Tag Archives: Heaton Colliery

Heaton and the Peterloo protest

In October 1819, thousands of north east people including, almost certainly, miners from Heaton Colliery and their families, took part in a remarkable demonstration on Newcastle’s Town Moor. They were protesting about the massacre at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, two months earlier, which became commonly known as Peterloo (in an ironic comparison comparing it with the battle of Waterloo, four years earlier).

This is a short description of how the meeting came to take place, what happened and also a little specifically about the involvement of people from Heaton.

The working people of north east England showed their desire for greater civil rights in no uncertain terms in their reaction to the Peterloo massacre, which had taken place  on 16 August 1819. On that terrible day a large crowd, who had come to listen to Henry Hunt and demand their democratic rights were attacked by yeomanry on horseback. The yeomen, fuelled by alcohol, angrily slashed their way through the large, hopeful crowd to arrest Hunt.  As they did so they trampled on a young girl resulting in her death. The crowd then turned angry surrounding the yeomanry who were supported by the regular troops who cut through the assembly like a knife through butter, resulting in eleven further fatalities.

Peterloores

One witness to the events that day, the radical leader Samuel Bamford, later recalled that, ‘the sun looked down through a sultry and motionless air, over the whole field, were strewed caps, bonnets, hats, shawls, and shoes, and other parts of male and female dress; trampled, torn and bloody… All was silent save those low sounds, and the occasional snorting and pawing of steeds.’

Nationwide protests

A wave of protests spread throughout England. One of, if not, the biggest was in Newcastle.

The ‘Tyne Mercury’ reported that an initial meeting was held in Newcastle on 8 October and at this meeting it was decided that ‘the only solution to war, taxation, corruption and ‘misrepresentation of the people in Parliament’ was ‘radical reform of the House of Commons’. In Sunderland on the same day, all the corn in the market was seized and soup kitchens were opened by the Corporation, for what were described as the ‘deserving poor’.

On behalf of the United Committees of Political Protestants in Newcastle and Gateshead. a W Weatherston issued notices for a general meeting to protest against Peterloo. The meeting was set for 11 October at midday on the Parade Ground in Newcastle, where the Haymarket is today.

Partridge

Thousands of people of Newcastle and surrounding districts, which would have included Heaton, came and it was soon clear that that the crowd was so big that it could not be contained in the Parade Ground. Consequently, a decision was made that the crowd should move north to the large open space on the Town Moor. Indeed, the crowd was so huge, that it has been noted that, ‘the procession took one hour and a quarter to cross Barras Bridge’ then the name of an actual bridge over Pandon Burn.

TownMorrresizednypl.digitalcollections.a3bTownMoorb2ac0-e024-012f-5e2c-58d385a7bbd0.001_resized

Contemporary engraving of the Town Moor protest on 11 October 1819

The text below the above engraving describes the appearance and sound of the crowd:

‘The leaders carried white rods surmounted with crape. Each division was distinguished by a splendid banner of flag and some of them were preceded by a person carrying a Roman fasces (ie a ceremonial bundle of rods sometimes containing an axe. Ed). Several bands of Music played popular tunes and imparted order and interest to the procession, which was an hour and a quarter passing Barras Bridge.’

The penultimate sentence reads:

‘The shouts of the multitude were so tremendous that a Partridge, flying over their heads, dropt down dead with the shock.’

Banners

The flags and banners proudly proclaimed the protesters beliefs and why they were there in such huge numbers. They demanded universal suffrage, just as the Manchester protestors had done and they mourned the dead.

‘An hour of glorious liberty is worth a whole Eternity of Bondage’

‘Do unto all men as ye would they do unto you’

‘Annual Parliaments – Universal Suffrage – Election by Ballot’

‘The day of retribution is at hand – England expects every man to do his duty” and on the reverse side, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory.’

Other banners included the following:

“’In memory of those who were murdered at Manchester’

‘We mourn for the massacred at Manchester’

‘We’ll be brothers for a’that’

‘We fight your wars – and look how you treat us’

‘Through hand joined in hand the wicked will not go unpunished’

A black flag with red border bore; ‘Rachel weeping with her children’ and ‘Would not be comforted because they were not’.’

The demonstrators came from from many places outside Newcastle, shown by the fact that a banner from the the Winlaton Reform Society proclaimed, ‘Evil to him that evil thinks’, whilst a banner from North Shields paid homage, ‘to the immortal memory of the Reformers massacred at Manchester on 16th Aug. 1819′.

