The Peterloo Massacre - Manchester 16th August 1819

The Peterloo Massacre - Manchester 16th August 1819

Rowbottom's Comments on Trade and Politics - 1800 to 1819
As Recorded in the Diary of William Rowbottom
Comments and additional information (in italics) are from the transcription by Samuel Andrew,
serialised in the 'Oldham Standard' between 1887 & 1889
Cost of Provisions HERE


The year 1812 began on a Wednesday, wich was a dark, rainey, cloudy day, and little or no wind. In consequence of the badness of trade and the dearness of all sorts of Provisions, there is but little apearance of Cristmas, and indeed, the old English hospitality is nearly extinguished in every family; for at this very time the lower-class of people who have a family of small children are absolutely short of the comon necessaries of life, and a deal of familys have not left off work at all. Roast beef, pyes, and ale are not to be met with at the poor man’s table, but on the conterary, misery and want. Hatting is very lowe and scarce; weaving, there is plenty but little for doing it, and to all appearances, if there be an alteration in times it must be for the better, except there be comotions or civil wars, wich God grant may never happen in this country or kingdom.

... Our factory system was at the same time the saviour and destroyer of the country. It was fast destroying the old systems of industry, and yet it was saving those who clung to it and followed out its various improvements. From French’s “Life of Samuel Crompton” I learn that at this time there were 4,600,000 mule spindles in operation in England, Scotland, and Ireland. The annual consumption of cotton on these mules was forty million pounds annually. Double the amount of wages was paid for spinning on Crompton’s mule to that paid on all other machines for the purpose put together. James Watt told a committee of the House of Commons in March, 1812, that two-thirds of the entire amount of steam power employed in cotton spinning was applied to turning Crompton’s mules. At least four-fifths of the cotton cloth bleached in the principal bleaching works in Lancashire was woven from yarn spun on Crompton’s mules. The value of the buildings, power, and machinery engaged on spinning on Crompton’s system was between three and four millions sterling. Seventy thousand persons were directly employed in spinning on mules, and 150,000 more in weaving the yarn thus spun, and at the usual computation of two others dependent on each worker, the aggregate number of people depending on the mule for their living amounted to 660,000, without including those engaged in machine making, cotton growing, bleaching, dying, carrying, and other subsidiary trades.

Riots – Wednesday, April 8th.-
A riot took place at Manchester in consequence of an advertisement announcing a meeting to congratilate the Prince Regent. A vast concourse of people assembled. The meeting was to have been held in the Exchange Building, but the burroughrow postponed the meeting to a future day. About one o’clock the populance begun to be turbulant and to demolish the valuable furniture, and the window lamps and chandliers suffered the same fate. A fine picture of that worthy man, Thomas Stanley, knight of the shire of Lancashire, was also demolished. The Riot Act was read, and the Cumberland Militia and the Scotch Greys put the mob to rout. Happily no lives where lost.

Matters had reached a serious pass in Manchester. It was evidently hard work for starving people to maintain their loyalty with empty stomachs.... This riot must be looked on as mostly of a political character. According to Wheeler it was intended to hold a meeting on the 10th April to address the Prince Regent, and assure him of support on his investments with the royal authority. Understanding, however, that opposition was intended, the authorities determined not to hold the meeting, but the populace got possession of the Exchange, and passed resolutions censuring the Government. They then destroyed the furniture, injured a picture of Colonel Stanley, and were preparing to set the edifice on fire, when the arrival of the military put a stop to their proceedings. A general spirit of disorganization appeared to prevail throughout the district.

A short account of this riot is given in Samuel Bamford’s “Early Days”:-

A serious mob likewise took place at Carlisle in April instant in consequence of the dearness of provisions. The military where assembled, and fired upon the mob, when one woman was killed and several persons wounded. And at Bristol a riot took place in April instant in consequence of the high price of provisions, but nothing serious happened; and in Nottinghamshire there as been very serious riots by the stocin weavers, who are in a distressed situation in consequence of the badness of trade. A deal of damage has been done by the mobbers. Several of the mobbers have been taken and tryed at Nottingham. Seven have transported, four for 14 years, and three for 7 years. And at Leeds, Huddersfield, and different places in Yorkshire the mob has been very turbulant.

