HO 40.7 and 8 for details.

(20) EPT op cit p161

(21) Op cit p658

(22) op cit p659

Aston Villa’s Marmite Manager

Ron Saunders – Marmite Manager –

The book THE ODD MAN OUT by Graham Denton, reviewed by Trevor Fisher

Pitoh – Pitch Publishing 2017

Published in Heroes and Villains Magazine May 2017

Ron Saunders was Villa’s most successful manager in living memory. The only man to win the League after the First World War, he built the team which won the League and European Cup, and his achievements make him a major figure and a man loved or hated. Or indeed both, since he both got us success and arguably wrecked it by walking out when on the verge of the European Cup success. Graham Denton takes us further than anyone before has done to understand the enigma.

Saunder’s roller coaster of a career is one of highs and lows and divided opinions. He

*Won Norwich their first ever promotion to the old First Division and to their first Wembley final.

* Is the only manager to have taken three different sides to three successive League cup finals.

* was the first manager to win Manager of the Year award twice, only one to do so while managing same club (Villa) in two different divisions.

* was the last man to win the old league title under 2 points for a win system- only 14 players being used. Yet he was enormously controversial and almost courted unpopularity.

As author Graham Denton says, “At every club Saunders polarised opinion like no other manager of the period”. He is the only manager to run all three local clubs and Blues goalie Jeff Wealands is quoted saying “Saunders is the only man I’ve ever hated”, but Seaman, later England goalkeeper – said he was the first goalkeeping coach he had ever had taught him drills later used by the England Number 1 throughout his career”. His talent was abundant, but his faults massive. At the end of the book we know a lot more about both.

Saunders was a true eccentric and the title takes a quote he himself provided that “I’m the odd man out, the one who as a youngster had no burning ambitions about being a professional footballer….by the time I was 24 or 25 I had become obsessed with the idea of managing a football club and making my mark on that side of the game”.

This obsession – and it is the right word – is perhaps due to his failure as a player after a promising start. Capped as a schoolboy for England, he left school at 16 and joned Everton in Second division but did not make it and left for part time Tonbridge. He then spent his early married life in the lower professional divisions, and perhaps looking after his family was his driving force. He wanted security and became Norwich manager in July 1969. He achieved promotion, but then an incident occurred which would become a precedent. At the start of the 1973-74 season the chair of the board resigned, the new chair clashed with Saunders and Saunders wrote a resignation letter in the board room and left on 17th November 1973. He was not out of work long. Man City made him manager 5 days later 22nd Nov 1973 . Aged 41 Saunders was a coming man but he could not handle big stars and fell out with Denis Law (‘the Old Man’), Summerbee, Francis Lee (‘fatty’), After trying to sell Scottish international Law, on Good Friday 1974 Saunders was sacked.

He was duly appointed Villa manager though Doug Ellis was always anti Saunders according to the author. Saunders got Villa to the League Cup final, Villa winning 1-0, but more importantly Villa were promoted back to the old Division 1. Saunder’s methods were a mixture of physical fitness and mind games. Keith Leonard is quoted saying “We could wear teams down, and no longer how long it took, we simply knew we were going to score”. However those players who were outside the First Team were left without proper training tops or balls. Brian Little is quoted as saying players had their first team tops taken off in front of the others. ‘I know he used to destroy quite a few of the established first team players at that time’ Sammy Morgan was told “You’re over there with the shit”.

Saunders built a brilliant team in the first division signing young players like John ‘Budgie’ Burridge, Andy Gray and Denis Mortimer, and promoting from the youth team the best young players from Vic Crowe’s time – John Gidman, Brian Little, Gordon Cowans and John ‘Dixie’ Deehan and others. The blend of talent inside and from outside the club would be a Saunders hallmark, as was the removal of players with good histories at the club notably Charlie Aitken, legendary full back.

The first team at peak was now capable of beating anyone, as the 5-1 beating of Champion’s Liverpool on December 15th 1976 showed. Going into 1977 Villa made the League Cup Final where as Denton notes, in a 0-0 draw Villa fans sang “Pass the ball back” from Villa fans to tune of Clementine. He does not explain that Everton passed the ball to the goalkeeper every 90 seconds. But Saunders refused to let Andy Gray pick up his award from the PFA of Player and Young Player of the Year. Denton quotes Gray thinking Saunders liked younger players naïve who he could control and there are several other players who could claim to be badly treated notably John Burridge.

The limits of the mind games were seen on March 1st 1978, when Barcelona visited in the UEFA cup. Saunders technique was to read the opposition team sheet, throw it away and in this case say “Cruyff, he can’t play”. I watched Johan Cruyff give a master class and when he was subbed with 8 minutes to go was one of those from all parts the ground who gave him a standing ovation. Nevertheless, against less outstanding talent Saunders was making progress, but Denton states ‘a tipping point with certain individuals had been reached’ Little, Gray and Gidman were annoyed with Saunders. Denton deals in detail with with the unsavoury battle which led Gidman and Gray to leave, Little retiring injured. Boardroom battles ensued, Ellis launches a bid to become chair, but failed, as the board backed Saunders. But not uncritically.

By the end of 79-80 the team had potential, but lacked a number 9. Saunders had wanted Mick \Ferguson, Harry Kartz vetoed and resigned over the row allowing Ron Bendall to become chair of the board. But the 1980-81 season started with Peter With e being signed, who Denton thinks was the last piece of the jigsaw. By 8th November 1980 a team line up which became legendary first played together: this was the team of Rotterdam and disposed of Liverpool’s challenge on10th January 1981 Villa V Liverpool. The Champions again were put to the sword, With e scoring then on 82 minutes Bremner, Swain, Shaw, and Denis Mortimer combined to score. Denton say the moment was one “all those villa fans in the 47,960 crowd would never forget”. I was there and he is right.

The book describes well how Villa overtook Ipswich under Bobbie Robson to win the League. In March Ipswich were only one point ahead of Villa but when they beat us at Villa Park the press assumed Ipswich had done the job, leading to Saunders’ famous question to the press “Would anyone like to bet against us winning the title?” Villa lost the final game at Arsenal but in the end Middlesborough beat Ipswich and Denton says

Never has a set of football fans been so ecstatic in defeat”. Saunders got the Manager of the Year award.

But then the wheels fell off. 1981-82 form was poor and despite the European cup run, on Friday 5th Feb Saunders was told his roll over contract was ended, he was now on a three year deal, On Tuesday 9th Feb at the

training session, Saunders ws taken home with flu. That evening resigned. Denton probes what really happened, quoting Denis Mortimer, club captain who says he was phoned by Saunders about a “Big fight going on between himself and the Bendalls” but he would not leave the job. The following morning he was gone. Denton cannot work out what had happened, but the result was that Saunders left for Birmingham City – then Albion – and never again had the success he had at Villa.

Tony Barton took over as manager for the European Cup success, but the starting eleven in Rotterdam was

Rimmer, Swain, Williams, Evans, McNaught, Mortimer, Bremner, Shaw, With e, Cowans and Morley – which first came together on 8th November 1980. They never played together again after the Euro Final May 28th 1982. They were Saunders’s team. The book makes clear that Saunders was a genius and for a short time produced the best football from Villa in living memory. Graham Denton has written a book which is essential reading for Villa fans.

Ron Saunders – Marmite Manager –

The book THE ODD MAN OUT by Graham Denton, reviewed by Trevor Fisher

Pitoh – Pitch Publishing 2017

Published in Heroes and Villains Magazine May 2017

Ron Saunders was Villa’s most successful manager in living memory. The only man to win the League after the First World War, he built the team which won the League and European Cup, and his achievements make him a major figure and a man loved or hated. Or indeed both, since he both got us success and arguably wrecked it by walking out when on the verge of the European Cup success. Graham Denton takes us further than anyone before has done to understand the enigma.

Saunder’s roller coaster of a career is one of highs and lows and divided opinions. He

*Won Norwich their first ever promotion to the old First Division and to their first Wembley final.

* Is the only manager to have taken three different sides to three successive League cup finals.

* was the first manager to win Manager of the Year award twice, only one to do so while managing same club (Villa) in two different divisions.

* was the last man to win the old league title under 2 points for a win system- only 14 players being used. Yet he was enormously controversial and almost courted unpopularity.

As author Graham Denton says, “At every club Saunders polarised opinion like no other manager of the period”. He is the only manager to run all three local clubs and Blues goalie Jeff Wealands is quoted saying “Saunders is the only man I’ve ever hated”, but Seaman, later England goalkeeper – said he was the first goalkeeping coach he had ever had taught him drills later used by the England Number 1 throughout his career”. His talent was abundant, but his faults massive. At the end of the book we know a lot more about both.

Saunders was a true eccentric and the title takes a quote he himself provided that “I’m the odd man out, the one who as a youngster had no burning ambitions about being a professional footballer….by the time I was 24 or 25 I had become obsessed with the idea of managing a football club and making my mark on that side of the game”.

This obsession – and it is the right word – is perhaps due to his failure as a player after a promising start. Capped as a schoolboy for England, he left school at 16 and joned Everton in Second division but did not make it and left for part time Tonbridge. He then spent his early married life in the lower professional divisions, and perhaps looking after his family was his driving force. He wanted security and became Norwich manager in July 1969. He achieved promotion, but then an incident occurred which would become a precedent. At the start of the 1973-74 season the chair of the board resigned, the new chair clashed with Saunders and Saunders wrote a resignation letter in the board room and left on 17th November 1973. He was not out of work long. Man City made him manager 5 days later 22nd Nov 1973 . Aged 41 Saunders was a coming man but he could not handle big stars and fell out with Denis Law (‘the Old Man’), Summerbee, Francis Lee (‘fatty’), After trying to sell Scottish international Law, on Good Friday 1974 Saunders was sacked.

He was duly appointed Villa manager though Doug Ellis was always anti Saunders according to the author. Saunders got Villa to the League Cup final, Villa winning 1-0, but more importantly Villa were promoted back to the old Division 1. Saunder’s methods were a mixture of physical fitness and mind games. Keith Leonard is quoted saying “We could wear teams down, and no longer how long it took, we simply knew we were going to score”. However those players who were outside the First Team were left without proper training tops or balls. Brian Little is quoted as saying players had their first team tops taken off in front of the others. ‘I know he used to destroy quite a few of the established first team players at that time’ Sammy Morgan was told “You’re over there with the shit”.

Saunders built a brilliant team in the first division signing young players like John ‘Budgie’ Burridge, Andy Gray and Denis Mortimer, and promoting from the youth team the best young players from Vic Crowe’s time – John Gidman, Brian Little, Gordon Cowans and John ‘Dixie’ Deehan and others. The blend of talent inside and from outside the club would be a Saunders hallmark, as was the removal of players with good histories at the club notably Charlie Aitken, legendary full back.

The first team at peak was now capable of beating anyone, as the 5-1 beating of Champion’s Liverpool on December 15th 1976 showed. Going into 1977 Villa made the League Cup Final where as Denton notes, in a 0-0 draw Villa fans sang “Pass the ball back” from Villa fans to tune of Clementine. He does not explain that Everton passed the ball to the goalkeeper every 90 seconds. But Saunders refused to let Andy Gray pick up his award from the PFA of Player and Young Player of the Year. Denton quotes Gray thinking Saunders liked younger players naïve who he could control and there are several other players who could claim to be badly treated notably John Burridge.

The limits of the mind games were seen on March 1st 1978, when Barcelona visited in the UEFA cup. Saunders technique was to read the opposition team sheet, throw it away and in this case say “Cruyff, he can’t play”. I watched Johan Cruyff give a master class and when he was subbed with 8 minutes to go was one of those from all parts the ground who gave him a standing ovation. Nevertheless, against less outstanding talent Saunders was making progress, but Denton states ‘a tipping point with certain individuals had been reached’ Little, Gray and Gidman were annoyed with Saunders. Denton deals in detail with with the unsavoury battle which led Gidman and Gray to leave, Little retiring injured. Boardroom battles ensued, Ellis launches a bid to become chair, but failed, as the board backed Saunders. But not uncritically.

By the end of 79-80 the team had potential, but lacked a number 9. Saunders had wanted Mick \Ferguson, Harry Kartz vetoed and resigned over the row allowing Ron Bendall to become chair of the board. But the 1980-81 season started with Peter With e being signed, who Denton thinks was the last piece of the jigsaw. By 8th November 1980 a team line up which became legendary first played together: this was the team of Rotterdam and disposed of Liverpool’s challenge on10th January 1981 Villa V Liverpool. The Champions again were put to the sword, With e scoring then on 82 minutes Bremner, Swain, Shaw, and Denis Mortimer combined to score. Denton say the moment was one “all those villa fans in the 47,960 crowd would never forget”. I was there and he is right.

The book describes well how Villa overtook Ipswich under Bobbie Robson to win the League. In March Ipswich were only one point ahead of Villa but when they beat us at Villa Park the press assumed Ipswich had done the job, leading to Saunders’ famous question to the press “Would anyone like to bet against us winning the title?” Villa lost the final game at Arsenal but in the end Middlesborough beat Ipswich and Denton says

Never has a set of football fans been so ecstatic in defeat”. Saunders got the Manager of the Year award.

But then the wheels fell off. 1981-82 form was poor and despite the European cup run, on Friday 5th Feb Saunders was told his roll over contract was ended, he was now on a three year deal, On Tuesday 9th Feb at the

training session, Saunders ws taken home with flu. That evening resigned. Denton probes what really happened, quoting Denis Mortimer, club captain who says he was phoned by Saunders about a “Big fight going on between himself and the Bendalls” but he would not leave the job. The following morning he was gone. Denton cannot work out what had happened, but the result was that Saunders left for Birmingham City – then Albion – and never again had the success he had at Villa.

Tony Barton took over as manager for the European Cup success, but the starting eleven in Rotterdam was

Rimmer, Swain, Williams, Evans, McNaught, Mortimer, Bremner, Shaw, With e, Cowans and Morley – which first came together on 8th November 1980. They never played together again after the Euro Final May 28th 1982. They were Saunders’s team. The book makes clear that Saunders was a genius and for a short time produced the best football from Villa in living memory. Graham Denton has written a book which is essential reading for Villa fans.

Reaction, Reform and Peterloo- underlying issues

Reaction, Reform and Peterloo – underlying issues

The Peterloo Massacre was the outcome of a struggle not merely between Reformers and Conservatives, but tensions within the Reform Movement on the one hand and divisions within the Conservative interests – the Loyalists – on the other. The tendency has been to see Reform as one movement, and Conservatives as one monolithic reactionary bloc on the other. There is a more complex reality to be unearthed.

Even a sophisticated thinker such as E P Thompson in THE MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS – still the key text and rightly influential over half a century after it appeared – sees the Reform Movement is seen as one block in 1817 with the Pentridge* Rising as the basis of Peterloo.


Thus Thompson says on the reform movement in the crucial year 1817

This co-incidence of persecution and confusion is the background to the tangled story of the March of the Blanketeers, the Ardwick Conspiracy, and the Pentridge rising”. (1)

And further connects the Pentridge rising with Peterloo, arguing (2)

There is a sense in which Peterloo followed directly, and inevitably, upon Pentridge. It was the outcome of an extraordinarily powerful and determined ‘constitutionalist’ agitation, largely working class in character, within a potentially revolutionary context”.

There was no potential for revolution in England in 1817, and the constitutional agitation had nothing to do with insurrectionary plotting, which working class people saw as a dead end. The Blanketeers who marched in May 1817 were constitutionalists, and it is this tradition which was attacked violently in St Peters Field on August 19th 1819. The influential perspective endorsed by Thompson linked reform to insurrection. Paradoxically this is what paranoid Loyalists believed was happening, justifying Peterloo while ignoring the divisions within the reform movement. Constitutionalism was the creed of both demonstrations in St Peter’s Field, 1817 and 1819, and no interpretation can be valid which fails to clarify the divisions within the reform movement, and place the emphasis firmly on non insurrectionary constitutional mass activity.

Similarly the Loyalist camp which was in charge of the government through most of the Regency period, firmly so after the French wars, was not monolithic, and certainly did not control an absolutist state on the model of the French monarchy – until the ancien regime cracked in 1789. Britain, or England to be precise, was certainly moving into a phase of repression after 1792 – but never came anywhere near absolutism. This fact was paradoxically one of the root causes of Peterloo. The regime lacked real machinery for control at local level.

