Saturday, 28 October 2017

Stockport 1819: Sandy Brow will be More Famous than Waterloo

Cartoon depicting a chained Rev. Harrison of Stockport holding the red Cap of Liberty

In the years leading up to Peterloo, Stockport became a major centre of radicalism. The main area of of popular protest was Sandy Brow, a large open space in the centre of Stockport of which there is now no trace on the map. The best known leader was Rev. Joseph Harrison a dissenting minister whose Sunday School was at one point reportedly attended by some 2000 pupils.

On September 1st 1818 a meeting at Sandy Brow led to the arrest of three of the speakers, John Bagguley, Samuel Drummond and John Johnston. It was pointed out at their trial in 1819 that one of them had eulogised Tom Paine and Napoleon Bonaparte and had reprobated those who abused Napoleon. (1)

In February 1819 at another mass meeting at Sandy Brow the Cap of Liberty was hoisted along with a flag inscribed "Paine & the Rights of Man." Outraged local Loyalists tried to seize the cap and the ensuing struggle was recorded in poems by Samuel Bamford and Henry Ross O'Bryan. (2)

Bamford's poem, in Lancashire dialogue, was redolent of his poem "Touch Him" with its suggestions of the cowardice of the Loyalist yeomanry "dandies".

Ha! Ha'en they taken our cap and flag;
 Wo han the Dandies taken 'em?
O! Wot could stan afore the might
 O' yeomanry so Loyal?
Who came to drive the 'herd aright,
 An would ha' no denial;
Until the stones began to fly,
 An heads began o' crackin',
An' then our Gallant Yeomanry 
 Were fain to find a backin'.
Then amblin' up the 'gemmen' came,
 Towards the front o' th' Hustin;
But soon their folly did they blame
 The rabblement for trustin';
For sticks were up, and stones they flew,
 Their gentle bodies bruisin',
An in a hurry they withdrew
 Fro' such unmannered usin'.

Then proudly let our banner wave,
 Wi' freedom's emblem o'er it,
And toasted be the Stockport lads
 The lads who bravely bore it,
An let the 'war torn' Yeomanry
  Go curse their sad disasters,
An count in rueful agony,
  Their bruises and their plasters.

O'Bryan's poem, subtitled "We fought and conquered," was dedicated to Harrison.

Those who raised the Cap of Liberty on Sandy Brow, "The stage where Britons play'd a Briton's part" were true patriots. "Dire oppression" had "usurp'd" Britain, and the poem harked back to a time "ere tyrant's reign began, When ev'ry Briton lived a free born man ." It questioned the purposes of the "manly Britons" who had fought overseas,"When bleeding thousands fell at Waterloo.", and were now "Curs'd by the despots they themselves preserved." There was then no ambiguity about the author's view of Waterloo:

We're mine Herculean strength, my arm should hew
Those scarlet dogs that bark'd at Waterloo;
Or, Sampson like, I would such asses slay,
And all their guilty fame in ruins lay.
And teach them, England is not Waterloo.
On SANDY BROW we yet shall meet to praise
The God of freedom, just in all his ways.
Then truth shall triumph, while the tyrants fell,
Shall fly for refuge to their native hell;
Th' astonish'd world with joy the change shall scan,
And all creation shout, the RIGHTS OF MAN.

A few months later, in June 1819, a few weeks before Smithfield and Peterloo, another meeting at Sandy Brow passed a resolution affirming that Lord Sidmouth was guilty of high treason, and three hisses were given for the prosecutors of Bagguley, Drummond and Johnston. The meeting was addressed by Sir Charles Wolseley the head of an old Staffordshire family who hoped that "Sandy Brow would be more famed in history than the field of Waterloo." He told the crowd that his political career had begun at the storming of the bastille in France, and he would never hesitate in doing the same in England.

Sir Charles and the Rev. Harrison were in July 1819 indicted for sedition, conspiracy and high treason. At their trial in Chester in 1820 each was sentenced to one and a half years' imprisonment. At later trials Harrison got an additional two years for a speech and a sermon delivered after the June meeting.

A Note on Sir Charles Wolseley

Wolseley was the only aristocrat among the radical leaders in the years around Peterloo. Relatively little is known about him, and no major biography has ever been written. (3)

As well as being in France during the storming of the Bastille he apparently returned to live there for a time after 1801. Along with his father, Sir William, he became involved in reform politics in London in 1811, and he was present at the founding of both the Hampden Club and the Union for Parliamentary Reform in 1812.(4) There is tentative evidence that he offered some kind of service to Napoleon during the 100 days.(5)

Sir Charles Wolseley (1769-1846)

Wolseley met Hunt for the first time in 1818, and from that time appears to have severed ties with the more cautious reformers such as Sir Francis Burdett. In August 1819, on his way to the fateful meeting at St Peter's Field, Hunt was invited to Wolseley Hall, and the two then proceeded to Manchester together, although Wolseley did not stay to attend the meeting which was postponed for seven days.(6) Nevertheless as soon as he heard the news he rushed back to Manchester to provide bail for Hunt and the others. He attended Bamford's trial at York, and supplied Bamford and his wife with money, and he intended to erect a memorial for the victims of Peterloo at Wolseley Hall.

Ancestral home of the Wolseley family in Staffordshire, destroyed in 1966

For a time in the 1820's he lived in Brussels, but he remained in contact with Hunt until they fell out when Hunt was elected to Parliament in 1830. Sir Charles supported the anti poor law radicals in the 1830's and unsuccessfully stood for Parliament in Stafford and Manchester in 1835.

In 1837 he was accepted into the Roman Catholic faith, and wrote a pamphlet "Catholic Clergymen versus Protestant Parsons " which was very critical of Anglican clergy, too frequently a "titled blockhead " and the "booby of the family", sentiments which would have undoubtedly resonated with many nonconformists. He reminded his readers that it was Catholics who built British Cathedrals, founded the Universities and "framed our envied Constitution."

Sir Charles seems to have been a generous and thoroughly decent man, he remained a philanthropist to the end, but he departed from his radical past in the last year of his life by speaking against repeal of the Corn Laws.
1. John Bagguley, Samuel Drummond and John Johnston had tried to escape to America but were captured before they could embark from Liverpool. At the Stockport meeting Napoleon was described by one of them as "that suffering magnanimous character", a view of Napoleon as a victim of the boroughmongers that seems to have been widely held among radicals by this time, and certainly by Henry Hunt.
2. The events at Sandy Brow were eclipsed by the Peterloo Massacre, but for that Sandy Brow would have had a bigger part in radical folklore. Robert Walmsley Peterloo The Case Reopened (Manchester University Press, 1969)p. 58
3. Anne Bayliss, Sir Charles Wolseley (1769-1846) The radical baronet (Staffordshire County Library 1983) provides a short fragmentary account of his life.
4. Bayliss p. 3
5. Bayliss says in her introduction that in the Staffordshire Record office there was a list of letters, one of which dated in 1819 indicated that Sir charles had offered to "do an important service for Napoleon during the 100 days". The letter itself apparently could not be found!
6. Dr Robert Poole has informed me that Wolseley toured Manchester in Hunt’s carriage amid vast crowds. In his view Wolseley would probably have spoken at the St Peter's Field meeting had it not been postponed. The Times of August 10th 1819 in an article dated 7th August listed Wolseley as among those who had been expected to attend the postponed meeting. On August 11 it carried a long report of Hunt and the "crazy Staffordshire Baronet" processing through Manchester and being greeted by very large crowds.

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