Heaton

It can be safely assumed that there were protestors from Heaton amongst those at the meeting. Indeed John Charlton has reported that Heaton colliery viewer John Buddle , noted that the Heaton pitmen had made the ‘constant cry’, that they worked, ‘far too hard for their wages’ and indeed ‘cannot resist on them’. Buddle also claimed that, ‘one fellow at Heaton, after having solemnly made this declaration last say (sic i.e. pay) Friday, gave 6s. 10d next day for a White Hat, just like Orator Hunt’ (who had addressed the crowd at St Peter’s Field’).

There are still arguments about just how big the crowd was.  Those of a conservative bent put the size of the procession at somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000. However, the local newspaper, the Tyne Mercury, estimated that the size of the final crowd was 76,000.  It has been noted that this estimate was ‘calculated at four to a square yard was 76,000‘.  John Charlton has observed that, ‘an 1881 scale map shows that tents on race days took up around a quarter of the Race Course within the rail and that if people were packed tightly, the figure of 76 000 is by no means unfeasible...’

This was a remarkable show of support for greater civil rights, but is even more incredible when one considers that according to the 1801 Census, the population of Northumberland was 168,078 and that of County Durham 149,384. It gave Newcastle’s population as 28,000.  The population from the Tweed to the Tees in 1819 was about 400,000.

The meeting itself, which was peaceful, saw denunciations of the entire political system of the time, as well as criticisms of what had happened two months earlier at St Peter’s Field. Indeed it has been noted that ‘radical Thomas Hodgson of Winlaton, speaking at the great Peterloo protest meeting on the Town Moor in 1819 said, ‘I warn you, gentlemen, against all party men of whatever colour’. ‘

Another of the main speakers, Eneas Mackenzie, delivered a rousing speech in which he denounced both the national government in London and those who ran the local government of Tyneside. He declared that, ‘We are groaning under monstrous debt. Taxes are multiplied to a ruining extent. Our finances are delayed, trade and commerce are languishing.  One-fifth of the population are pauperised.’  

As can be imagined, it didn’t take long for the establishment to respond. Barely two months later,  in December 1819, the Northumberland and Durham Volunteer Cavalry was formed, with Charles John Brandling, the region’s leading Pittite acting as Lieutenant Colonel. There were to be no repeats of the huge 1819 meeting for some time.

However, those residents of Heaton and miners from the Heaton Colliery, who made their way to the Town Moor that October day in 1819, would have their demands met, even if they weren’t alive to see all their hopes fulfilled.  Starting with the 1832 Great Reform Act pushed through parliament by Prime Minister Earl Grey, a Newcastle MP whose statue still stands in Newcastle City Centre, working people in Britain did get the vote, bit by bit and struggle by struggle over the next 100 years.

We must never forget the residents and miners of Heaton and all those others who went to the great meeting on the Town Moor in October 1819. We owe them much.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group. Thank you to New York City Public Libraries for the digital copy of the engraving.

Sources

Peter Cadogan, ‘Early Radical Newcastle’

John Charlton, ‘North East History, Vol 29, 2008’

John Charlton, ‘The Wind From Peterloo; 1819 – Newcastle’s Great Reform Demonstration’

Mike Barke in, ‘Northumbria, History and Identity’

Norman McCord,  ‘Some Aspects of North-east England in the 19th Century,’ Northern History  Volume V!! 1972

Norman McCord, ‘NE England The Region’s Development 1760-1960’

A Moffat and G Rosie, ‘Tyneside: a history of Newcastle and Gateshead from earliest times’

Can you help? 

If you know more about the Newcastle protests, especially the involvement of people from Heaton, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Heaton Divided: the 1740 Corn Riots

Manchester’s infamous Peterloo massacre is rightly being remembered ahead of its bicentenary. But political protests weren’t unique to Manchester nor was Peterloo the earliest modern example of the military breaking up such a demonstration, leading to loss of life.  Almost 80 years before Peterloo, Heaton miners were at the forefront of a less well known incident in Newcastle in which a Heaton landowner was also a key figure.

It has been argued by A W Purdue that the 18th century was a time in England when there was: “a social order which demonstrated considerable cohesion in that, despite acute social tensions, ‘acceptable compromises could be negotiated, compromises which safeguarded the social fabric'”. 

There was indeed a strict social hierarchy, with the power in the land concentrated in the hands of a small number of men.  In return for the compliance of the vast majority of the population with this arrangement, there was an expectation that there would be enough food for the general public. But what would happen, if there wasn’t enough food or the people couldn’t afford it?  How would the population react and how would the authorities respond to that reaction?  Events in Newcastle in 1740 give us some clues.