Background 1792-1816

It is true that the picture of a repressive and reactionary regime developing up to 1816 painted by Thompson remains valid. He contends that “between 1792 and 1815, 155 barracks were constructed, many of which were deliberately sited in the ‘disaffected’ districts of the Midlands and north. England, in 1792, had been governed by consent and deference, supplemented by the gallows and the church and king mob. In 1816, the English people were held down by force” (3)

This is an acute comment, though the shift from a deferential society is overstated, C18th governance was a system depending on armed force as much as a brutal penal code, as Thompson recognised in his later writing. But armed force was not the key to domestic control apart from the Luddites at the end of the Napoleonic wars, and the law was more important than armed men in maintaining control. Even here there were weaknesses in the system, notably trial by jury. The key factor in understanding Peterloo is that the state could not rely on systematic repression, Indeed, the big question which will be addressed in this book is the issue left unresolved by Thompson’s gnomic assertion. What happened after 1816?

A view of Loyalism as sustained in the 1790s by popular support and legal repression is valid, and in one of the best sections of the book – Chapter 4, The Freeborn Englishman – Thompson outlines the tension between the official line that England was not a despotic state, a key dogma shared across the political culture, and the reality of Pitt’s policies. Pitt knew armed force in the domenstic context was an unreliable element to be used sparingly. It was after Pitt’s demise that force was increasingly used by Pitt’s successors, especially against the Luddites C1811-c1816. But after 1816 it was clear that military force was seriously limited.

There are a number of factors needing to be brought into focus. The stress across all parties on anti – despotism meant the authorities did not have an efficient police force and could neither handle large demonstrations nor use detectives to chart insurrection and other subversive elements. From 1817-19 both factors were in play, with the role of magistrates crucial. The Oxford History of England comments that “the weakness which made the government ferocious was its lack of any agents of central authority save the armed forces. But in consequence knowledge of local conditions and men was, under the advice of the Home Office, important in the administration of the law” (4). While accurate, this underestimates the role of the magistrates, who were more than just legal agents. At Peterloo, it would be magistrate decisions that proved fatal. Magistrates must be seen as critical to what happened in post war England at local level.

Military force and court actions used against the Luddites earlier proved sufficient to cope with working class unrest despite the difficulties of the state to penetrate the Luddites with spies. But the military operated within a public culture resistant to purely military action on the home front. Whether it was the rioting against ‘crimping houses’ for forced recruitment in the 1790s or the widespread hatred of flogging to maintain military discipline, the rhetoric of the ‘Freeborn Englishman’ showed a reality of resistance to heavy handed government intervention. Thompson rightly notes that as late as 1818 a Parliamentary Committee saw in Bentham’s proposed ‘Ministry of Police’ something which would make “all classes of society spies on each other” (5) . Spies were notorious that year, and the revelations about Oliver and other agents provocateur in 1817 intensified fears of a police force.

State power had blunt instruments. Firstly, the authorities could only handle large demonstrations with the C18th methods of militia or regular troops – this formula worked in 1817 but would go disasterously wrong at Peterloo. The militia and other semi professional bodies were unreliable, as with the special constables who chose to go home during the Pentridge rising in 1817. This meant that regular troops and cavalry were deployed against demontrations, and using armed bodies of men for crowd control was a high risk strategy.

Secondly, the lack of a detective force meant the authorities were in the dark over working class activity, and more so after the Oliver revelations backfired and meant juries would not convict where the presence of spies was established. By 1818 Sidmouth had to reduce the role of informers, so that neither government nor magistrates lacked hard information on what the radicals were doing. During 1818 Sidmouth and the Home Office reduced the level of repression, something Thompson and others rarely acknowledge. The law of diminishing returns had set in with few convictions to be set against a failure to detect major conspiracies, which clearly did not exist**, and Sidmouth had to adjust the policies being pursued, particularly with moderate Whigs like Earl Fitwilliam, Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire highly critical.

Thirdly, and crucially in Manchester, the shift in policy had the disasterous effect of intensifying the paranoia which Zamoyski rightly sees (6) running through Loyalist groups at every level of British society, though he does not focus on local authorities like magistrates where paranoia was particularly intense. Making concessions to the Whigs and public opinion in the jury system had the effect of raising tension among the Loyalist community, particularly magistrates, especially in Cheshire and South Lancashire around Manchester and Salford. The paranoia the local magistrates felt had no easing off with the abatement of reform activity in 1817, and through 1818 with strikes especially in South Lancashire the local Loyalists had no reason to think that working class activity was diminishing, and they were right. Though this was not revolution in the insurrectionary sense, to a Loyalist all working class activity was revolutionary, although the constitutional reformers were adamant that – following Major Cartwright and the Hampden club strategy – they were operating rights granted by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and Westminster politicians had to agree. This disjuncture between what the law and the London authorities believed to be the case, and the view of the local magistrates which held all mobilisation was revolutionary and did not require evidence of subversive intent to require violent suppression, was at the heart of the decisions which led to the Massacre.

By the summer of 1819 the attitudes of the reformers, the Westminster authorities and the military forces they controlled, and the local magistrates in Manchester and Salford formed a complex pattern which has yet to be fully explained. What matters is not simply the decisions on the day of the demonstration, but the decisions which were made before the crowd began assembling. The Loyalist community at local level exhibited acute internal conflict, suspicious that the Westminster authorities were under estimating the working class threat. The working class people who were mobilising to demonstrate for parliamentary reform did not consider that they posed a threat.

As the Westminster authorities upheld the constitutional right to demonstrate for reform, but also sanctioned the presence of military force against riot or insurrection – the traditional formula, used successfully against the blanketeers in 1817 – the stage was set for tragedy. The working class movement had shown itself able to mobilise tens of thousands, and was more alarming as these were well organised and focussed. They faced local magistrates – backed by government though to an unknown extent – prepared to use force to re-establish control. If the massacre was not actually planned, it was a disaster waiting to happen.

2nd May 2017

(1) E P T Making of the English Working Class (1968) p702

(2) E P T| op cit p736

  1. E P T op cit p663

(4) J Steven Watson, The Reign of George III, Oxford History of Enland Vol 12, 1960 p361

5) E P T opposition crimping houses led to rioting in London in 1793, p88, to policing in parliamentary debate as late as 1818 op cit p89. Flogging was opposed by Cobbett in his journal, reflecting popular opinion, which earned him a prison sentence 1810-12 for criticising the flogging of militia men, who were not officially part of the regular army and could not serve overseas.

(6) Adam Zamoyski, Phantom Terror, political paranoia and the creation of the modern state,1789-1848, Basic Books 2015

*the spelling used by Thompson. Today normally spelt Pentrich

** See June 2nd Paper, history writing Blanketeers, BMI Paper Talk Vers 2

A Fans Champion- Buck Chinn

Remembering Buck Chinn – a Villa Champion

In the Premiership era, we have got used to fans organisations like Supporters Direct and the Federation of Football Supporters. Most clubs have got Trusts or other Fan Organisations, right across Europe. It is hard to remember a time when they did not exist, but over three decades ago Villa fans did not have an organisation. One man stands out as having started regular fan meetings and proper fan organisation, and that man was Buck Chinn. He deserves to be remembered.

There had been fan protests, especially the legendary Barwick Street meeting in Victorian times and the 1969 Digbeth Civic Hall Meeting – which got us ‘Deadly’ Doug Ellis. But for over a hundred years, Villa Fans did not organise. As Carl Chinn, his son, remembers in his own blog about his dad, it was Buck who got the fans organised, first in the Villa Democracy Group. The family had been long standing Villa supporters – like me, Carl is a third generation supporter – but my family were never more than faces in the crowd. Over forty years ago Buck saw that something like a pressure group was needed if Villa fans were to have a voice in the club, and set up the Democracy Group with the aim of getting people elected to the board.

The problem at the start was that while no one person had a majority shareholding the fans didn’t have enough shares to get anyone elected. This became more of a problem after Ron Bendall, the chair who let Ron Saunders go, sold his shares to “Deadly” Doug Ellis, who then had 40%. Buck argued rightly that this left 60% to play with, so he could be outvoted. This was true in theory, and at one shareholders meeting Buck was elected on a show of hands. But ‘Deadly’ Doug then called for a vote of the proxies – the business people who had not even bothered to turn up – and he got his majority.

But if Buck never got on the board, he organised a shareholder’s association for two decades – until Randy Lerner bought the club – which was the real voice of the fans. The annual meeting of the shareholders was much better than the shouting match that the official AGM became before ‘Deadly’ sold the club. Nothing was properly debated at the AGM as Doug simply steamrollered the opposition which either did not turn up or did so to vent its frustrations while losing the votes. Not a good event at all. However the Shareholder’s annual meeting was much more open to different ideas, and most years the manager turned up and answered questions in a friendly atmosphere.

I particularly remember Brian Little and John Gregory being very open and informative, within the limits of not annoying the board, and their contribution was always good fun. It is a pity managers are more reluctant to meet fans today, but they have to trust that the chair of the meeting will get them a good hearing. They trusted Buck Chinn, and they were right to do so. Buck was a real fan’s champion and genuinely tried to get supporters listened to. His passing away left a void that has yet to be filled, and he should never be forgotten.

Trevor Fisher

Remembering the Blanketeers Pt 2

Remembering the Blanketeers Part 1 -1-

Who were the blanketeers, and why do they need to be recognised?

As delivered– Salford 15 3 17 – Working Class Movement Library

A very curious incident.

Two Hundred years last Friday – March 10th 1817 – saw the start of the March of the Blanketeers. A historical event which historians have neglected. The only reference I have come across is on the pocket Manchester website, and the interest taken by this library and others in the Manchester area. But this is a nationally important event.

We face the same problem as Sherlock Holmes did in investigating the disappearance of the Silver Blaze. You will recall that the detective asked Sherlock whether he should take notice of anything specific. And Sherlock replied you could note “The curious incident of the dog in the night”. The detective replied that the dog did nothing. “That”, said Sherlock, “was the curious incident”.

We have virtual silence on the march of the blanketeers. And this is a very curious incident.

I want to do two things – (A) to rescue the March of the Blanketeers from its current obscurity and (B) to throw some light on how historians make judgements. WHAT the March was is fairly well known but the fact it has been neglected is curious.

The background to the March is what I will mostly talk about today as it occurred at a tipping point in Regency history, but why it largely fails to register with historians is worth considering for the wider discussion. There is a long history of developments which historians have not understood, mainly because they did not fit a ‘heroic’ image of historical developments. I believe historians too often allow themselves to be influenced by drama rather than actual historical importance.

The wider question I want to pose is why this has happened.

In doing so I will be taking issue with the classic account by E P Thompson of these events in MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS, which has major influence on recent historical views of the Blanketeers.

It is one of the ironies of what I am doing today that I personally owe an enormous amount to Edward Thompson, who was my special topic tutor as an undergraduate at Warwick University, and the Making is a classic which is the starting point for any serious discussion of radical politics in the Regency period, but I have to question his interpretation of the reform movement after Waterloo, notably Thompson’s obscure assessment in his discussion of post war repression that in 1817

This co-incidence of persecution and confusion is the background to the tangled story of the March of the Blanketeers, the Ardwick conspiracy, and the Pentridge rising” (1)

But the tangled story is not disentangled by Thompson partly because he links the three episodes together, but more because he views the rising as the crucial episode. As a marxist at the time he wrote the book, Thompson expected revolution to develop, so explaining why it did not, through the activities of Oliver the Spy was his priority. Oliver is undeniably important, but the Pentridge rebellion was not the critical moment. The dramatic events at Pentridge have always been seen as significant, – 2-

with justification. The use of agents provocateur outraged liberals and produced a backlash in middle class opinion which was of great importance in discrediting government claims of being dealing with a serious threat of revolution. But though it is still conventional to link Pentridge with the Blanketeers, and to see the rising in Derbyshire as linked with Peterloo in 1819, this is going too far.

Thompson believes that the Pentridge Uprising was the foundation of Peterloo. He argues

There is a sense in which Peterloo followed directly, and inevitably, upon Pentridge. It was the outcome of an extraordinarily powerful and determined ‘constitutionalist’ agitation, largely working class in character, within a potentially revolutionary context”. (2)

This is not the case. The origin of Peterloo is with the Blanketeers. The Blanketeers met in St Peter’s Field, and it is not a mere coincidence of geography that in both 1817 and 1819 the focus of attention is St Peter’s Field. However Thompson neglects the link. More recent historians have followed Thompson’s lead when discussing Peterloo, ie they ignore the Blanketeers. So lets try to bring them into focus to explain what they did and why it was more important than is now seen to be the case.

WHAT AND WHY THE BLANKETEERS?

The Blanketeers were a group of working class reformers who in March 1817 planned to take a petition for parliamentary reform to the Prince Regent, head of government in the place of George III due to the King’s madness. The plan was they would march from Manchester to London, carrying blankets to sleep by the roadside if they could not find billets on the way. That the movement for reform of parliament had revived following the end of the war with Napoleon was now clear, and at least 10,000 people mobilised to send the marchers off – some estimates say double that number. However the numbers of people in favour of reform, though probably a majority in the big industrial towns made no difference to the Westminster political class who benefited from small numbers of voters and an outdated, largely rural voting system.

Thompson rightly defines the marchers as an early pressure group, ie seeking to convince by weight of numbers where persuasion had failed, though persuasion remains important – and concludes- in a very brief summary of a mere 186 words – that the problem for reformers was

How was the weight of feeling in the provinces to be brought to bear on the government itself?

He suggests

The March of the Blanketeers, (which, perhaps, in its early planning stages, Cartwright and Cobbett may have known about and encouraged) was an attempt to bring this pressure to bear. The Lancashire men were to march

peacefully with their petitions upon London, holding meetings and gathering support on the way. There was some expectation of support from other groups of marchers from Yorkshire and the Midlands, and one of the Manchester leaders is reported to have said, ‘If we could get you as far as Birmingham, the whole wd be done, for I have no doubt you will be 100,000 strong’. As to what was intended in London, various rumours were afoot. The organisers declared that no more was intended than the presentation of their petitions to the Prince Regent. But a tumultuous welcome was expected from the London populace, and there may have been some expectation that the marchers could perform a similar role to that of the men of Marseilles in Paris in 1792′. (3)

This sketch hardly scratches the surface of what the intiative was about, and the footnote (4) perhaps explains why Thompson and others have been dismissive of the blanketeers. Thompson rightly says

-3-

the ‘Blanketeers’ were in fact prevented from marching by the military, more than 200 were arrested and few got further than Leek”,

They failed, and Thompson seems to assume that they can be ignored. But the Pentridge uprising also failed, so this comment does no more than state an obvious fact – that the state had forces strong enough to repress reform activity – which is as true for Pentridge as it was for the Blanketeers, though only the Blanketeers have faded from history. The Pentridge Uprising, however, led to no important outcomes. The Blanketeers were seminal.

Let us look at the problem which Thompson is aware of but does not attend to, that reform commanded strong support in the provinces but this had had no effect on the government, which was strongly resistant to pressure.

The background to the march is the surge in support for parliamentary reform, which re-emerged at the end of the Wars against Napoleon. The First Reform movement in the 1790s during the revolutionary wars had been crushed by a combination of repressive government measures and Church and King mobs, which could mobilise large numbers of working class people to attack known reformers. By perhaps 1808 the strength of the loyalist groups in the industrial areas was weakening and Church and King mobs were attracting fewer supporters, given the gross injustice of how workers were treated in the new industrial areas. After the Luddite Movement (c1811-c1816) had been crushed, 12,000 troops being employed in the disturbed areas at its height, workers turned back to peaceful agitation, constitutional reform rising as the Luddite movement retreated, and for the government and many in authority in the provinces the Luddites had simply moved moved their activities without changing their views.

The shift was linked with the absolutely vital fact of Major Cartwright’s tours of the industrial areas in 1812, 1813 and 1815. Cartwright was a veteran of the eighteenth century reform programme, and saw the industrial unrest as fertile ground for recruits to the reform movement. His great importance was to offer a way out of the cul de sac of machine breaking violence which was too easy for the state to suppress.

As Adam Zamoyski has written,

He set off on a tour of manufacturing towns,… setting up Hampden Clubs wherever he could, and there were soon flourishing branches… Their purpose was entirely constitutional, and their methods legal. That did not stop Cartwright being arrested” (5). This is true but Zamoyski misses the crucial point that Cartwright extricated himself and went on with his campaign. Unlike the 1790s, reformers were no longer prepared to be intimidated. But we then have to note, as Thompson rightly says “The incipient clubs which he left behind him had the greatest difficulty in maintaining themselves. It was not until 1816 that they struck root in the manufacturing districts” (6). Repression was unending, but massive discontent was giving the movement unstoppable impetus.