April 20th -
Monday, the most daring riots took place at Manchester, Ashton-under-Lyne, Rochdale, and Oldham, and all the neighbouring places. Their complaint was the high price of provisions, the badness of trade, and the lowness of wages in Oldham. They compelled the shopkeepers to sell their flour 3s. and meal 2s. per dozen, and some of the most daring took bread, cheese, bacon, &c. A great number went to Middleton, where there is a factory belonging to Mr. D. Burton, where they weave calicoes by steam. The mob assailed the windows, when those within the factory fired on the mob, when, horrid to relate, four were killed on the spot and a great number wounded, and some very dangerously. Those killed were Daniel Knott, aged 20 years; Joseph Jackson, a hatter, aged 16 years, both from Oldham; John Siddall from Radcliffe Bridge, aged 22 years; and George Albinson, a young man from Boardman-lane, Middleton.

This riot was known as “Middleton fight.” E. Butterworth says on this day a large crowd of riotous individuals compelled the provision dealers in Oldham to sell flour at 3s. and meal at 2s. per peck.

On the same day a mob of several thousand persons, many had gone from Oldham, attacked the cotton mill of Messrs. Daniel Burton and Sons, at Middleton, with the object of destroying power looms, these being regarded, although then very few in number, as a serious injury to the handloom weavers. The parties in charge of the mill firing on the mob, two young men from Oldham – Daniel Knott and Joseph Jackson – as well as two others, were killed. The following day the rioters re-assembled at Middleton, but were dispersed by the military, and while this was being effected a third individual from Oldham – John Johnson – was shot, whilst several individuals also from this locality were wounded.

Samuel Bamford was at that time working in the warehouse of Messrs. Hole, Wilkinson, and Gartside, cotton print manufacturers, in Peel-street, Manchester. I extract the account from his early days:

One afternoon we were astonished and alarmed at the warehouse, by a report which had come into the town that the power-loom manufactory of Messrs. Burton and Sons at Middleton, had been attacked by a numerous mob with the intent of destroying the machinery, and that several of the mob had been shot dead, and a number wounded. As soon as we had locked up for the evening, I, of course, hastened off to Middleton, and on arrival found the report to be true. About two o’clock on the afternoon of this day, the 20th of April, the inhabitants of the town were surprised by the appearance of numbers of men, many of them armed with sticks and bludgeons, who simultaneously arrived in the town from various districts of the surrounding country.

Several provision shops in the upper part of the town were entered and plundered of bread, cheese, and groceries. In some instances the mob seemed to arrive from all places at once, and the smaller parties having formed into one main body in the turnpike-road, the whole proceeded to the lower part of the town and there joined another large crowd, which seemingly had been waiting their arrival. In this year 1812 there had been much destruction of machinery in various parts of the manufacturing districts of the kingdom, and when the infatuation spread into Lancashire, the power looms of Messrs. Burton seem to have attracted the early attention and hostility of a great portion of the hand-working operatives who, by means of secret delegations, held frequent private meetings for the purpose of concerting measures for the stoppage and destruction of the obnoxious machines. Of these proceedings Messrs. Burton were probably informed, since a number of their weavers, dressers, and overlookers had been for some time drilled to the use of firearms within the mill. A piece or two of small ordnance were also placed within the yard opposite the main entrance, and other precautions had been taken as were deemed necessary for the defence of the place. These measures were superintended by Mr. Emanuel Burton, who was greatly respected by the workmen, and had inspired them with a portion of his own spirit of resistance.

On the report reaching the factory that the mob was coming the works were stopped, and all hands save those detained for the defence of the mill were sent home. The mob, after a short delay in the Market-place, proceeded to the bottom of Wood-street, where the factory was situate, and halted in front of the building, and a score or two of boys, who led the mob, set up a shout, and began to throw stones and break the windows. A number of discharges from the mill followed, but as no one seemed to have been hurt another shout was set up, and the cry went round. “Oh, they’re nobbut fleyerin peawther; they darno shoot bullets,” and the stone throwing was recommenced. Other discharges from the mill now took place, and some of the mob who had experience in such matters remarked that the crack was different, and that ball was being fired. A single moment confirmed this opinion, for several were wounded and three fell dead, on seeing which the mob fled in all directions. In a short time a troop of the Scots Greys were in the town, and they were quickly followed by a company of the Cumberland Militia. The streets and lanes were then cleared, after which the horsemen returned to Manchester, and the militia took up their quarters in the mill.