Background

There was heavy rain in August and September 1739, leading to a bad harvest, causing the price of oats and rye to double by June 1740.  The winter of 1739-40 was also very severe. The Newcastle Courant carried reports of unemployment and shortages of food, coal and even water. Alderman Matthew Ridley of Heaton Hall is reported to have allowed the poor to collect small amounts of coals from his colliery in Byker. This was a heartening sign of compassion from a member of the Newcastle elite, but it was not  a foretaste of what was to happen the following summer.

It has been reported that by March 1740, local food supplies were running short and there developed the widespread belief that speculators were hoarding grain to sell abroad at an inflated price. With less grain being available, so the market value went up drastically, to the point where miners in Heaton and keelmen on the River Tyne could no longer afford to feed themselves and their families.

There were riots in many parts of the country during May 1740, although at first those in Newcastle seemed insignificant: a small group of women, led by ‘General’ or Jane Bogey, apparently rang bells and impeded the passage of horses carrying grain through the town. Five women were committed for trial but discharged at Newcastle sessions a few days later and a regiment of dragoons on standby was withdrawn.

But disturbances continued elsewhere and, on 17 June, orders were sent for three companies of troops to march from Berwick to suppress troubles south of the Tyne.

Heaton miners’ dispute

On 19 June 1740, miners on the night shift at Heaton Bank pit went on strike in a dispute about their coal allowance, which may have been recently reduced by the owners.

HeatonRoyalty1745

Map of Heaton in 1745 showing Bank pit just south of High Heaton Farm towards the north west (courtesy of the Mining Institute)

By 3.00am, the men had garnered support from other pits and 60-100 of them marched into Newcastle, demanding a settlement of the price of grain, higher wages and better food.

Les Turnbull has noted that, ‘the affidavits record that the overman, George Laverick, “saw about 60 in Number of Workmen belonging to Heaton Colliery go past about 6 o’clock on Thursday morning”. Later, several hundred men, women and children joined the throng in Sandhill near the quayside.’

The following day, the miners were joined by keelmen and iron joiners from North and South Shields, with a crowd of several hundred descending on SandgateThe authorities were alarmed by this and the Riot Act was read.  The protest at this stage was mainly peaceful. A group of women and children did force their way into a granary with the help of some of the Heaton pitmen but in the main the protesters were just trying to put their case. Miners and the keelmen  petitioned the city corporation and at first there seemed to be some sort of agreement to reduce the price of grain but when, the following morning, many grain stores failed to open, the mood of the protesters changed.

It wasn’t only miners who were involved. Keelmen were usually the protesters in those far-off days – they went on strike in both 1661 and 1731, arguably two of the first industrial strikes anywhere in the world.

It is instructive to see what happened in another north east town. Something similar happened in Stockton, but there the magistrates and aldermen sent letters to London, putting pressure on the government.  Consequently, they averted major violence in Stockton. The magistrates in Newcastle decided on another path.

Magistrates’ response

The crowd of protesters soon grew to around 1,000 and they launched a full-scale attack on the granaries, with women and children again playing a prominent part, although even now they were peaceful and often persuaded to leave empty handed.

Many gathered outside the Guildhall, which was situated on its present site by the banks of the Tyne in the Sandhill area and at the northern end of the old Tyne Bridge, where the Swing Bridge is today.

Guildhallold

Guildhall as it would have looked in 1740

Attack on the Guildhall 

The violence escalated and the crowd, by now numbering at least 1,500, attacked the Guildhall, which was described at the time as a ‘very beautiful and sumptuous‘ building. (The building was not that with which we are so familiar with today. It had been built from 1655-60 by Robert Trollope, a mason from York, replacing an earlier building which had been damaged by fire in 1629.) It is recorded that the crowd of keelmen, iron workers and townspeople, ‘smashed the woodwork and windows, tore the paintings, and ransacked the archives and treasury.’   At least £1,300 was removed from the vaults but weapons that were captured were smashed and thrown in the river rather than used on the magistrates, all of whom escaped unharmed.

The actions that took place included the blocking of the movement of grain through the town, the seizure of grain and bread and unsuccessful negotiations with magistrates and merchants in an effort to reduce prices on a range of food items.  There was also an attempt to commandeer a ship-load of rye. Interestingly, it has been noted that women and children were again prominent in the disturbances, but they were joined by contingents of pitmen, keelmen and iron-workers, as the food protest merged with discontent over wages and labour conditions.