It has long been clear that 1816 was the crucial year, as Professor Davis concluded back in 1925, noting the growth of the reformist Union Clubs in that year, that “In the early months of 1816, when the depression was at its worst, …the Home Office was merely concerned with the possible effects of economic distress… After June the symptoms became more alarming (due to)…. the appearance … of Union clubs … avowing their intention to agitate for parliamentary reform” (7). The summer of 1816 is a tipping point, for reasons we do not really understand. It may be that this summer, the summer

-4-

without the Sun as the effects of the Tambora volcano were felt, that food prices and the environmental crisis was playing a role. But the undeniable fact is that workers now had a route to take which was constitutional, via the petitioning practices of the Hampden club in London, and they took that route in great numbers.

THE REFORM MOVEMENT IN THE WINTER OF 1816-17

By 1816 it was clear that, working class discontent was now self sustaining, with two wings, the constitutional wing using the debating society model of the Hampden clubs, and a shadowy insurrectionary movement. The Hampden club itself was not initially the vital element. It was an upper class debating society, which was only open to members with an annual income of £300 pa which excluded all but the very wealthy. But the model became immensely popular in the industrial areas after Cartwright’s visits and were wholly constitutional. Indeed, as Cartwright pointed out, meeting to organise petitions was a right granted by the Bill of Rights in 1689.

But insurrectionists remained influential, and an undercurrent of physical force ran through the debates of the Union clubs forming in late 1816, lasting till 1820 and the Cato conspiracy. But this aspect of the movement had hardly had any credibility by the start of 1817 after the tragicomic events surrounding the Spa Fields demonstrations, which were organised by a grouping holding to the teachings of Thomas Spence, who looked back to the Jacobins in France (8).

Their belief in violent insurgency was put to the test at the Spa Fields demonstrations in December 1816. Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt was the main speaker, but at the crucial second meeting on 2nd December he arrived late when a riot was already taking place.

Perhaps Hunt had warning of violence, for a rumour of insurrection had spread and was expected in Manchester to trigger a national uprising, but following what Thompson calls “rioting for several hours on a scale reminiscent of the Gordon Riots” , despite looting of gunshops, police guarding the prisons and troops outside the Tower of London held firm. A pathetic attempt at insubordination when an unknown man climbed a wall and exhorted them to join the people was easily resisted and the incipient revolution never happened. (9)

Spa Fields was the only time a possible insurrection could have sparked a major insurgency spreading to large cities across the UK, London possibly playing the same role that Paris had done in 1789, as only the capital had the strategic role that could lead the way in insurrectionism.

Following the failure at Spa Field, the torch passed to the constitutional wing and an initiative of the Hampden Club to petition parliament on January 22nd 1817. Their meeting, at the Crown and Anchor tavern in London, recorded by Samuel Bamford who was an eyewitness, being a delegate from his home town reform club at Middleton near Manchester (10), and witnessing some of the events which unwittingly ended the dominance of constitutional London based reformers. Under the guidance of Bamford’s great hero Major Cartwright the club had remained within the law by having an open meeting and was left alone because of its claim to represent “persons who may be deputed from petitioning cities, towns and other communities… (for) effecting constitutional reform” (11). Petitioning opened the door to approaching parliament, but it carried no guaruntee of success.

The only agreement, save adopting a commitment to universal male suffrage, was for Lord Cochrane to present the petition for reform to parliament. The petition tactic was legal and allowed meetings, but

-5-

depended on a deeply hostile parliament accepting it. It had little chance of success, and as the authorities considered how to ignore it a fortuitous a more than slightly suspicious restaging of an event from the 1790s – an attack on the Prince Regent’s coach – undermined the remote possibility that the petition would be accepted.

The window of the carriage was broken and though the prince was unharmed, with a suspicious sense of following a script, the government triggered the mechanisms of Repression which it had used in 1795. Tory politicians triggered legislation which prevented effective campaigning in the country. From late January 1817 Liverpool’s High Tory government was determined on repression on the model of Pitt the Younger’s successful onslaught in the 1790s.

The failure of the petition meant that both the revolutionary and the constitutional wings of the reform movement had failed as London based responses to the demand for reform, in the space of a little over two months.

The threat of repression which the leaders of the Reform Movement had expected for some time, now developed. William Cobbett, the leading radical journalist, had argued in his Political Register of December 14th 1816 about government ministers that “They sigh for a plot. … They are absolutely pining and dying for a plot!” (12) – ie an excuse to bring in repressive legislation, notably the suspension of Habeas Corpus. There would be plots in 1817, but it would be the events in London in the winter of 1816- 1817 which gave ministers the excuse they needed to adopt repressive measures. This is the essential context for the March of the Blanketeers.

Notes

  1. E P T The making of the English Working Class, Penguin Modern Classics 2013, p702

  1. E P T op cit p736- But note on the previous page “the longer term influence of the Oliver affair…. p735

(3) op cit p711-712

(4) op cit p712

(5) Adam Zamoyski Phantom Terror William Collins, 2014 p88

  1. EPT op cit p668

(7) H W C Davis Lancashire Reformers 1816-17, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library Manchester, Vol 10, issue 1, p50,

  1. EPT op cit p693-4

  1. EPT op cit pp 681 and 695

(10) Samuel Bamford, Passages in the Life of a Radical, 1839-41, ED W H Chaloner, 1967, Vol II, pp15-20

(11) EPT op cit p678

(12) EPT op cit p697

Remembering the Blanketeers Pt 2.

Remembering the Blanketeers Pt 2 -6-

  • a problem and its attempted solution

A Tipping point

By the end of January 1817 the alleged assault on the carriage of the Prince Regent provided the excuse for government action. The events of November 1816 – January 1817 proved a tipping point where the government and the reformers were concerned. The stakes rose for both sides, with the reform agitation taking the place of Luddism as Public Enemy Number One for the government of Lord Liverpool which decided to confront reformers. A nationally run search for conspiracies formed the front line of the counter attack, co-ordinated by Sidmouth, the Home Secretary. Both locally and nationally, the claim that there was a reformist current distinct from the Jacobins was rejected by the authorities. All working class and reform activity was seen as revolutionary.

The government would be following the same script as Pitt the Younger had in the 1790s, suspending of Habeas Corpus and passing Acts of control and repression. The March of the Blanketeers was a response to what happened in the next six weeks. Developments at Westminster provided a challenge to which the national reform leaders failed to respond. The provincial groups were left to take what steps they could, with little overt co-ordination, and considerable legal dangers. The Seditious Societies Act of 1799 had suppressed the corresponding societies of the 1790s, and was still in force in 1817. The reformers were legally not allowed to write to each other.

However this law was not enforced, and Thompson notes Pitt’s laws against national organisation

were not repealed, so the right of local organisation “could only with difficulty be challenged at law” (1). But the law on corresponding was not needed for repression of reform activity. It was the rejection of the petition by parliament which proved decisive. The national leadership effectively collapsed even before the suspension of habeas corpus. The initiative now passed to the provinces.

Thompson rightly argued that “From 1815 until the Chartist years, the movement always appeared most vigorous… at the base, and especially in such provincial centres as Barnsley and Halifax, Loughborough and Rochdale. (2) This is a fair overall judgement, but Thompson ignores the fact that the most active provincial centres were Birmingham and Manchester, especially Manchester, and these became the centres where the government assault met an effective response, based on the established and unchallengable right to petition the government,

The loophole in the law which allowed petitioning was never repealed and indeed could not be repealed – the right to petition was a fundamental part of the Bill of Rights of 1689 and thus a linch pin of the Glorious Revolution which the High Tories held to be the core of their political philosophy. However the relative toleration had allowed the Hampden club to meet in January 1817 in the Crown & Anchor Tavern was withdrawn. The right to petition parliament or the king remained in being, although calling delegates to a meeting for the purpose though legal was increasingly dangerous with spies informing on activities at meetings with varying degrees of accuracy..

For the reformers after January 28th the coming of repressive legislation was imminent and they needed a method which would remain constitutional. The innovative response would be the MARCH OF THE BLANKEETERS. The details of how it was planned are obscure: the activists are largely with the exception of Samuel Bamford who wrote much later. The official records, in the reports of spies and

-7-

informers and newspaper reports give what evidence we have, with clear indications that a cautious dialogue happened despite the Seditious Meetings Act, across the boundaries of different industrial areas. National links were however almost impossible to sustain.

The reformers corresponded with each other, and had much to talk about in the winter of 1816-17. Thompson believes that “In the winter of 1816-17 the various clubs corresponded freely with each other within the county” ie the two counties of Leicesteshire and Lancashire. Thompson notes that Leicester sent a deputation to Manchester in early January. (3) Whatever the law said, the reformers were in touch with each other, and the spies informing on them left the government in no doubt that this was the case.

However given the legal situation, it is not suprising that there is relatively little evidence on what the reformers were discussing, but the outline is clear. The reformers could give up, as Cobbett did for a while, and the fact they did not do so is crucial and should not be taken for granted. There was no repeat of the collapse of the movement as had happened after the Pitt Acts two decades earlier, and this is a vital fact. But the only option was to petition the monarch, in this case the Prince Regent. How they were to do this was the problem, given that they were two hundred miles from London and there were no trains in existence at this time.

A legal loophole could only be exploited if there were a mechanism to use it, a problem which had to be solved given the pressures which government was now exerting. Sidmouth (Home Sec) introduced the Suspension of Habeas Corpus on Feb 24 1817 alleging “a traitorous conspiracy has been formed in the metropolis for the purpose… of effecting a general plunder and division of property, and that such designs… extended widely in some of the most populous and manufacturing districts”. (4) The problems posed by government repression did not disappear because the local leaderships had to deal with them. On the contrary, the leaders knew they were open to the attention of the magistrates, and had to find a way to deal with the risk of imprisonment.

The Blanketeers are planned

The solution was ingenious, the Blanket march having a well considered plan exploiting the law, by organising a petition which would be presented to the Prince Regent. To get the document to London, a march would be organised which would live off the land and carry blankets to sleep in the open on a journey of some two hundred miles. Each marcher would carry ten petitions. As it appears there was no organisation in London to meet the marchers, how they were to get the petition to the Prince when – and if – they arrived is not clear from the reports which all focus on mobilising a large number of marchers, though the actual logistics of marching across country were never made clear, particularly as the aim was to achieve a snowball effect, picking up support along the way. But the project was attractive and in theory feasible. It did not, however, command support from anything like all the reform leaders in South Lancashire however, and Samuel Bamford was among the leadership figures arguing against the march: though he had no alternative to marching – inaction would allow the government to win.

His objections were however cogent, and were spelt out to Benbow, who visited him on Saturday March 8th. Habeas Corpus had been suspended and Benbow was making himself scarce, but he had been an active supporter of the Blanketeers’ scheme and wanted Bamford to support the sending off of the marchers. Bamford refused. The following day Bamford told his neighbours, that the local authorities would not allow the marchers to leave town, that they could not survive the route march, the

-8-

workers being half starved, and they would not gain support on the road especially in the rotten boroughs they wished to abolish, and that they would be easily joined on the road by agents provocateur – perceptive as up till point that problem had not become widely known. Though these arguments seemed to have influenced his Middleton neighbours, the march survived objections and on March 10th a large number of working class people turned up on St Peter’s Field to send the marchers on their way.

The organisation was impressive and clearly alarmed the local magistrates, and though the numbers are guessimated for the marchers as being a few hundred, thousands turned up to send them off. Bamford, who was not present, estimates 4-5,000. Others in excess of 10,000, a few over 20,000. Robert Poole suggests 25,000 with ‘thousands who had prepared for the March on London’, though with no evidence and no indication of a how a ‘small force of dragoons’ could break up such a large group. (5) The hostile report in a local newspaper,Wheeler’s Chronicle, reported marchers took two routes out of the city, only meeting at Ardwick bridge on the south side, making calculations of numbers of marchers difficult though their estimate indicates hundreds not thousands. (6)

To achieve such numbers indicates the reform movement in Manchester had become formidable – but who where the organisers? Some of the names are familiar but the core triumvirate who organised the march – John Johnston, John Bagguley and Samuel Drummond according to most authorities, plus one Ogden according to Wheeler’s Chronicle – were unknown and are to this day largely unreported. Twenty Five others are named by the Chronicle all of them little known.

We do not really know who invented the scheme. Thompson thinks that Cobbett and Cartwright had something to do with the plan but he does not have a real grasp of grassroots activism. Archibald Prentice though not an eye witness, quotes John Edward Taylor, who was around at the time, as saying it was one Joseph Mitchell who devised the plan. This is plausible, as Mitchell had already gone to London in November 1816 and met cobbett and cartwright, becoming with William Benbow, William Cobbetts local agent. Mitchell was not a prominent supporter of the March, his insurrectionary inclinations becoming caught up in the machinations of Oliver the Spy later in the year (7)

Both Benbow and Mitchell are clearly important local local leaders. William Benbow would address large meetings of the Manchester reform movement, while Mitchell was in contact with Cartwright who advised on the petitioning tactic. More important he had published a document, an Address to the People in which he put forward a somewhat naïve belief in the power of petitioning, arguing somewhat curiously “You have nothing to do but apply …respectfully to the King, and if he should doze a little… you must take care not to forget him, when awake”. A month later Cobbett in his Address to the Journeymen and Labourers argued “any man can draw up a petition and any man can carry it up to London.. to be presented whenever the House shall meet”. (8) In the event, with parliament rejecting the Hampden club petition, it was the royal prerogative that came into focus, the petition to be carried to the Prince Regent. Whoever devised the plan, it was a constitutionally sound project while lacking credibility the nearer the march would get to London.

The events of March 10th and afterward.

However in the event the marchers did not manage to get anywhere near their objective. Bamford was right, the magistrates feared disorder and after reading the riot act ordered troops to capture the platform speakers, and 29 were arrested. When the march started on the 10th, and the troops were too

busy arresting Drummond, Baggulley and others, the marchers moved off down Piccadilly and were

-9-

well away by the time the troops had captured the platform orators. The bulk marched a considerable distance and were stopped by troops at Stockport. 200-300 were arrested in Stockport, amid confusion in which others escaped to reach Leek, Macclesfield and Ashbourne, perhaps only half a dozen according to Bamford, while one made it to London. The petition did not reach the Prince Regent.

It had failed, but its legacy was considerable particularly as launching reform as a mass movement in Manchester. It is this peaceful, constitutional mass movement which is crucial, not revolution, and this is the precedent for the meeting which became Peterloo. The events of March 10th set an order of events which would be profoundly influential in 1819. The mass mobilisation, the reading of the riot act – even if inaudible – the platform of speakers arrested by cavalry, the dispersal of the crowd without violence and the sensible handling of the demonstration were all successful in defeating the march. The officer commanding the Army in the North of England, General Byng, sent a letter congratulating the commander of the Kings Dragoon Guards in the Manchester barracks, Colonel Teesdale for this success, and the report in Wheeler’s Chronicle was in no doubt revolution had been averted. Why this sequence of events when substantially repeated on a larger scale 29 months later resulted in the disaster of Peterloo is not easily explained.

But there was a difference between the Blanketeers and Peterloo. The magistrates after the events they witnessed set up the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, presumably because they feared an upsurge and the military not being able to intervene in time. The link with Peterloo is very obvious. It was the Yeomanry, irregular local middle class people on horseback, who carried out the worst atrocities at Peterloo. The local authorities had been amazed and alarmed by 12,000 people – estimates sometimes indicate a higher figure – coming out to support the blanketeers. We can play with the figures, I am not convinced thousands marched, as Poole appears to be. But thousands turning out to see them off is certainly plausible.

And the magistrates set up the Yeomanry, and their history – perhaps also generated by the events in Ardwick, which I do not have time to discuss here, but certainly generated by the blanketeers – links directly to Peterloo 29 months later which make the point very strongly that it is with the Blanketeers that the constitutional reform movement makes a leap in 1817, and not with the revolutionaries.

In conclusion, it is time to see the history of the Post War Reform movement in its true perspective, and make the Blanketeers the crucial episode. This was the view of the Manchester and Salford magistrates, who, having seen what happened, decided quite rightly that they had seen a shift in the techtonic plates. And if they were not to accept the case for reform, they had better provide themselves with armed force to ensure they could impose their priorities.