The number of wounded on this unfortunate occasion was never truly known, but it was soon ascertained that four persons, all young men, had been killed – Joseph Jackson, sixteen years of age, and David Knott, aged twenty, both from Oldham, were killed at the end of Chapel-street; John Siddall, of Radcliffe Bridge, aged twenty-two, was killed lower down the street; and George Albison, a young man from Rhodes, was wounded whilst going along the highway, and shortly after bled to death, there being no surgical aid promptly at hand.

On my arrival the streets were all quiet, doors closed, and alehouses silent. People’s minds were, however, sadly agitated, and fierce denunciations were uttered against “Burton and his shooters;” whilst very little anger was expressed against the men who had plundered shops. In the coat pocket of one of the killed was found a half-pound of currants, the fruit, no doubt, of such plunder. I state these things because they are facts, and not from any feeling which I now have, one way or the other, except for truth; though at the time I entertained perhaps as strong a dislike to “the shooters” and their employers as did any man in the town.

My dear wife and child I found safe at home; but greatly was I alarmed, and exceedingly thankful when I learned that my wife in her curiosity to watch a mob, had gone down to the town, and with another thoughtless woman or two had stood at a window of a cottage nearly opposite to the factory, within range of the shot, and only a few yards from the spot where one man was killed. I gave her a lecture for so doing – the first, perhaps, since our marriage; and, being convinced of her folly, she promised never to transgress in that way again, and I dare say she never has.”

Rowbottom continues:

On Tuesday a very large mob again assembled at Middleton, armed with guns and pistols, and a very large number of colliors, armed with picks, no doubt for the purpose of destroying the weaving factory, but it was guarded by a party of the Cumberland Militia, who were inside the factory. However, the mob set fire to the house of Mr. Emanuel Burton, wich, together with the barn, stable, hay, corn, etc. was consumed to ashes. A party of Scotch greys arrived, and put the mobers to the rout. The Militia sallied forth from the factory, when the greys cuting and firing and the Militia firing, both refusing mercy to the ill-fated mob. John Johnson, a joyner, from Oldham, received a ball through his neck in Middleton Churchyard, of wich he instantly died; he was 23 years of age. A great number where wounded, and some very dangerously. James Taylor, a spinner, shot through the body; Jonathan Buckley, a hatter, shot through the body, both of Oldham; John Neild, a hatter, of Alder Root, shot through the body; one Midgly, arm shattered by a shot, he lived in Hollinwood; and a deal more from this neighbourhood wich I cannot particularise. On the 24th the large weaving factory of Mr. Thomas Wroe, situated at West Houghton, was consumed to ashes by the mob.

Bamford says:

The morning following the eventful day, I went to my work at Manchester as usual, and in the afternoon we were again startled by the intelligence that a mob larger than that of the day before had visited Middleton, and had burned the dwelling of Mr. Emanuel Burton and those of several of his workmen to the ground. On my way to Middleton that evening, I met individuals on the road who were returning to Manchester with fragments of picture frames and mahogany goods in their hands. The mob had, indeed, been desperately bent on destruction that day; but more wary than on the day preceding, they had divided their forces, and whilst one strong party threatened the factory, and by that means detained the militia at that post, others went to the houses of certain workmen who had defended the factory the day before, and not finding them at home, had piled their furniture in the street and had destroyed it by fire. In this manner the furniture of one cottage at Back o-’th’-Brow and that of two others at the club houses, was destroyed. The mob, it should be understood, were armed with guns, scythes, old swords, bludgeons, and pitchforks. A party of colliers from the neighbourhoods of Oldham and Hollinwood carried mattocks, and with these tools were in the act of knocking the end of a house down when they were called off to another place. For whilst these outrages were in progress at Back o-’th’-Brow and Club Houses another party of rioters set off towards Rhodes, and it was to aid these latter that the colliers were called away.