Peterloo starts with the Blanketeers. And while Peterloo is largely of interest to historians, the idea of marching to London to put pressure on the government has never gone away,

Trevor Fisher originally delivered 15th March 2017

(1) EPT op cit p739

(2) EPT op cit p691

(3) EPT p677

-10-

(4) EPT p700

  1. Robert Poole, French Revolution or Peasant’s Revolt, Labour History Review Vol 74 #1, April 2009, pp6-7

  1. Wheeler’s Chronicle, 15th March 1817, estimates 300 marchers arrested at Stockport, and “no accident happened to anyone”. IN fact a bystander was shot dead by a trooper. Police and a detachment of the Prince Regent’s yeomanry from Macclesfield were involved, and some 500 are said to have reached the latter town, some reaching Derby

(7) Thompson deals extensively with Mitchell’s troubled history, which gained him considerable suspicion, but Bamford in a chapter which never names him makes it clear that Mitchell was misguided but never a spy – Bamford (1851) Chap XII

(8) Poole op cit 2009. Both Quotes p12

Remembering the Blanketeers Pt 2 -6-

  • a problem and its attempted solution

A Tipping point

By the end of January 1817 the alleged assault on the carriage of the Prince Regent provided the excuse for government action. The events of November 1816 – January 1817 proved a tipping point where the government and the reformers were concerned. The stakes rose for both sides, with the reform agitation taking the place of Luddism as Public Enemy Number One for the government of Lord Liverpool which decided to confront reformers. A nationally run search for conspiracies formed the front line of the counter attack, co-ordinated by Sidmouth, the Home Secretary. Both locally and nationally, the claim that there was a reformist current distinct from the Jacobins was rejected by the authorities. All working class and reform activity was seen as revolutionary.

The government would be following the same script as Pitt the Younger had in the 1790s, suspending of Habeas Corpus and passing Acts of control and repression. The March of the Blanketeers was a response to what happened in the next six weeks. Developments at Westminster provided a challenge to which the national reform leaders failed to respond. The provincial groups were left to take what steps they could, with little overt co-ordination, and considerable legal dangers. The Seditious Societies Act of 1799 had suppressed the corresponding societies of the 1790s, and was still in force in 1817. The reformers were legally not allowed to write to each other.

However this law was not enforced, and Thompson notes Pitt’s laws against national organisation

were not repealed, so the right of local organisation “could only with difficulty be challenged at law” (1). But the law on corresponding was not needed for repression of reform activity. It was the rejection of the petition by parliament which proved decisive. The national leadership effectively collapsed even before the suspension of habeas corpus. The initiative now passed to the provinces.

Thompson rightly argued that “From 1815 until the Chartist years, the movement always appeared most vigorous… at the base, and especially in such provincial centres as Barnsley and Halifax, Loughborough and Rochdale. (2) This is a fair overall judgement, but Thompson ignores the fact that the most active provincial centres were Birmingham and Manchester, especially Manchester, and these became the centres where the government assault met an effective response, based on the established and unchallengable right to petition the government,

The loophole in the law which allowed petitioning was never repealed and indeed could not be repealed – the right to petition was a fundamental part of the Bill of Rights of 1689 and thus a linch pin of the Glorious Revolution which the High Tories held to be the core of their political philosophy. However the relative toleration had allowed the Hampden club to meet in January 1817 in the Crown & Anchor Tavern was withdrawn. The right to petition parliament or the king remained in being, although calling delegates to a meeting for the purpose though legal was increasingly dangerous with spies informing on activities at meetings with varying degrees of accuracy..

For the reformers after January 28th the coming of repressive legislation was imminent and they needed a method which would remain constitutional. The innovative response would be the MARCH OF THE BLANKEETERS. The details of how it was planned are obscure: the activists are largely with the exception of Samuel Bamford who wrote much later. The official records, in the reports of spies and

-7-

informers and newspaper reports give what evidence we have, with clear indications that a cautious dialogue happened despite the Seditious Meetings Act, across the boundaries of different industrial areas. National links were however almost impossible to sustain.

The reformers corresponded with each other, and had much to talk about in the winter of 1816-17. Thompson believes that “In the winter of 1816-17 the various clubs corresponded freely with each other within the county” ie the two counties of Leicesteshire and Lancashire. Thompson notes that Leicester sent a deputation to Manchester in early January. (3) Whatever the law said, the reformers were in touch with each other, and the spies informing on them left the government in no doubt that this was the case.

However given the legal situation, it is not suprising that there is relatively little evidence on what the reformers were discussing, but the outline is clear. The reformers could give up, as Cobbett did for a while, and the fact they did not do so is crucial and should not be taken for granted. There was no repeat of the collapse of the movement as had happened after the Pitt Acts two decades earlier, and this is a vital fact. But the only option was to petition the monarch, in this case the Prince Regent. How they were to do this was the problem, given that they were two hundred miles from London and there were no trains in existence at this time.

A legal loophole could only be exploited if there were a mechanism to use it, a problem which had to be solved given the pressures which government was now exerting. Sidmouth (Home Sec) introduced the Suspension of Habeas Corpus on Feb 24 1817 alleging “a traitorous conspiracy has been formed in the metropolis for the purpose… of effecting a general plunder and division of property, and that such designs… extended widely in some of the most populous and manufacturing districts”. (4) The problems posed by government repression did not disappear because the local leaderships had to deal with them. On the contrary, the leaders knew they were open to the attention of the magistrates, and had to find a way to deal with the risk of imprisonment.

The Blanketeers are planned

The solution was ingenious, the Blanket march having a well considered plan exploiting the law, by organising a petition which would be presented to the Prince Regent. To get the document to London, a march would be organised which would live off the land and carry blankets to sleep in the open on a journey of some two hundred miles. Each marcher would carry ten petitions. As it appears there was no organisation in London to meet the marchers, how they were to get the petition to the Prince when – and if – they arrived is not clear from the reports which all focus on mobilising a large number of marchers, though the actual logistics of marching across country were never made clear, particularly as the aim was to achieve a snowball effect, picking up support along the way. But the project was attractive and in theory feasible. It did not, however, command support from anything like all the reform leaders in South Lancashire however, and Samuel Bamford was among the leadership figures arguing against the march: though he had no alternative to marching – inaction would allow the government to win.

His objections were however cogent, and were spelt out to Benbow, who visited him on Saturday March 8th. Habeas Corpus had been suspended and Benbow was making himself scarce, but he had been an active supporter of the Blanketeers’ scheme and wanted Bamford to support the sending off of the marchers. Bamford refused. The following day Bamford told his neighbours, that the local authorities would not allow the marchers to leave town, that they could not survive the route march, the

-8-

workers being half starved, and they would not gain support on the road especially in the rotten boroughs they wished to abolish, and that they would be easily joined on the road by agents provocateur – perceptive as up till point that problem had not become widely known. Though these arguments seemed to have influenced his Middleton neighbours, the march survived objections and on March 10th a large number of working class people turned up on St Peter’s Field to send the marchers on their way.

The organisation was impressive and clearly alarmed the local magistrates, and though the numbers are guessimated for the marchers as being a few hundred, thousands turned up to send them off. Bamford, who was not present, estimates 4-5,000. Others in excess of 10,000, a few over 20,000. Robert Poole suggests 25,000 with ‘thousands who had prepared for the March on London’, though with no evidence and no indication of a how a ‘small force of dragoons’ could break up such a large group. (5) The hostile report in a local newspaper,Wheeler’s Chronicle, reported marchers took two routes out of the city, only meeting at Ardwick bridge on the south side, making calculations of numbers of marchers difficult though their estimate indicates hundreds not thousands. (6)

To achieve such numbers indicates the reform movement in Manchester had become formidable – but who where the organisers? Some of the names are familiar but the core triumvirate who organised the march – John Johnston, John Bagguley and Samuel Drummond according to most authorities, plus one Ogden according to Wheeler’s Chronicle – were unknown and are to this day largely unreported. Twenty Five others are named by the Chronicle all of them little known.

We do not really know who invented the scheme. Thompson thinks that Cobbett and Cartwright had something to do with the plan but he does not have a real grasp of grassroots activism. Archibald Prentice though not an eye witness, quotes John Edward Taylor, who was around at the time, as saying it was one Joseph Mitchell who devised the plan. This is plausible, as Mitchell had already gone to London in November 1816 and met cobbett and cartwright, becoming with William Benbow, William Cobbetts local agent. Mitchell was not a prominent supporter of the March, his insurrectionary inclinations becoming caught up in the machinations of Oliver the Spy later in the year (7)

Both Benbow and Mitchell are clearly important local local leaders. William Benbow would address large meetings of the Manchester reform movement, while Mitchell was in contact with Cartwright who advised on the petitioning tactic. More important he had published a document, an Address to the People in which he put forward a somewhat naïve belief in the power of petitioning, arguing somewhat curiously “You have nothing to do but apply …respectfully to the King, and if he should doze a little… you must take care not to forget him, when awake”. A month later Cobbett in his Address to the Journeymen and Labourers argued “any man can draw up a petition and any man can carry it up to London.. to be presented whenever the House shall meet”. (8) In the event, with parliament rejecting the Hampden club petition, it was the royal prerogative that came into focus, the petition to be carried to the Prince Regent. Whoever devised the plan, it was a constitutionally sound project while lacking credibility the nearer the march would get to London.

The events of March 10th and afterward.

However in the event the marchers did not manage to get anywhere near their objective. Bamford was right, the magistrates feared disorder and after reading the riot act ordered troops to capture the platform speakers, and 29 were arrested. When the march started on the 10th, and the troops were too

busy arresting Drummond, Baggulley and others, the marchers moved off down Piccadilly and were

-9-

well away by the time the troops had captured the platform orators. The bulk marched a considerable distance and were stopped by troops at Stockport. 200-300 were arrested in Stockport, amid confusion in which others escaped to reach Leek, Macclesfield and Ashbourne, perhaps only half a dozen according to Bamford, while one made it to London. The petition did not reach the Prince Regent.

It had failed, but its legacy was considerable particularly as launching reform as a mass movement in Manchester. It is this peaceful, constitutional mass movement which is crucial, not revolution, and this is the precedent for the meeting which became Peterloo. The events of March 10th set an order of events which would be profoundly influential in 1819. The mass mobilisation, the reading of the riot act – even if inaudible – the platform of speakers arrested by cavalry, the dispersal of the crowd without violence and the sensible handling of the demonstration were all successful in defeating the march. The officer commanding the Army in the North of England, General Byng, sent a letter congratulating the commander of the Kings Dragoon Guards in the Manchester barracks, Colonel Teesdale for this success, and the report in Wheeler’s Chronicle was in no doubt revolution had been averted. Why this sequence of events when substantially repeated on a larger scale 29 months later resulted in the disaster of Peterloo is not easily explained.

But there was a difference between the Blanketeers and Peterloo. The magistrates after the events they witnessed set up the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, presumably because they feared an upsurge and the military not being able to intervene in time. The link with Peterloo is very obvious. It was the Yeomanry, irregular local middle class people on horseback, who carried out the worst atrocities at Peterloo. The local authorities had been amazed and alarmed by 12,000 people – estimates sometimes indicate a higher figure – coming out to support the blanketeers. We can play with the figures, I am not convinced thousands marched, as Poole appears to be. But thousands turning out to see them off is certainly plausible.

And the magistrates set up the Yeomanry, and their history – perhaps also generated by the events in Ardwick, which I do not have time to discuss here, but certainly generated by the blanketeers – links directly to Peterloo 29 months later which make the point very strongly that it is with the Blanketeers that the constitutional reform movement makes a leap in 1817, and not with the revolutionaries.

In conclusion, it is time to see the history of the Post War Reform movement in its true perspective, and make the Blanketeers the crucial episode. This was the view of the Manchester and Salford magistrates, who, having seen what happened, decided quite rightly that they had seen a shift in the techtonic plates. And if they were not to accept the case for reform, they had better provide themselves with armed force to ensure they could impose their priorities.

Peterloo starts with the Blanketeers. And while Peterloo is largely of interest to historians, the idea of marching to London to put pressure on the government has never gone away,

Trevor Fisher originally delivered 15th March 2017

(1) EPT op cit p739

(2) EPT op cit p691

(3) EPT p677

-10-

(4) EPT p700

  1. Robert Poole, French Revolution or Peasant’s Revolt, Labour History Review Vol 74 #1, April 2009, pp6-7

  1. Wheeler’s Chronicle, 15th March 1817, estimates 300 marchers arrested at Stockport, and “no accident happened to anyone”. IN fact a bystander was shot dead by a trooper. Police and a detachment of the Prince Regent’s yeomanry from Macclesfield were involved, and some 500 are said to have reached the latter town, some reaching Derby

(7) Thompson deals extensively with Mitchell’s troubled history, which gained him considerable suspicion, but Bamford in a chapter which never names him makes it clear that Mitchell was misguided but never a spy – Bamford (1851) Chap XII

(8) Poole op cit 2009. Both Quotes p12

Remembering the Blanketeers Pt 2 -6-

  • a problem and its attempted solution

A Tipping point

By the end of January 1817 the alleged assault on the carriage of the Prince Regent provided the excuse for government action. The events of November 1816 – January 1817 proved a tipping point where the government and the reformers were concerned. The stakes rose for both sides, with the reform agitation taking the place of Luddism as Public Enemy Number One for the government of Lord Liverpool which decided to confront reformers. A nationally run search for conspiracies formed the front line of the counter attack, co-ordinated by Sidmouth, the Home Secretary. Both locally and nationally, the claim that there was a reformist current distinct from the Jacobins was rejected by the authorities. All working class and reform activity was seen as revolutionary.

The government would be following the same script as Pitt the Younger had in the 1790s, suspending of Habeas Corpus and passing Acts of control and repression. The March of the Blanketeers was a response to what happened in the next six weeks. Developments at Westminster provided a challenge to which the national reform leaders failed to respond. The provincial groups were left to take what steps they could, with little overt co-ordination, and considerable legal dangers. The Seditious Societies Act of 1799 had suppressed the corresponding societies of the 1790s, and was still in force in 1817. The reformers were legally not allowed to write to each other.

However this law was not enforced, and Thompson notes Pitt’s laws against national organisation

were not repealed, so the right of local organisation “could only with difficulty be challenged at law” (1). But the law on corresponding was not needed for repression of reform activity. It was the rejection of the petition by parliament which proved decisive. The national leadership effectively collapsed even before the suspension of habeas corpus. The initiative now passed to the provinces.

Thompson rightly argued that “From 1815 until the Chartist years, the movement always appeared most vigorous… at the base, and especially in such provincial centres as Barnsley and Halifax, Loughborough and Rochdale. (2) This is a fair overall judgement, but Thompson ignores the fact that the most active provincial centres were Birmingham and Manchester, especially Manchester, and these became the centres where the government assault met an effective response, based on the established and unchallengable right to petition the government,

The loophole in the law which allowed petitioning was never repealed and indeed could not be repealed – the right to petition was a fundamental part of the Bill of Rights of 1689 and thus a linch pin of the Glorious Revolution which the High Tories held to be the core of their political philosophy. However the relative toleration had allowed the Hampden club to meet in January 1817 in the Crown & Anchor Tavern was withdrawn. The right to petition parliament or the king remained in being, although calling delegates to a meeting for the purpose though legal was increasingly dangerous with spies informing on activities at meetings with varying degrees of accuracy..

For the reformers after January 28th the coming of repressive legislation was imminent and they needed a method which would remain constitutional. The innovative response would be the MARCH OF THE BLANKEETERS. The details of how it was planned are obscure: the activists are largely with the exception of Samuel Bamford who wrote much later. The official records, in the reports of spies and

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informers and newspaper reports give what evidence we have, with clear indications that a cautious dialogue happened despite the Seditious Meetings Act, across the boundaries of different industrial areas. National links were however almost impossible to sustain.

The reformers corresponded with each other, and had much to talk about in the winter of 1816-17. Thompson believes that “In the winter of 1816-17 the various clubs corresponded freely with each other within the county” ie the two counties of Leicesteshire and Lancashire. Thompson notes that Leicester sent a deputation to Manchester in early January. (3) Whatever the law said, the reformers were in touch with each other, and the spies informing on them left the government in no doubt that this was the case.

However given the legal situation, it is not suprising that there is relatively little evidence on what the reformers were discussing, but the outline is clear. The reformers could give up, as Cobbett did for a while, and the fact they did not do so is crucial and should not be taken for granted. There was no repeat of the collapse of the movement as had happened after the Pitt Acts two decades earlier, and this is a vital fact. But the only option was to petition the monarch, in this case the Prince Regent. How they were to do this was the problem, given that they were two hundred miles from London and there were no trains in existence at this time.

A legal loophole could only be exploited if there were a mechanism to use it, a problem which had to be solved given the pressures which government was now exerting. Sidmouth (Home Sec) introduced the Suspension of Habeas Corpus on Feb 24 1817 alleging “a traitorous conspiracy has been formed in the metropolis for the purpose… of effecting a general plunder and division of property, and that such designs… extended widely in some of the most populous and manufacturing districts”. (4) The problems posed by government repression did not disappear because the local leaderships had to deal with them. On the contrary, the leaders knew they were open to the attention of the magistrates, and had to find a way to deal with the risk of imprisonment.

The Blanketeers are planned

The solution was ingenious, the Blanket march having a well considered plan exploiting the law, by organising a petition which would be presented to the Prince Regent. To get the document to London, a march would be organised which would live off the land and carry blankets to sleep in the open on a journey of some two hundred miles. Each marcher would carry ten petitions. As it appears there was no organisation in London to meet the marchers, how they were to get the petition to the Prince when – and if – they arrived is not clear from the reports which all focus on mobilising a large number of marchers, though the actual logistics of marching across country were never made clear, particularly as the aim was to achieve a snowball effect, picking up support along the way. But the project was attractive and in theory feasible. It did not, however, command support from anything like all the reform leaders in South Lancashire however, and Samuel Bamford was among the leadership figures arguing against the march: though he had no alternative to marching – inaction would allow the government to win.

His objections were however cogent, and were spelt out to Benbow, who visited him on Saturday March 8th. Habeas Corpus had been suspended and Benbow was making himself scarce, but he had been an active supporter of the Blanketeers’ scheme and wanted Bamford to support the sending off of the marchers. Bamford refused. The following day Bamford told his neighbours, that the local authorities would not allow the marchers to leave town, that they could not survive the route march, the

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workers being half starved, and they would not gain support on the road especially in the rotten boroughs they wished to abolish, and that they would be easily joined on the road by agents provocateur – perceptive as up till point that problem had not become widely known. Though these arguments seemed to have influenced his Middleton neighbours, the march survived objections and on March 10th a large number of working class people turned up on St Peter’s Field to send the marchers on their way.

The organisation was impressive and clearly alarmed the local magistrates, and though the numbers are guessimated for the marchers as being a few hundred, thousands turned up to send them off. Bamford, who was not present, estimates 4-5,000. Others in excess of 10,000, a few over 20,000. Robert Poole suggests 25,000 with ‘thousands who had prepared for the March on London’, though with no evidence and no indication of a how a ‘small force of dragoons’ could break up such a large group. (5) The hostile report in a local newspaper,Wheeler’s Chronicle, reported marchers took two routes out of the city, only meeting at Ardwick bridge on the south side, making calculations of numbers of marchers difficult though their estimate indicates hundreds not thousands. (6)

To achieve such numbers indicates the reform movement in Manchester had become formidable – but who where the organisers? Some of the names are familiar but the core triumvirate who organised the march – John Johnston, John Bagguley and Samuel Drummond according to most authorities, plus one Ogden according to Wheeler’s Chronicle – were unknown and are to this day largely unreported. Twenty Five others are named by the Chronicle all of them little known.

We do not really know who invented the scheme. Thompson thinks that Cobbett and Cartwright had something to do with the plan but he does not have a real grasp of grassroots activism. Archibald Prentice though not an eye witness, quotes John Edward Taylor, who was around at the time, as saying it was one Joseph Mitchell who devised the plan. This is plausible, as Mitchell had already gone to London in November 1816 and met cobbett and cartwright, becoming with William Benbow, William Cobbetts local agent. Mitchell was not a prominent supporter of the March, his insurrectionary inclinations becoming caught up in the machinations of Oliver the Spy later in the year (7)

Both Benbow and Mitchell are clearly important local local leaders. William Benbow would address large meetings of the Manchester reform movement, while Mitchell was in contact with Cartwright who advised on the petitioning tactic. More important he had published a document, an Address to the People in which he put forward a somewhat naïve belief in the power of petitioning, arguing somewhat curiously “You have nothing to do but apply …respectfully to the King, and if he should doze a little… you must take care not to forget him, when awake”. A month later Cobbett in his Address to the Journeymen and Labourers argued “any man can draw up a petition and any man can carry it up to London.. to be presented whenever the House shall meet”. (8) In the event, with parliament rejecting the Hampden club petition, it was the royal prerogative that came into focus, the petition to be carried to the Prince Regent. Whoever devised the plan, it was a constitutionally sound project while lacking credibility the nearer the march would get to London.

The events of March 10th and afterward.

However in the event the marchers did not manage to get anywhere near their objective. Bamford was right, the magistrates feared disorder and after reading the riot act ordered troops to capture the platform speakers, and 29 were arrested. When the march started on the 10th, and the troops were too

busy arresting Drummond, Baggulley and others, the marchers moved off down Piccadilly and were

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well away by the time the troops had captured the platform orators. The bulk marched a considerable distance and were stopped by troops at Stockport. 200-300 were arrested in Stockport, amid confusion in which others escaped to reach Leek, Macclesfield and Ashbourne, perhaps only half a dozen according to Bamford, while one made it to London. The petition did not reach the Prince Regent.

It had failed, but its legacy was considerable particularly as launching reform as a mass movement in Manchester. It is this peaceful, constitutional mass movement which is crucial, not revolution, and this is the precedent for the meeting which became Peterloo. The events of March 10th set an order of events which would be profoundly influential in 1819. The mass mobilisation, the reading of the riot act – even if inaudible – the platform of speakers arrested by cavalry, the dispersal of the crowd without violence and the sensible handling of the demonstration were all successful in defeating the march. The officer commanding the Army in the North of England, General Byng, sent a letter congratulating the commander of the Kings Dragoon Guards in the Manchester barracks, Colonel Teesdale for this success, and the report in Wheeler’s Chronicle was in no doubt revolution had been averted. Why this sequence of events when substantially repeated on a larger scale 29 months later resulted in the disaster of Peterloo is not easily explained.

But there was a difference between the Blanketeers and Peterloo. The magistrates after the events they witnessed set up the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, presumably because they feared an upsurge and the military not being able to intervene in time. The link with Peterloo is very obvious. It was the Yeomanry, irregular local middle class people on horseback, who carried out the worst atrocities at Peterloo. The local authorities had been amazed and alarmed by 12,000 people – estimates sometimes indicate a higher figure – coming out to support the blanketeers. We can play with the figures, I am not convinced thousands marched, as Poole appears to be. But thousands turning out to see them off is certainly plausible.

And the magistrates set up the Yeomanry, and their history – perhaps also generated by the events in Ardwick, which I do not have time to discuss here, but certainly generated by the blanketeers – links directly to Peterloo 29 months later which make the point very strongly that it is with the Blanketeers that the constitutional reform movement makes a leap in 1817, and not with the revolutionaries.

In conclusion, it is time to see the history of the Post War Reform movement in its true perspective, and make the Blanketeers the crucial episode. This was the view of the Manchester and Salford magistrates, who, having seen what happened, decided quite rightly that they had seen a shift in the techtonic plates. And if they were not to accept the case for reform, they had better provide themselves with armed force to ensure they could impose their priorities.

Peterloo starts with the Blanketeers. And while Peterloo is largely of interest to historians, the idea of marching to London to put pressure on the government has never gone away,

Trevor Fisher originally delivered 15th March 2017

(1) EPT op cit p739

(2) EPT op cit p691

(3) EPT p677

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(4) EPT p700

  1. Robert Poole, French Revolution or Peasant’s Revolt, Labour History Review Vol 74 #1, April 2009, pp6-7

  1. Wheeler’s Chronicle, 15th March 1817, estimates 300 marchers arrested at Stockport, and “no accident happened to anyone”. IN fact a bystander was shot dead by a trooper. Police and a detachment of the Prince Regent’s yeomanry from Macclesfield were involved, and some 500 are said to have reached the latter town, some reaching Derby

(7) Thompson deals extensively with Mitchell’s troubled history, which gained him considerable suspicion, but Bamford in a chapter which never names him makes it clear that Mitchell was misguided but never a spy – Bamford (1851) Chap XII

(8) Poole op cit 2009. Both Quotes p12

Peterloo – searching for the reasons why

Peterloo- Searching for the Reasons Why – Vers 2

The Peterloo Massacre on August 16th 1819 stands out in nineteenth century history as the most notorious example of political violence on mainland Britain. Indeed, it is a unique episode in this period of the British state using lethal force on an unarmed and non-violent demonstration. The sheer volume of eye witness evidence proves beyond doubt that this was a massacre, but the reasons why it happened remain obscure and the action of the authorities still attracts supporters – and at the time the High Tory government of Lord Liverpool was fully behind the local politicians, the organisers of the demonstration being prosecuted while no action was taken against the magistrates who issued the orders for military action. The government’s unquestioning support of the actions of both the magistrates and the military, after the event, raises the issue of whether the massacre had been preplanned, at local or government level or both.

 

Whether it had been intended is one of the questions which remain to be answered. As E P Thompson said in his 1963 classic The Making of the English Working Class, (1) “If the Government was unprepared for the news of Peterloo, no authorities have ever acted so vigorously to make themselves accomplices after the fact”. The government reaction casts suspicion over the authorities reaction to the massacre, raising questions over half a century after Thompson published his book. However it is clear that rather than being planned in Westminster, at the heart of the debate is the issue of what the magistrates did on the day – they undoubtedly issued the fatal order to send troops into the crowd.

 

Thompson is aware of the local political context, but argued that “We can no more understand the significance of Peterloo in terms of the local politics of Manchester that we can understand the strategic importance of Waterloo in terms of the field and the orders of the day”. But while the deployment of troops had a wider significance than a localised dispute, and had to be approved by government, the presence of troops in St Peter’s Field did not mean their use was pre-planned. Thompson himself notes that in other demonstrations troops had been called out but kept away from the crowd. (2) It was common practice for magistrates to have troops available for use – they had no police force. The question is why they were used in 1819.

 

The evidence at the time on the decision to order troops into the crowd was ambiguous and contested. One argument in defence of the authorities was that the use of troops was justified by the threat of disorder, which the authorities believed was preplanned by the organisers. But if the authorities knew of planned disorder, they had the power to ban the assembly taking place. The right of assembly was not unqualified, and even if there was only an assumption that mobilising a large crowd was intended, implicitly, to lead to violence the meeting could be stopped. This had happened after demonstrations in Spa Fields, London, in December 1816. Following the Spa Fields riots, demonstrations in February and March 1817 were indeed banned (3). Though this followed real and serious violence in London, the authorities could have no doubt they had the power to ban the assembly of large numbers of people if they suspected disorder would break out.

 

Indeed, a first attempt to organise a demonstration and elect an unofficial representative – as had already happened in Birmingham on 2nd July 1819 – was ruled illegal by the Manchester magistrates and this meeting was called off, showing that the authorities had the ability to prevent a demonstration happening. Any risk of violence would have allowed the meeting to be banned, but the lack of advance action to stop the meeting suggests the authorities did not have any such evidence. It was certainly not an argument that was pressed strongly. The main defence arguement for military action, was that on the day there was a threat of violence and this justified the use of military force. The authorities of course did not have a police force, and only a military presence could deal with a large assembly of people and enforce the reading of the Riot Act.

 

The organisers and other defenders of the meeting after the event argued disorder was neither intended nor took place on the day, and that the violence was entirely caused by the orders of the magistrates to send the troops into the crowd to arrest the speakers. How the magistrates made that fatal decision are at the heart of the continuing debate on what took place.

The questions posed by that decision, which undoubtedly led to the massacre, centre on several separate but related issues: firstly- did the magistrates intend to suppress the meeting by violence, unjustified by any threat to public order, given that the balance of evidence of eyewitnesses was that disorder had not happened by the time the order to send in the troops was made? Secondly, were they acting independently of the government, or did Liverpool’s ministry, notably the Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth, know and approve of what happened in advance. In other words, did Westminster politicians plan with the magistrates to take exemplary action to suppress the growth of the movement for parliamentary (and other) reforms? Thirdly, even if there was no preplanned move to suppress the demonstration by force, did the authorities miscalculate and over-react, accidental misjudgements which nevertheless would be sufficient to place the blame for what happened at their door?

 

Peterloo was, however, not merely an accident like the Hillsborough disaster when football fans died as a result of police miscalculations which led to overcrowding in a stadium. Peterloo cannot be discussed as an issue of crowd control. The meeting was political, and there was massive ideological polarisation at the time and afterward. Thompson is right that the political context is unavoidable, but at the heart of the controversy is what actually happened on the day.

Historians have largely abandoned the nineteenth century positivist belief that interpretation flows from factual evidence: the selection of facts and their interpretation are always contentious. Nevertheless, when the sheer bulk of factual evidence on the events of August 16th is as voluminous as it is, there is a temptation to believe the facts speak for themselves. With Peterloo, the debate is still live because on many key issues, it is still not clear what happened and any attempt to assume the facts are fully known is misleading. The temptation to assume otherwise must be resisted and the facts scrutinised.

 

In a relatively recent essay, however, Robert Poole argued that the facts were largely established and interpretation of motives should now be the historical focus. His 2012 essay What don’t we know about Peterloo, (4) put forward a sophisticated argument that historians should accept that we know what happened and put effort into explaining why, focussing on the actions of the magistrates. It is an important viewpoint and this paper will examine it from the standpoint that it cannot be assumed that the facts are not unproblematic. The crucial section of Poole’s essay (5), setting out his perspective is broken down below, with each stage in the argument examined in the subsequent section. The key argument is in section B below

 

A – The Magistrates’ case

 

The authorities* were genuinely fearful about the drilling practicised in advance on local moors,

but the collection of dozens of expressions of preconcieved alarm… was part of the authorities preparation for the use of force against a meeting which they had already decided was a stage in a planned rising. … The core of the magistrate’s case was not that they had responded to actual violence but that they had acted to pre-empt expected violence. … justified not by what happened on the field but by the claim that the meeting itself was unlawful. … this enabled the organisers to be indicted for intending to provoke a riot, … by their insistence on delivering inflammatory speeches to an excitable mass of non-electors”.

 

B. The issues for debate.

 

There is then no need for argument about the broad outlines… whether… the magistrates were responsible for it, whether the government was implicated, whether there was a massacre or a battle and so on…. the evidence of the three hundred eye witnesses and the six hundred or more casualties tells heavily against the authorities, at least so far as the events of the day are concerned. So: what don’t we know about Peterloo?” (Emphasis in the original TF)

 

C. The state of mind of the decision makers.

 

… We have to admit that it remains hard to explain why the magistrates were apparently so set upon confrontation, and why they failed to respond to the Home Office’s late change of stance against forceful intervention. It was a high risk strategy in some ways out of character for a somewhat jittery and alarmist group of men”.

 

D . The Lessons of the march of the Blanketeers

 

In 1817 they had relied upon police work, informers and the experienced regular troops stationed in the north to frustrate the march of the Blanketeers on London and to entrap the most militant radicals in a plan for an armed rising”.

 

(Refers to his own paper of 2009 for supporting evidence. The Armed Rising was the Ardwick conspiracy, if this existed).

 

E. The secret networks of the Manchester elite

 

Some of the magistrates had a background in the suppression of the 1798 Irish rebellion, … as Katrina Navickas (6) has shown, so tended to think in military rather than political terms. As well as dominating Manchester’s ramshackle institutions of local government they associated in a secretive network of orange and masonic lodges, and some had a high-Tory and even Jacobite political background that encouraged them to see themselves as an inner governing elite responsible to no-one. “ (Emphasis TF)

 

F. The Beliefs and Justifications of the Manchester elite.

 

William Hay and his colleagues* seem to have been genuinely convinced that the outwardly peaceful character of the Peterloo rally was merely a cloak for a deep-laid rebellion in the near future and that as in 1817 serious political disorder had been averted by prompt and forceful action”.

 

G. The continuing puzzle.

 

Even so, so send in amateur local troops against the largest mass gathering Manchester had ever seen, and before any of the expected trouble had materialised, was quite a thing and we still need a full explanation of it”.

Reponses to the issues raised.

 

A. The collection of expressions of alarm would be useful to support a decision to ban the demonstration, as public fear of potential disorder could justify a banning order. However to carry weight the decision should have been pre-emptive, not taken on the day. The argument that the action was to pre-empt violence by stopping the speakers could only be sustained by evidence of potential public order offences. There never has been strong evidence that actual disorder was planned which could have supported a decision to prevent the demonstration, something the magistrates did not attempt to do. They chose to wait for disorder on the day, and whether this did take place, or was about to take place, is a factual question. If it did, the law allowed the magistrates to prevent it.