Tuesday, April 28th –
In the evening Mr. Horsfall, of Marsden, was returning from Huddersfield. He was shot on Crosland Moor and so much wounded that he died on the 30th.

For full particulars of this event I must refer my readers to “An Historical Account of the Luddites of 1811, 1812, and 1813, &c., printed at Huddersfield, 1882”: - Mr. Horsfall was about forty years of age, married, and had a family of children, and was a considerable manufacturer in the West Riding. He saw the fallacy and absurdity of the prejudices against machinery, and declared his intentions of resisting those who determined to destroy machinery. As stated in this annal and elsewhere he was getting home from Huddersfield market on horseback, between five and six in the afternoon and when near to Warrener House, a public house on Crosland Moor, he was shot as he was near to the corner of a plantation, by one of four men hid in the plantation. He died after languishing 38 hours. The murderers were tried at York; one turned King’s evidence. The other three were executed on Friday, January 8th, 1813.

May 5th
Last night Joseph Nadin, deputy constable of Manchester, arrived at Middleton attended by a large party of Scotch Greys, and about one o’clock this morning broke into several houses, and secured people in their bed. He was provided with several post-chaises, in which he emediately put his prisoners, and drove off for the New Bayley. These were persons concerned in the late riots. On the night following he came to Royton and Oldham. At Royton he apprehended one Robert Ogden; at Oldham one James Taylor and John Ragg, otherwise Wrake, and made atemts to seise more, but was frusterated. They have all since been sent to Lancaster. On Wednesday night, or early on Thursday morning, he came in the same manner to Thorp Clough to have taken two persons there, but failed in the atemt. On Friday, the 8th, he came to Oldham and received the person of one Paul Greenwood, whom the Oldham constables had secured at Narrow Gate Brow, and which he took to the New Bayley.

May 9th
A party of the Stirling Militia arived at Oldham to do duty there.

May 25th -
Captain Chipendale and Thomas Whittaker, with John Chadwick, constable, and a large number of soldiers, went to Mosley, and apprehended four men on a charge of being in the riots at Midleton. They where kept in custody in Oldham until the 28th, then taken to the sessions, Royton. The magistrates commited the two to the New Bay, ley, and two were bailed.

The Middleton riots were evidently looked on with a political eye by the authorities as well as in the light of industrial outrages. It was from the neighbourhood of Mossley that John Knight and some of his friends came, and John Knight was at this time under arrest for the part that he took in the political riot at the Manchester Exchange at the beginning of the year on the false charge of administering unlawful oaths, &c. No doubt the authorities were perplexed with the nature and meaning of these unlawful oaths. When these oaths became better understood through their exposure in the Luddite transactions it was seen that these oaths applied to the Luddite organisation. At this time suspicion seems to have fallen on all connected with either political or industrial organisations. Hence John Knight was tried on the charge of administering false oaths, and there seems to have been an attempt to connect some of those who were tried with John Knight with the Middleton Riots ... It may interest the Radical party of to-day to know the political programme of stern old John Knight and some of his friends, as set forth in six resolutions, a copy of which was found among his party when he was arrested. They are extremely modest and moderate, and had they been adhered to a Reform Bill would surely have been passed before 1832.

No. 1 sets forth that our nominal representatives had ceased to efficient guardians of our property liberty and lives.
No. 2 accuses them of permitting wars which destroyed friendly intercourse among nations, and caused increased national expenditures, so that the burdens of the people were unsupportable.
No. 3 accused them of being too much under the influence of the ministry.
No. 4 hints at an extended suffrage, and says it is essential that our representatives should be elected by the people at large to give them firmness.
No. 5 states that the sufferings of the people, though submitted to by hundreds or thousands, yet the millions would not submit.
No. 6 states that the only hope was in reform of the House of Commons to be obtained by peaceful measures.

May 31st -
This morning died Mr. William Clegg, of Westwood, a man famous for projecting new roads; his age a little short of 50 years; consumption.

William Clegg was evidently a man of great foresight and ingenuity. He was the first in Oldham to apply the steam engine as a moving power to the cotton mill. This he did in 1794 at Lees Hall Higher Mill.