 

It was the responsibility of the magistrates, not the military or the government, to take action on the day. The actual decision was in fact to arrest the speakers, not to clear the square. The massacre happened because the troops could not get to the speakers without cutting down unarmed people. The belief that the meeting was de facto revolutionary even if peaceful was with little doubt a strong factor in the minds of the magistrates, and some took the view that any demonstration of this size was de facto a revolutionary threat even if there was no sign of disorder. This was never going to be a strong argument to justify the violence which took place, and the main argument in defence of the order to the troops was that the crowd behaved violently, and this is an issue for factual examination.

 

The Home Office ruled the meeting was lawful and so the meeting itself could not be seen as illegal: but though it was legal to meet, the extent and purposes of the meeting qualified this. The magistrates could in law act to stop disorder, but if the magistrates had cause for suspicion of potential violence it was wise policy to ban the demonstration, and arrest the organisers beforehand – not in the middle of a mass demonstration.

 

If Poole is arguing the authorities had evidence for preparations for disorder, this is a factual question which has to be examined as such. What evidence is there that this is the case?

Such preparations would be unlawful, and if the magistrates did proceed with the meeting anticipating disorder there are serious questions on whether they were intent on exemplary punishment by allowing it to go ahead – if they had solid grounds to expect violence.

 

B, While Poole is justified in arguing the magistrates are central to Peterloo, and Donald Read also believed the magistrates bore the prime responsibility, it is highly questionable to dismiss the role of the government, especially Sidmouth. Poole is assuming too much to dismiss the argument on the ‘broad outlines’.Whether there was a massacre or a battle is very relevant. It is still contended that the crowd had come mob handed prepared to riot, and it was argued that the violence was started by the crowd thus classing the outcome as a ‘battle’. The question is whether the violence was started by the crowd, justifying the action of the magistrates.

 

The defenders of the troops were to claim they had been attacked first, and then responded. This was hard to justify given the order to advance was not to quell actual rioting, and even harder to see how a crowd that contained women and children was intent on violence, but this is one of the issues that has to be addressed, as extremists in a crowd can ignore the effect on other people, and the facts are in dispute.

 

C. The role of government especially Sidmouth and the military under General Byng needs close attention, What change of stance by Home Office is Poole referring to? Was Peterloo out of character as Poole suggests? There is evidence that the political decision makers, locally and nationally were men who were not unwilling to use armed force. (The authorities in this section Poole refers to are clearly the local magistrates of Manchester-Salford, acting on the day).

 

The historical debate has tended to suggest that the outcome was less politically willed at government level than produced by local decisions. But these may reflect wider national policy directions. The role of government, especially Sidmouth, is ambiguous. The Home Office never questioned the deployment of troops and left final decision to the magistrates. This was logical as in a pre electronic age there was no ability to be in touch with events on the day. The key questions revolve around what the magistrates decided. But they did so in a highly charged and very political context, expecting at the very least to be exonerated by the government. Whether this had been planned before hand is a relevant question.

D. The Blanketeers had indeed been dispersed. But while the lessons seemed to be that the authorities were able to handle a mass demonstration, the Blanketeers as such were a small group – 5000 is one estimate, but unlikely to have been more than a few hundred (7) . And they were dealt with by regular troops with minimal bloodshed – one bystander killed. It appears that the magistrates concluded that the Blanketeers had posed a serious threat and they needed more forces at their disposal – one magistrates estimated that 12 000 people attended to send the marchers on their way (8), and this shook the confidence of the authorities in their ability to control such large numbers. As one of the lessons drawn by the magistrates in 1817 was the need for extra cavalry, and hence the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry were set up, a volunteer force which was to be deployed at Peterloo, and indeed only existed for just such a purpose.

There is more to the Blanketeers and the Ardwick conspiracy than Poole gives credit for. (Was the alleged Ardwick conspiracy a ‘plan for an armed uprising’?) and the actions of the organisers seems to have convinced the magistrates, that the opposition was now formidable. The military seems to have been more confident, if General Byng’s absence on the day is anything to go by. There is an issue of why the methods of 1817 did not work in 1819, although the sheer size of the crowd in 1819 – estimated at 60,000 – may have panicked the magistrates.

E. It is highly relevant that Manchester was an unreformed city whose mushroom growth had let it without proper governance and policing. In this context the limited personell of the elite and their secretive networks are very relevant. They were also a beleagured minority- the immigration of large numbers of dissenters and catholic Irish had left the Tories as a minority group which had everything to lose by reform of national and civic government. The state of mind and assumptions of the power elite in Manchester need careful examination.

F. What the magistrates believed in and after the Blanketeers and the events of 1817 (Ardwick, the Pentridge rising) has to be established, though there is no doubt that they did believe they faced a revolutionary challenged, if perhaps not actual immediate insurrection. It is very much to the point that the Tory ministry also believed they were facing organised revolution. The Green Bag Commitee of early 1817 had said as much, and through the next turbulent five years this was the assumption of the ministry, only abandoned when Liverpool resigned and a new breed of Conservative but reformist Tory politician came to power dedicated to conservation via reform. However in the post war years 1815 – 1822 fear of revolution was endemic in British elite politics.

G. This is not only a fair point, but the heart of the continuing conundrum. What made the magistrates – or magistrate – believe it was a good move to send troops into a tightly packed and orderly crowd? The magistrates made this decision, in the knowledge the military would carry out the order. However the role of regular troops and their commanders has to be factored into the equation to get a full picture. The absence of Byng is significant, as he clearly did not think there was a major threat of disorder or he would not have occupied himself at a horse race.

 

Poole’s general point is however sound. To order troops to arrest the platform when a mass of men, women and children, unprepared for violence, stood in the way was unbelievable folly. The chances of cavalry forcing their way through without serious consequences were astronomically remote. Either the magistrates panicked, and fearful men do panic, or they were oblivious to the dangers or – worse – were deliberately taking the opportunity to punish the crowd and make an example which would cow the workers. Why the magistrates chose to do this, from whatever viewpoint the massacre is viewed from, has never been satisfactorily explained. It is a remarkable fact given the volume of evidence and substantial body of research, that mysteries remain.

 

The mysteries do not just involve the Establishment. Precisely what the reformers were aiming at also remains obscure. Poole rightly argues “We do not really know what the radicals thought they were doing at Peterloo. They could not possibly have anticipated the actual outcome… the established consensus was to turning up mob-handed was not legitimate politics. How were boots on the ground expected to translate into political change?” (9) Poole notes that compared to the March of the Blanketeers some 27 months earlier, the meeting had no real visible strategy.

However the major questions involve the government and the local magistrates – given that the reformers had no conscious revolutionary intention and were not expecting disorder. And while there are many questions about the government’s behaviour, the biggest questions revolve around the actions of the magistrates and their decisions, and the facts remain in dispute. Whether they had evidence violence was planned, or simply believed that this would develop inexorably as the day progressed, what the magistrates did was irresponsible at best. To bring the meeting to a conclusion, reading the riot act and dispersing the crowd was the logical way forward – but even whether the reading of the riot act took place is in dispute* and needs scrutiny. However whatever course the magistrates followed, they had placed themselves in a position where fatalities were almost inevitable. Seeking to arrest the speakers when the military were on the edge of the crowd some distance from the hustings and with a tight packed crowd blocking their way was asking for serious trouble. Whether planned or simply neligent and out of their depth, the magistrates trigged the disaster. But whether they did so with malice aforethought is the issue which has yet to be fully explained.

Trevor Fisher 03 02 17

* there is an unresolved issue over whether the Riot Act was actually read out. While of little practical use as without loudspeakers it could hardly be heard in a crowd of c60 000 the technical issue is in dispute. It generally held, buy Navickas (below) and others that it was read by Rev Charles Wickstead Ethelston, the magistrate vicar, but whether he did so is in dispute.

(1) E P Thompson The Making of the English Working Class, Gollancz, 1963. Penguin Classics 2013, p750

(2) Notably (op cit p745) at what he thinks is the first open air reform meeting, in Burslem in January 1817, when “troops were held at a short distance, out of sight”. The magistrates had called for their presence, but they were not used.

(3) See Op Cit pp 694-696. Footnote p696 indicates the Two Acts and suspension of Habeas Corpus were in force, but the law already allowed magistrates to ban assemblies likely to cause violence. The Habeas Corpus suspension Act passed on March 4th 1817, re-enacted in July and did not expire till January 1818. Curiously despite the discussion, Spa Fields is not in Thompson’s index.

(4) Robert Poole What don’t we know about Peterloo? IN Poole R, Ed. Return to Peterloo- Manchester Region History Review, Vol 23 2012, Reprinted 2014 p1-18.

 

(5) Poole Op cit pp14-15

 

(6) Katrina Navickas Lancashire Britishness…. IN Poole R Ed 2012-14 p40- and extensively in Loyalism and Radicalism In Lancashire 1798- 1815 Oxford 2009

(7) Poole suggested there were ‘thousands who had prepared for the march on London” (French Revolution or Peasant’s Revolt, Labour History Review, Vol 74, No 1, April 2009, p7). Marjie Bloy (http://www.victorianweb.org/history/riots/blanket.html, downloaded 28 11 16) believes “between six hundred and seven hundred men set out in the drizzling rain…” The second estimate is more realistic.

(8) Poole op cit 2009 estimates 25,000.

Poole op cit 2012=14 pp16-17

* SEE Appendix PERSONALITIES – Blanketeers – Personalities – establishment TF)

see also

Donald Read, Peterloo, The ‘Massacre’ and its background, MUP 1958, reprinted with additional note 1973, pix (not given, but after original pviii) – the Ziegler book is Addington, Collins 1965).

 

 

Peterloo- Searching for the Reasons Why – Vers 2

The Peterloo Massacre on August 16th 1819 stands out in nineteenth century history as the most notorious example of political violence on mainland Britain. Indeed, it is a unique episode in this period of the British state using lethal force on an unarmed and non-violent demonstration. The sheer volume of eye witness evidence proves beyond doubt that this was a massacre, but the reasons why it happened remain obscure and the action of the authorities still attracts supporters – and at the time the High Tory government of Lord Liverpool was fully behind the local politicians, the organisers of the demonstration being prosecuted while no action was taken against the magistrates who issued the orders for military action. The government’s unquestioning support of the actions of both the magistrates and the military, after the event, raises the issue of whether the massacre had been preplanned, at local or government level or both.

 

Whether it had been intended is one of the questions which remain to be answered. As E P Thompson said in his 1963 classic The Making of the English Working Class, (1) “If the Government was unprepared for the news of Peterloo, no authorities have ever acted so vigorously to make themselves accomplices after the fact”. The government reaction casts suspicion over the authorities reaction to the massacre, raising questions over half a century after Thompson published his book. However it is clear that rather than being planned in Westminster, at the heart of the debate is the issue of what the magistrates did on the day – they undoubtedly issued the fatal order to send troops into the crowd.

 

Thompson is aware of the local political context, but argued that “We can no more understand the significance of Peterloo in terms of the local politics of Manchester that we can understand the strategic importance of Waterloo in terms of the field and the orders of the day”. But while the deployment of troops had a wider significance than a localised dispute, and had to be approved by government, the presence of troops in St Peter’s Field did not mean their use was pre-planned. Thompson himself notes that in other demonstrations troops had been called out but kept away from the crowd. (2) It was common practice for magistrates to have troops available for use – they had no police force. The question is why they were used in 1819.

 

The evidence at the time on the decision to order troops into the crowd was ambiguous and contested. One argument in defence of the authorities was that the use of troops was justified by the threat of disorder, which the authorities believed was preplanned by the organisers. But if the authorities knew of planned disorder, they had the power to ban the assembly taking place. The right of assembly was not unqualified, and even if there was only an assumption that mobilising a large crowd was intended, implicitly, to lead to violence the meeting could be stopped. This had happened after demonstrations in Spa Fields, London, in December 1816. Following the Spa Fields riots, demonstrations in February and March 1817 were indeed banned (3). Though this followed real and serious violence in London, the authorities could have no doubt they had the power to ban the assembly of large numbers of people if they suspected disorder would break out.

 

Indeed, a first attempt to organise a demonstration and elect an unofficial representative – as had already happened in Birmingham on 2nd July 1819 – was ruled illegal by the Manchester magistrates and this meeting was called off, showing that the authorities had the ability to prevent a demonstration happening. Any risk of violence would have allowed the meeting to be banned, but the lack of advance action to stop the meeting suggests the authorities did not have any such evidence. It was certainly not an argument that was pressed strongly. The main defence arguement for military action, was that on the day there was a threat of violence and this justified the use of military force. The authorities of course did not have a police force, and only a military presence could deal with a large assembly of people and enforce the reading of the Riot Act.

 

The organisers and other defenders of the meeting after the event argued disorder was neither intended nor took place on the day, and that the violence was entirely caused by the orders of the magistrates to send the troops into the crowd to arrest the speakers. How the magistrates made that fatal decision are at the heart of the continuing debate on what took place.

The questions posed by that decision, which undoubtedly led to the massacre, centre on several separate but related issues: firstly- did the magistrates intend to suppress the meeting by violence, unjustified by any threat to public order, given that the balance of evidence of eyewitnesses was that disorder had not happened by the time the order to send in the troops was made? Secondly, were they acting independently of the government, or did Liverpool’s ministry, notably the Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth, know and approve of what happened in advance. In other words, did Westminster politicians plan with the magistrates to take exemplary action to suppress the growth of the movement for parliamentary (and other) reforms? Thirdly, even if there was no preplanned move to suppress the demonstration by force, did the authorities miscalculate and over-react, accidental misjudgements which nevertheless would be sufficient to place the blame for what happened at their door?

 

Peterloo was, however, not merely an accident like the Hillsborough disaster when football fans died as a result of police miscalculations which led to overcrowding in a stadium. Peterloo cannot be discussed as an issue of crowd control. The meeting was political, and there was massive ideological polarisation at the time and afterward. Thompson is right that the political context is unavoidable, but at the heart of the controversy is what actually happened on the day.

Historians have largely abandoned the nineteenth century positivist belief that interpretation flows from factual evidence: the selection of facts and their interpretation are always contentious. Nevertheless, when the sheer bulk of factual evidence on the events of August 16th is as voluminous as it is, there is a temptation to believe the facts speak for themselves. With Peterloo, the debate is still live because on many key issues, it is still not clear what happened and any attempt to assume the facts are fully known is misleading. The temptation to assume otherwise must be resisted and the facts scrutinised.

 

In a relatively recent essay, however, Robert Poole argued that the facts were largely established and interpretation of motives should now be the historical focus. His 2012 essay What don’t we know about Peterloo, (4) put forward a sophisticated argument that historians should accept that we know what happened and put effort into explaining why, focussing on the actions of the magistrates. It is an important viewpoint and this paper will examine it from the standpoint that it cannot be assumed that the facts are not unproblematic. The crucial section of Poole’s essay (5), setting out his perspective is broken down below, with each stage in the argument examined in the subsequent section. The key argument is in section B below

 

A – The Magistrates’ case

 

The authorities* were genuinely fearful about the drilling practicised in advance on local moors,

but the collection of dozens of expressions of preconcieved alarm… was part of the authorities preparation for the use of force against a meeting which they had already decided was a stage in a planned rising. … The core of the magistrate’s case was not that they had responded to actual violence but that they had acted to pre-empt expected violence. … justified not by what happened on the field but by the claim that the meeting itself was unlawful. … this enabled the organisers to be indicted for intending to provoke a riot, … by their insistence on delivering inflammatory speeches to an excitable mass of non-electors”.

 

B. The issues for debate.

 

There is then no need for argument about the broad outlines… whether… the magistrates were responsible for it, whether the government was implicated, whether there was a massacre or a battle and so on…. the evidence of the three hundred eye witnesses and the six hundred or more casualties tells heavily against the authorities, at least so far as the events of the day are concerned. So: what don’t we know about Peterloo?” (Emphasis in the original TF)

 

C. The state of mind of the decision makers.

 

… We have to admit that it remains hard to explain why the magistrates were apparently so set upon confrontation, and why they failed to respond to the Home Office’s late change of stance against forceful intervention. It was a high risk strategy in some ways out of character for a somewhat jittery and alarmist group of men”.

 

D . The Lessons of the march of the Blanketeers

 

In 1817 they had relied upon police work, informers and the experienced regular troops stationed in the north to frustrate the march of the Blanketeers on London and to entrap the most militant radicals in a plan for an armed rising”.

 

(Refers to his own paper of 2009 for supporting evidence. The Armed Rising was the Ardwick conspiracy, if this existed).

 

E. The secret networks of the Manchester elite

 

Some of the magistrates had a background in the suppression of the 1798 Irish rebellion, … as Katrina Navickas (6) has shown, so tended to think in military rather than political terms. As well as dominating Manchester’s ramshackle institutions of local government they associated in a secretive network of orange and masonic lodges, and some had a high-Tory and even Jacobite political background that encouraged them to see themselves as an inner governing elite responsible to no-one. “ (Emphasis TF)

 

F. The Beliefs and Justifications of the Manchester elite.

 

William Hay and his colleagues* seem to have been genuinely convinced that the outwardly peaceful character of the Peterloo rally was merely a cloak for a deep-laid rebellion in the near future and that as in 1817 serious political disorder had been averted by prompt and forceful action”.

 

G. The continuing puzzle.

 

Even so, so send in amateur local troops against the largest mass gathering Manchester had ever seen, and before any of the expected trouble had materialised, was quite a thing and we still need a full explanation of it”.

Reponses to the issues raised.

 

A. The collection of expressions of alarm would be useful to support a decision to ban the demonstration, as public fear of potential disorder could justify a banning order. However to carry weight the decision should have been pre-emptive, not taken on the day. The argument that the action was to pre-empt violence by stopping the speakers could only be sustained by evidence of potential public order offences. There never has been strong evidence that actual disorder was planned which could have supported a decision to prevent the demonstration, something the magistrates did not attempt to do. They chose to wait for disorder on the day, and whether this did take place, or was about to take place, is a factual question. If it did, the law allowed the magistrates to prevent it.

 

It was the responsibility of the magistrates, not the military or the government, to take action on the day. The actual decision was in fact to arrest the speakers, not to clear the square. The massacre happened because the troops could not get to the speakers without cutting down unarmed people. The belief that the meeting was de facto revolutionary even if peaceful was with little doubt a strong factor in the minds of the magistrates, and some took the view that any demonstration of this size was de facto a revolutionary threat even if there was no sign of disorder. This was never going to be a strong argument to justify the violence which took place, and the main argument in defence of the order to the troops was that the crowd behaved violently, and this is an issue for factual examination.

 

The Home Office ruled the meeting was lawful and so the meeting itself could not be seen as illegal: but though it was legal to meet, the extent and purposes of the meeting qualified this. The magistrates could in law act to stop disorder, but if the magistrates had cause for suspicion of potential violence it was wise policy to ban the demonstration, and arrest the organisers beforehand – not in the middle of a mass demonstration.

 

If Poole is arguing the authorities had evidence for preparations for disorder, this is a factual question which has to be examined as such. What evidence is there that this is the case?

Such preparations would be unlawful, and if the magistrates did proceed with the meeting anticipating disorder there are serious questions on whether they were intent on exemplary punishment by allowing it to go ahead – if they had solid grounds to expect violence.

 

B, While Poole is justified in arguing the magistrates are central to Peterloo, and Donald Read also believed the magistrates bore the prime responsibility, it is highly questionable to dismiss the role of the government, especially Sidmouth. Poole is assuming too much to dismiss the argument on the ‘broad outlines’.Whether there was a massacre or a battle is very relevant. It is still contended that the crowd had come mob handed prepared to riot, and it was argued that the violence was started by the crowd thus classing the outcome as a ‘battle’. The question is whether the violence was started by the crowd, justifying the action of the magistrates.

 

The defenders of the troops were to claim they had been attacked first, and then responded. This was hard to justify given the order to advance was not to quell actual rioting, and even harder to see how a crowd that contained women and children was intent on violence, but this is one of the issues that has to be addressed, as extremists in a crowd can ignore the effect on other people, and the facts are in dispute.

 

C. The role of government especially Sidmouth and the military under General Byng needs close attention, What change of stance by Home Office is Poole referring to? Was Peterloo out of character as Poole suggests? There is evidence that the political decision makers, locally and nationally were men who were not unwilling to use armed force. (The authorities in this section Poole refers to are clearly the local magistrates of Manchester-Salford, acting on the day).

 

The historical debate has tended to suggest that the outcome was less politically willed at government level than produced by local decisions. But these may reflect wider national policy directions. The role of government, especially Sidmouth, is ambiguous. The Home Office never questioned the deployment of troops and left final decision to the magistrates. This was logical as in a pre electronic age there was no ability to be in touch with events on the day. The key questions revolve around what the magistrates decided. But they did so in a highly charged and very political context, expecting at the very least to be exonerated by the government. Whether this had been planned before hand is a relevant question.

D. The Blanketeers had indeed been dispersed. But while the lessons seemed to be that the authorities were able to handle a mass demonstration, the Blanketeers as such were a small group – 5000 is one estimate, but unlikely to have been more than a few hundred (7) . And they were dealt with by regular troops with minimal bloodshed – one bystander killed. It appears that the magistrates concluded that the Blanketeers had posed a serious threat and they needed more forces at their disposal – one magistrates estimated that 12 000 people attended to send the marchers on their way (8), and this shook the confidence of the authorities in their ability to control such large numbers. As one of the lessons drawn by the magistrates in 1817 was the need for extra cavalry, and hence the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry were set up, a volunteer force which was to be deployed at Peterloo, and indeed only existed for just such a purpose.

There is more to the Blanketeers and the Ardwick conspiracy than Poole gives credit for. (Was the alleged Ardwick conspiracy a ‘plan for an armed uprising’?) and the actions of the organisers seems to have convinced the magistrates, that the opposition was now formidable. The military seems to have been more confident, if General Byng’s absence on the day is anything to go by. There is an issue of why the methods of 1817 did not work in 1819, although the sheer size of the crowd in 1819 – estimated at 60,000 – may have panicked the magistrates.

E. It is highly relevant that Manchester was an unreformed city whose mushroom growth had let it without proper governance and policing. In this context the limited personell of the elite and their secretive networks are very relevant. They were also a beleagured minority- the immigration of large numbers of dissenters and catholic Irish had left the Tories as a minority group which had everything to lose by reform of national and civic government. The state of mind and assumptions of the power elite in Manchester need careful examination.

F. What the magistrates believed in and after the Blanketeers and the events of 1817 (Ardwick, the Pentridge rising) has to be established, though there is no doubt that they did believe they faced a revolutionary challenged, if perhaps not actual immediate insurrection. It is very much to the point that the Tory ministry also believed they were facing organised revolution. The Green Bag Commitee of early 1817 had said as much, and through the next turbulent five years this was the assumption of the ministry, only abandoned when Liverpool resigned and a new breed of Conservative but reformist Tory politician came to power dedicated to conservation via reform. However in the post war years 1815 – 1822 fear of revolution was endemic in British elite politics.

G. This is not only a fair point, but the heart of the continuing conundrum. What made the magistrates – or magistrate – believe it was a good move to send troops into a tightly packed and orderly crowd? The magistrates made this decision, in the knowledge the military would carry out the order. However the role of regular troops and their commanders has to be factored into the equation to get a full picture. The absence of Byng is significant, as he clearly did not think there was a major threat of disorder or he would not have occupied himself at a horse race.

 

Poole’s general point is however sound. To order troops to arrest the platform when a mass of men, women and children, unprepared for violence, stood in the way was unbelievable folly. The chances of cavalry forcing their way through without serious consequences were astronomically remote. Either the magistrates panicked, and fearful men do panic, or they were oblivious to the dangers or – worse – were deliberately taking the opportunity to punish the crowd and make an example which would cow the workers. Why the magistrates chose to do this, from whatever viewpoint the massacre is viewed from, has never been satisfactorily explained. It is a remarkable fact given the volume of evidence and substantial body of research, that mysteries remain.

 

The mysteries do not just involve the Establishment. Precisely what the reformers were aiming at also remains obscure. Poole rightly argues “We do not really know what the radicals thought they were doing at Peterloo. They could not possibly have anticipated the actual outcome… the established consensus was to turning up mob-handed was not legitimate politics. How were boots on the ground expected to translate into political change?” (9) Poole notes that compared to the March of the Blanketeers some 27 months earlier, the meeting had no real visible strategy.

However the major questions involve the government and the local magistrates – given that the reformers had no conscious revolutionary intention and were not expecting disorder. And while there are many questions about the government’s behaviour, the biggest questions revolve around the actions of the magistrates and their decisions, and the facts remain in dispute. Whether they had evidence violence was planned, or simply believed that this would develop inexorably as the day progressed, what the magistrates did was irresponsible at best. To bring the meeting to a conclusion, reading the riot act and dispersing the crowd was the logical way forward – but even whether the reading of the riot act took place is in dispute* and needs scrutiny. However whatever course the magistrates followed, they had placed themselves in a position where fatalities were almost inevitable. Seeking to arrest the speakers when the military were on the edge of the crowd some distance from the hustings and with a tight packed crowd blocking their way was asking for serious trouble. Whether planned or simply neligent and out of their depth, the magistrates trigged the disaster. But whether they did so with malice aforethought is the issue which has yet to be fully explained.

Trevor Fisher 03 02 17

* there is an unresolved issue over whether the Riot Act was actually read out. While of little practical use as without loudspeakers it could hardly be heard in a crowd of c60 000 the technical issue is in dispute. It generally held, buy Navickas (below) and others that it was read by Rev Charles Wickstead Ethelston, the magistrate vicar, but whether he did so is in dispute.

(1) E P Thompson The Making of the English Working Class, Gollancz, 1963. Penguin Classics 2013, p750

(2) Notably (op cit p745) at what he thinks is the first open air reform meeting, in Burslem in January 1817, when “troops were held at a short distance, out of sight”. The magistrates had called for their presence, but they were not used.

(3) See Op Cit pp 694-696. Footnote p696 indicates the Two Acts and suspension of Habeas Corpus were in force, but the law already allowed magistrates to ban assemblies likely to cause violence. The Habeas Corpus suspension Act passed on March 4th 1817, re-enacted in July and did not expire till January 1818. Curiously despite the discussion, Spa Fields is not in Thompson’s index.

(4) Robert Poole What don’t we know about Peterloo? IN Poole R, Ed. Return to Peterloo- Manchester Region History Review, Vol 23 2012, Reprinted 2014 p1-18.

 

(5) Poole Op cit pp14-15

 

(6) Katrina Navickas Lancashire Britishness…. IN Poole R Ed 2012-14 p40- and extensively in Loyalism and Radicalism In Lancashire 1798- 1815 Oxford 2009

(7) Poole suggested there were ‘thousands who had prepared for the march on London” (French Revolution or Peasant’s Revolt, Labour History Review, Vol 74, No 1, April 2009, p7). Marjie Bloy (http://www.victorianweb.org/history/riots/blanket.html, downloaded 28 11 16) believes “between six hundred and seven hundred men set out in the drizzling rain…” The second estimate is more realistic.

(8) Poole op cit 2009 estimates 25,000.

Poole op cit 2012=14 pp16-17

* SEE Appendix PERSONALITIES – Blanketeers – Personalities – establishment TF)

see also

Donald Read, Peterloo, The ‘Massacre’ and its background, MUP 1958, reprinted with additional note 1973, pix (not given, but after original pviii) – the Ziegler book is Addington, Collins 1965).

 

 

EPThompson, Manchester & 1817

E P Thompson, Manchester, & 1817

A tangled story

The March of the Blanketeers from Manchester in 1817 has long been an obscure passage in Working Class History. In some historical accounts it is linked to the alleged Ardwick conspiracy and the Pentridge insurrection, all in the same year. However the links between the three incidents are unclear. Nor is it easy to see how these events relate to later developments, notably Peterloo, which like the Blanketeers and the Ardwick episode took place in Manchester over a period of years. In his classic study THE MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS when outlining the swirl of reform agitation and government repression in 1817, E P Thompson argued that

“This coincidence of persecution and confusion is the background to the tangled story of the March of the Blanketeers, the Ardwick Conspiracy, and the Pentridge* Rising (1)”.

Thompson however does not untangle the story. He makes the statement and then moves into a general discussion of the reform movement mainly in Lancashire and Leicestershire, though as he knows, Pentridge is in Derbyshire. It was only in the section on the Agents Provocateur who were involved in the Pentridge rising (2) that Thompson briefly mentions the Blanketeers (3) and then only to devote 182 words to the initiative. He barely manages – in a footnote of 22 words (4) – to point out that the Blanketeers failed and implies that they are not worthy of attention.

He chooses to downplay the Ardwick Conspiracy. Ardwick does not appear in his index – and it is clear that Thompson does not think effective revolutionary agitation in the area around Manchester ever existed, as the dismissive comment on the nature of the plotters referring to the Ardwick plot indicates. Thompson comments that the “physical force party was always ‘waiting to hear what news had come’ from Birmingham… or London…. or Newport. From one standpoint the story is pathetic. It was out of half a dozen meetings of this sort that the ‘Ardwick Conspiracy’ was built, on the pretext of which several of the most active Lancashire leaders were seized” (5).

Quoting a Chadderton (Oldham) man suggesting that the rebels should meet at the Royal Oak at Ardwick bridge in Manchester “to hear what news had come from Birmingham, Sheffield and any other place from wh. Information was expected” (6), and knowing that no news did arrive, Thompson dismisses the reaction from the authorities. Virtually the only conclusion that he comes to is over the composition of those alleged to have been involved, stating “the men held on suspicion for complicity in the Ardwick conspiracy included a knife grinder, a cooper and a bleacher” (7). What happened to them is of no interest to him. Yet Ardwick in Manchester is in the heart of a major city, and far more likely to be the site of an insurrection than remote villages in mid Derbyshire.

Clearly there was no insurrection in any major city, but whether there was a substantial basis of support in South Lancashire for insurrection or not, the reaction of the authorities in Manchester was a brutally effective pre-emptive stike – but effective only in the short term. In the longer term, it was the first sign that the rebels would not go away. The authorities could and did set in train the machinery of law. But suppression did not work, with the Lancashire rebels, in quite the way the government and local magistrates expected. They did not lie down, and returned in numbers in 1819. What happened to produce the Blanketeers March and the events at Ardwick have major outcomes. These outcomes are profoundly important. They are the background to Peterloo.

The Insurrectionary cul de sac

In 1963, Thompson was a marxist** looking for the revolution that Marx expected to happen in industrial Britain. From this perspective, the Pentridge incident with its dramatic attempt to use physical force and the murder carried out by its leader, Brandreth, tantalisingly but misleadingly suggests the revolution might have been possible. Thompson’s analysis of the Pentridge uprising, in the summer (8th – 9th June) of 1817, which comprises the bulk of section IV of the Chapter on events in 1817, argues for the potential for revolution – if there had been effective national leadership, the classic Leninist belief in organisation which Thompson still held from his experiences in the army and the Communist Party***. He argues “if a major centre had been ‘captured’ by revolutionaries, then insurrection might have spread rapidly to other districts” (8). But this did not happen. And once London had been neutralised by the authorities in early 1817, only Manchester had any potential for this to happen – which makes his neglect of the city and especially the Ardwick incident hard to understand.

Thompson is seeking to rescue the open revolutionaries from obscurity and was justifiably interested in the possibilities of ‘physical force’ activity ie insurrection. There is a long running debate on whether Oliver the spy was an agent provocateur who manufactured the conspiracies we are studying. But this justified approach misled him about the overall direction of the reform movement, which was not revolutionary.

Pentridge was certainly more visible that the Blanketeers or Ardwick events, but in the long run insurrection was a dead end. There was no scope for physical force activity, although this tradition lingered on for thirty years under the Chartists, then remaining as a trace element in the political culture to this day. The important tradition, however, is that of non-violent, peaceful and constitutional protest, which was the main line of approach through from the Blanketeers to Peterloo and beyond. Pentridge and the insurrectionary tradition was marginal at best to the long run historical development.

This is not what Thompson suggests. He argues that the main line of development runs from Pentridge to Peterloo and beyond. When Thompson contends (9) that

“There is a sense in which Peterloo followed directly, and inevitably, upon Pentridge. It was the outcome of an extraordinarily powerful and determined ‘constitutionalist’ agitation, largely working class in character, with a potentially revolutionary context”.

But the context was not revolutionary. In the book he conflates two different currents in what was undoubtedly a ‘powerful and determined’ agitation. But it is not the physical force tradition which leads to Peterloo – the direction of travel was dictated by the constitutionalist wing, not the revolutionary ‘physical force’ wing. Direct action had failed at Spa Fields in 1816, failed at Ardwick – if it was seriously attempted – and failed with bloody reprisals at Pentridge. All attempts at insurrection failed, with no lasting effects, with Cato Street in 1820 the final attempt, and its leader, Arthur Thistlewood ending his life on the gallows. There was no room in British political culture for insurrection or any form of physical force agitation. Thompson rightly describes the tragedies and the high drama of the attempts of men with pikes and flintlock muskets to confront soldiers armed with cannon backed up by cavalry, but this was drama. It was not mass politics and never involved more than a tiny desperate minority.