Such was the state of the country that it was necessary to have sufficient soldiers at command in case of an outbreak. Hence the camp at Kersall Moor. Wheeler tells us that the whole routine of camp duty was observed, and a telegraph was placed on an elevated point from which any information could be conveyed throughout the district in a few minutes. The encamped suffered great discomfort from incessant rains.

On the 23rd of May -
... the especial commision was opened at Lancaster for the tryals of the rioters commenced, when 8 received sentence of death, and great numbers transported and imprisoned.

12th of June -
Last night, Joe Nadin apprehended at Manchester 38 persons from various parts of the country. They were assembled at a public-house in Ancoats-lane, on the 13th. They were examined by the magistrates at the New Bayley, and by them commited to Lancaster on a charge of administering unlawful oaths. Amongst them was John Newton, of Round Thorn.

As to the nature of these illegal oaths. I copy the following from the history of the Luddite riots as the correct version:- “I A.B., of my own voluntary will do declare and solemnly swear that I will never reveal to any person or persons under the canopy of heaven the names of the persons who compose the secret committee, their proceedings, meeting, places of abode, dress, features, complexion, or anything else that might lead to a discovery of the same, either by word, deed, or sign, under the penalty of being sent out of the world by the first brother who shall meet me, and my name and character blotted out of existence and never to be remembered but with abhorrence; and, further, now do swear that I will use my best endeavours to punish by death any traitor or traitors should any rise up among us, wherever I can find him or them, and though he should fly to the verge of the nature I will pursue him with increasing vengeance; so help me God, and bless me to keep this, my oath, inviolable.” The indomitable John Knight was among those apprehended but he had nothing to do with administering these illegal oaths.

July 25th -
Last night arrived at Oldham, and this morning set off for Manchester, three pieces of flying artilleery and Howitzer, with all their appendages. Such a novel sight atracted the attention of a deal of spectators. They were returning from Yorkshire, where they had been on account of the late disturbances.

The Luddites in Yorkshire had been crushed and scattered by the overawing power of the military. Many of them were safely lodged in gaol before the end of the year, principally, we are told, through the zeal, perseverance, and energy of that intrepid magistrate Joseph Radcliffe, Esq., late of Royton Hall, but now of Milus, Bridge, who was created a baronet for the part he took in the suppression of these Luddite riots.

Green says:- One of the earliest resulst of the introduction of machinery was the ruin of a number of small trades which were carried on at home, and the pauperisation of families who relied on them for support. In the winter of 1811, the terrible pressure of this transition from handicraft to machinery, was seen in the Luddite or machine-breaking riots, which broke out over the northern and midland counties, and which were only suppressed by military force.

August 22nd -
The assizes at Lancaster commenced, when the thirty-eight persons committed in June last, on a charge of administering and being present to the administering of unlawful oaths, where all acquitted, and Robert Ogden, of Royton, and James Taylor, of Oldham, 18 months imprisonment each. John Wrag otherwise Scoles, of Oldham, Paul Greenwood, of Narrow Gate Brow, and Abraham Ogden, of Stakehill, John Kenyon of Middleton, two years each, these last four where bailed last May at the especial commission at Lancaster.

Nov. 25th -
No material alteration in the prices of provisions since my last. The distresses of the country are behind all comprehension, provisions so dear and the price of labour so low. The hatters are in a very pittiable state. There are several that cannot get any hatting at all, and those that have any hatting at all are very much short, and have a deal of gates, and compeled to take from the master inferior materials wich take double time to make them make there work workmanlike; and a deal of hatters, to increase there misery, are turned weavers, spinners, or doing any kind of drugery they can meet with. Weaving is at the lowest ebb. Good velveteens or cords are wove for one shilling and 11d. a pond, and inferior sorts 18d. a pond, tabbys from 18s. to 20s. a cut, from 30 to 32 yards long, with six or seven ponds of weft in. A deal in this neighbourhood, and about Chadderton, Middleton, and other parts have been attacted with fevers, and some have died. A large number of men have inlisted into the Militias and different regiments of the line. Most of poor familys are in a state of starvation.

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