The initiatives which could bring thousands of working class people to demonstrate were clearly in the peaceful, moral force tradition, From Spa Fields in late 1816 through the Birmingham agitation in January 1817 to the Blanketeers and beyond, it is the peaceful and orderly mass movement which is crucial, and alarming to the authorities. Thompson himself records that in 1818, in Manchester, the spinners organised a demonstration in Piccadilly, Manchester, which an informer noted “was 23 ½ minets in going by. One man from Eich shop is chosen by the People … they obey him as strickley as the armey do their colonel…” and that General Byng, who commanded the troops which stopped the Blanketeers and was still in charge of the Army in the North at Peterloo commented “The peaceable demeanour of so many thousand unemployed men is not natural”, (10) which Thompson rightly notes as a profoundly important, and he devotes three pages to discussing the orderliness of the working class protests – and how this alarmed the authorities.

Peterloo was quite clearly constitutionalist. It was a mass meeting of peaceable, unarmed people unprepared for violence, and much of the horror generated by the massacre came from the attack on women and children. Historians have to explain where the peaceful movement for change comes from – and why this met with a brutal attack by armed men. A protest movement met with state violence is not unusual in British History, but violence had in previous eras suppressed the movement. Even with the revival of the parliamentary reform movement in 1812 and the Luddite era this had been the case. But from 1816 onward the movement cannot be suppressed, and begins to look like the situation in Ireland, but without Fenian violence. Reform becomes a constant element in British Political culture, and as this is the period when this happens, and specifically in 1816-17, the reasons why need explanation.

To do this we have to look at a line of development running for two years or more before Peterloo, coming from the Blanketeers and the tradition of petitioning advocated by the Hampden clubs. The blanketeers did fail in large part to get beyond Stockport, but they showed that workers could mobilise – and it is not accidental that both the blanketeers, who had no high profile speakers but gained a substantial audience, and the reformers addressed by the reform superstar Orator Hunt in 1819 met in St Peter’s field.

Manchester was the epicentre of the reform movement, far more so even than London, and the authorities reacted with fear and repression, both in 1817 and 1819. The Blanketeers were dispersed, the Ardwick tale was produced as a consequence of the realisation that there was massive support for reform, which the authorities could only handle with repression. But the authorities found in 1817 that straight suppression produced only temporary success. They could neither overawe the masses, who remained prepared to demonstrate in thousands, nor rely on juries to convict reformers, which is the story of 1818. The magistrates, feeling they needed a local armed response unit, formed the Yeomanry in Manchester and Salford who were to be so visible at Peterloo. Thus the earlier mobilisation played a major role in unwittingly bringing about the Peterloo Massacre. Contrary to what Thompson was asserting, it is the peaceful mass movement which is the background to Peterloo.

Action, reaction and a turning point in British history

There is a tradition of constitutional agitation in Manchester and South Lancashire which has become obscured in favour of an dramatic but unproductive insurrectionary tradition. But the constitutionalists survived. From the Blanketeers to Peterloo they showed that they could mobilise in significant numbers, and it was not only Shelley that noticed that “ye are many, they are few”. The tangled web which reaches from before the blanketeers through the Ardwick ‘conspiracy’ to – but really around – Pentridge is the story of a struggle between physical and moral force within the reform movement. By the time of Peterloo, the moral force camp had won the argument. How this contest about the best way to achieve reform was conducted, and conducted in appalling circumstances of government violence and brutal repression, is the tangled story of the events of 1817, with the impetus generated in that year running through till at Peterloo it was crushed – and yet triumphed.

Thompson in assessing the evidence from an empirical viewpoint, understood the vital role of the year 1817. He stated with impeccable clarity, that “The repression of 1817 provoked… an accession of strength to the radical reformers, while a large section of middle class opinion held aloof from the government. In 1795 Pitt could present himself as defending the Constitution against French innovation. In 1819 Liverpool, Sidmouth, Eldon and Castlereagh were seen as men intent on displacing constitutional rights by despotic ‘continental’ rule”… In 1817, this world was passing. By 1819, in whole regions of England, it had passed. The defences of deference had been weakened by Dissent and (despite itself) by Methodism. They had been challenged by Luddism and Hampden Clubs. In May 1817 Sherwin carried further Thelwall’s insight into the influence of manufactures on the working man…. the workers have the means of organisation in clubbing their pennies to-gether…” (11).

Thus 1817 was crucial and Thompson understood that the year which saw the blanketeers and the start of mass mobilisations in Manchester made a difference. However he still felt Pentridge was more important. In the early 1960s when he wrote the book, he was working within two traditions, that of traditional English empricism and the Marxism of the Communist Party which he had left, but provided a constructively fruitful theoretical framework. Thompson had been a member of the Communist Party History Group under Dona Torr, and his marxist analysis provided the structure for what would otherwise have been merely a collection of studies. The combination of empiricism and marxism was immensly successful. Few histories have ever matched this book for range and accuracy of knowledge, with empathy and understanding of what made people behave as they did, and an acute awareness of social movement. But the crucial issue is the selection of what facts were important, as no history can ever be all encompassing, and the interpretation of the facts here was through a marxist lens.

Studying the facts had led Thompson to realise the importance of 1817, in undermining and bringing about the fundamental shift in popular feeling that would make parliamentary reform a major element of the British nineteenth century. The change was clear, and the contemporary writers Thelwall and Sherwin had observed the direction of travel and why the changes was happening. But the most dramatic incidents were not necessarily the most important, until Peterloo. Thompson, in his marxist phase, was looking for revolution. But it was not revolution that was happening, and Ardwick is important for that very reason. What happened in Manchester set down pointers for the future. The blanketeers undoubtedly failed, and proved that unarmed men could be dispersed by cavalry. This was never in doubt and was what the authorities expected. But what happened next – which the authorities viewed as the Ardwick conspiracy – reflected the belief in the local and national Tory establishment that any form of working class activity was subversive. They were mistaken in seeing the workers as seeking revolution on the French model. This too was what Marx expected to happen in the nineteenth century, and E P Thompson still saw the events through that prism and thus stressing insurrectionary elements.

Had he revised the book after writing his essay The Peculiarities of the English (1965) he might have changed his viewpoint. But this never happened. He left the events of 1817 still a tangled web which needs to be untangled. The Blanketeers and Ardwick were more important than Pentridge. They deserve to be seen as the pointer to the future which they proved to be, and in particular as the crucial steps toward Peterloo.

Trevor Fisher 18th January 2017

*There are two villages of this name in England. The one in Derbyshire is normally now spelt Pentrich.

** Whether he was marxist after his experiences in CND is a moot point,. Thompson never revised the book though on the publication of the paperback edition in 1968 he implied that this was needed, commenting that “The five years which have elapsed between this book’s first publication and the present edition is too short a period to allow for major redefinitions”, which implies that he recognised that this was needed. As the book had become a classic Thompson never revised it before his untimely death in 1993.

***Thompson had been a soldier in World War Two fighting at Monte Cassino in 1944. He was a member of the Communist Party during the late Stalin era, and though he had left in 1956 over the failure of de-Stalinisation, in the period after leaving he was still in the grip of its ideology. After involvement in CND from 1958 his views on mass movements altered in ways which are still largely unexamined.

FOOTNOTES

(1) E P Thompson, THE MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS, Penguin Modern Classics 1980 p702. The Chapter in which this occurs is Chapter 15 and Section III containing the quote is entitled “The Hampden Clubs”, though these had ceased to operate effectively by the time of the Blanketeers. Thompson focusses on institutions in London and only sketches the provinces, only briefly touching on Manchester. Section IV – see footnote 2 – deals with Pentridge but without linking to what had happened in South Lancashire.

(2) E P T op cit Chap 15 section IV Brandreth and Oliver

(3) E P T op cit pp711-712

(4) EPT Op cit p712. The footnote states “The ‘Blanketeers’ were in fact prevented from marching by the military, more than 200 were arrested, and few got further than Leek”. All this is true, but failure had is consequences, which Thompson fails to grasp.

  • EPT op cit p715.

 

  • EPT op cit p714

 

  • E P T Op cit p705

 

(8) cit p715

(9) EPT op cit p736

(10) EPT Op Cit p747

(11) EPT op cit p737

The Melanie Klein approach to confusing Green issues.

Naomi Klein – talented writer who misses her targets

Published by the Rising Brook Writers Workshop 28th October 2016

Naomi Klein’s 2014 book THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING has an obscure title masking an urgent message. With a film of the book on the way, most green sympathisers will know that the ambiguous THIS in the title refers to climate change. Her argument is that the trend to global warming could destroy us all. A clear message on how it could be combated would be welcome. But the way she puts her views make them as obscure as the title.

The first problem is that the book relies on detailed factual narrative to explain its case. As the first part of the book makes the case that global warming is changing everything, she gives page after page of detailed description of negative developments. Fair enough, but very heavy reading and overwhelmingly bad news. At least one of the readers in my discussion group said they had given up in depression. The chair said “but it does get better towards the end”. Fat lot of use if people have stopped reading.

The approach all the way through the book is heavy fact laden exposition, as if facts change minds. I am a follower of Thomas A Kuhn, who argued that if a paradigm is heavily entrenched then it can resist a bombardment of facts, and the Green case supports the argument. The capitalist paradigm is very heavily entrenched and has become more successful in resisting challenges to it over the last half century. The facts are important but need to be carefully targetted. In this case, on the floating voter.

Most green supporters agree with Klein and will read this to reinforce their views. The climate deniers won’t accept the case whatever the facts. So if Klein and her sympathisers are to make advances, it is the undecided that have to be won over. Klein knows that there is something wrong. Worryingly as the factual case has grown stronger support for the Green solutions in the English speaking nations has declined. She says so on page 35, quoting the statistic that in 2007 71% of Americans believed burning fossil fuels was damaging the environment. By 2009 this was 51% and in 2011 down to 44%. The facts had been made clearer over that four year period, yet belief in them went down.

The same trend happened in Britain and Australia. Facts are not decisive, and if a paradigm shift is to happen then winning hearts and minds is essential. This book is aimed at winning over the unconvinced, but Klein has adopted relentless bombardment of facts, like a First World War general bombarding the opposition trenches. The facts she quotes on page 35 should have made her put away her massive filo fax and think how to present a clear and persuasive argument.

A much shorter book would help. This was a very hard book to stay awake while reading. Sadly, having pointed out that the Americans had not been convinced by the green argument between 2007 and 2011, she did not digest that crucial information and the logic that to convince the unconvince, it is best not to preach and to try to persuade.

Trevor Fisher 18 10 16

Naomi Klein – talented writer who misses her targets

Published by the Rising Brook Writers Workshop 28th October 2016

Naomi Klein’s 2014 book THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING has an obscure title masking an urgent message. With a film of the book on the way, most green sympathisers will know that the ambiguous THIS in the title refers to climate change. Her argument is that the trend to global warming could destroy us all. A clear message on how it could be combated would be welcome. But the way she puts her views make them as obscure as the title.

The first problem is that the book relies on detailed factual narrative to explain its case. As the first part of the book makes the case that global warming is changing everything, she gives page after page of detailed description of negative developments. Fair enough, but very heavy reading and overwhelmingly bad news. At least one of the readers in my discussion group said they had given up in depression. The chair said “but it does get better towards the end”. Fat lot of use if people have stopped reading.

The approach all the way through the book is heavy fact laden exposition, as if facts change minds. I am a follower of Thomas A Kuhn, who argued that if a paradigm is heavily entrenched then it can resist a bombardment of facts, and the Green case supports the argument. The capitalist paradigm is very heavily entrenched and has become more successful in resisting challenges to it over the last half century. The facts are important but need to be carefully targetted. In this case, on the floating voter.

Most green supporters agree with Klein and will read this to reinforce their views. The climate deniers won’t accept the case whatever the facts. So if Klein and her sympathisers are to make advances, it is the undecided that have to be won over. Klein knows that there is something wrong. Worryingly as the factual case has grown stronger support for the Green solutions in the English speaking nations has declined. She says so on page 35, quoting the statistic that in 2007 71% of Americans believed burning fossil fuels was damaging the environment. By 2009 this was 51% and in 2011 down to 44%. The facts had been made clearer over that four year period, yet belief in them went down.

The same trend happened in Britain and Australia. Facts are not decisive, and if a paradigm shift is to happen then winning hearts and minds is essential. This book is aimed at winning over the unconvinced, but Klein has adopted relentless bombardment of facts, like a First World War general bombarding the opposition trenches. The facts she quotes on page 35 should have made her put away her massive filo fax and think how to present a clear and persuasive argument.

A much shorter book would help. This was a very hard book to stay awake while reading. Sadly, having pointed out that the Americans had not been convinced by the green argument between 2007 and 2011, she did not digest that crucial information and the logic that to convince the unconvince, it is best not to preach and to try to persuade.

Trevor Fisher 18 10 16

Naomi Klein – talented writer who misses her targets

Published by the Rising Brook Writers Workshop 28th October 2016

Naomi Klein’s 2014 book THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING has an obscure title masking an urgent message. With a film of the book on the way, most green sympathisers will know that the ambiguous THIS in the title refers to climate change. Her argument is that the trend to global warming could destroy us all. A clear message on how it could be combated would be welcome. But the way she puts her views make them as obscure as the title.

The first problem is that the book relies on detailed factual narrative to explain its case. As the first part of the book makes the case that global warming is changing everything, she gives page after page of detailed description of negative developments. Fair enough, but very heavy reading and overwhelmingly bad news. At least one of the readers in my discussion group said they had given up in depression. The chair said “but it does get better towards the end”. Fat lot of use if people have stopped reading.

The approach all the way through the book is heavy fact laden exposition, as if facts change minds. I am a follower of Thomas A Kuhn, who argued that if a paradigm is heavily entrenched then it can resist a bombardment of facts, and the Green case supports the argument. The capitalist paradigm is very heavily entrenched and has become more successful in resisting challenges to it over the last half century. The facts are important but need to be carefully targetted. In this case, on the floating voter.

Most green supporters agree with Klein and will read this to reinforce their views. The climate deniers won’t accept the case whatever the facts. So if Klein and her sympathisers are to make advances, it is the undecided that have to be won over. Klein knows that there is something wrong. Worryingly as the factual case has grown stronger support for the Green solutions in the English speaking nations has declined. She says so on page 35, quoting the statistic that in 2007 71% of Americans believed burning fossil fuels was damaging the environment. By 2009 this was 51% and in 2011 down to 44%. The facts had been made clearer over that four year period, yet belief in them went down.

The same trend happened in Britain and Australia. Facts are not decisive, and if a paradigm shift is to happen then winning hearts and minds is essential. This book is aimed at winning over the unconvinced, but Klein has adopted relentless bombardment of facts, like a First World War general bombarding the opposition trenches. The facts she quotes on page 35 should have made her put away her massive filo fax and think how to present a clear and persuasive argument.

A much shorter book would help. This was a very hard book to stay awake while reading. Sadly, having pointed out that the Americans had not been convinced by the green argument between 2007 and 2011, she did not digest that crucial information and the logic that to convince the unconvince, it is best not to preach and to try to persuade.

Trevor Fisher 18 10 16

Marlowe’s disappearance re-examined

MARLOWE’S LAST BOW – NOW PUBLISHED

A well reasoned and admirably clear account of the issues”. Professor Ken Pickering, Chair, Marlowe Society

The disappearance of Christopher Marlowe on May 30th 1593 is an enduring mystery. This appeared to be

solved by J Leslie Hotson through historical documents found in the Public Record Office. The official account showed Marlowe being killed in an act of self defence during a quarrel. However this account only generated a second set of mysteries. As Eugenie de Kalb pointed out in a review in the Times Literary Supplement, the official account did not stand up to analysis. Over more than nine decades, controversy about what happened to Marlowe – and how this relates to what was happening in Elizabethan politics – has revolved around acceptance or rejection of the official report.


This pamphlet present the two key documents of 1925 and their viewpoints, to examine the positions advanced and how the roots of the controversy were established. The debate started in 1925 shows no sign of being resolved, and cannot be unless the issues raised by de Kalb are addressed.

Copies available from :-

VIEWPOINT PO Box 3599. Stafford ST16 9RD- price £4 inc p+p. Cheques made out to SOSS.