Much of the anger was connected to the fact that corn and rye were being exported from the Tyne, from the towns of Newcastle and Gateshead, where people needed it.  This was seen as going against the idea of a moral economy – more of which later.  It has been noted that, ‘the transportation of grain from the Tyne and the Tees occasioned food riots there in May 1740.  At Newcastle, women led protests against high prices and then attempted to unload a ship at the quayside.  When an alderman, supported by a private army confronted them and fired upon the crowd, major disturbances followed.’

The private army of 60 horsemen and over 300 men on foot, all of them bearing oak cudgels, was led by Heaton Hall’s Matthew Ridley. At first it enforced an uneasy calm but the Grand Allies, who owned Heaton colliery, refused to cooperate, perhaps because it would mean coming into conflict with their own workforce but more likely because  they could not bring themselves to work with Matthew Ridley, with whom they were often involved in bitter industrial and land disputes. There were other divisions among the authorities, too particularly between Alderman Fenwick, the mayor, and Ridley.

Over the following days, more and more people came into town to take advantage of the lower prices, which had been agreed earlier, but little grain was on sale. Eventually on 26 June, Ridley led a group of 20-30 armed freemen through the demonstrators. In the scuffling that followed, shots were fired. We know that at least one demonstrator was killed, possibly more, and others were wounded.

Understandably,  the violence escalated. Ridley was so concerned that his home would be attacked that he bricked all his valuables away in a vault but, in the event, Heaton Hall escaped unharmed.

HeatonHall1793

Heaton Hall in 1793

Mayor Fenwick had to appeal to the border garrison at Berwick to send more troops down through Northumberland before the protests were finally quelled.

Aftermath

The following day Matthew Ridley wrote a letter to the ‘Newcastle Courant’:

As it hath been maliciously reported that I was the first person that fired in the unhappy tumult yesterday, I think myself obliged to declare in this publick manner that I had neither gun or pistol in my hand nor did I give orders to any person to fire; but when the gentelmen were attacked in so violent a manner and several of them knocked down, they defended their lives in the best manner they could. Our intention at that time was to guard the delivery of the ship lying in the key laden with rye at the low price and to protect the poor upon the terms promised last Saturday’

Ninety one ringleaders’ names were collected for their part in the disturbances on 19 and 20 June, 41 of which were pitmen, seven waggonmen, seven keelmen, six women, five tradesman, one labourer and 24 of unknown occupation.

Eventually twenty pitmen, predominantly from Heaton, were indicted. Most escaped punishment as the authorities chose to respond with moderation, although there were two convictions for felony, with sentences of seven years transportation, and one of riot, with a sentence of six months in prison and a further twelve months ‘on securities’.

Among the Heaton miners were William Dunn of Gateshead, who worked under Ralph Laverick, Thomas Clough of Gateshead, who worked under George Claughton and Robert Clewett of Sidgate, who worked under John Taylor.  There was also George Clewett of Gateshead, who worked under George Claughton, John Todd, who worked under Henry Laverick and William Richardson, who worked under Ralph Weatherburn.  This suggests that men came from quite long distances to work in Heaton.

A further 213 men were identified as being involved in the disturbances on 26 June, 112 of whom were prosecuted, but again the punishments were relatively lenient, perhaps influenced by the fact that most local collieries had gone on strike while awaiting the verdicts.

The Guildhall was not, in fact, completely destroyed but, following further damage by fire, the frontage was rebuilt in 1794 to designs by William Newton and David Stephenson. In 1809, the south side was redesigned again in a classical style by John and William Stokoe. John Dobson’s east extension was completed in 1823.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Matthew Ridley failed in his bid to be elected to Parliament as a Member for Newcastle in 1741 but he was elected unopposed in 1747. He was also mayor of Newcastle in 1745, 51 and 59. Interestingly in May 1768 he spoke in Parliament in defence of Newcastle men involved in London riots and against the use of the militia in riots.

Reflections

It has been noted that two distinct views of the riot prevailed afterwards; ‘The outbreak of popular violence confirmed some people’s suspicions that “respectable” grievances served only as a pretext for the mob’s brutish desire to loot and plunder: to others it vindicated the traditional argument that it was not only unjust but also unwise “to provoke the necessitous, in times of scarcity, into extremities, that must involve themselves, and all the neighbourhood in ruin”’.

When E.P. Thompson wrote in 1971 about the Newcastle Corn Riots of 1740 in his famous paper The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the 18th Century, he talked of how the moral economy had been disturbed. Here is a definition of moral economy from the Oxford Dictionary online:  ‘The regulation of moral or ethical behaviour;  an economic system in which moral issues, such as social justice, influence fiscal policy or money matters.’

Thompson argued that the merchants and magistrates had disrupted the idea of the moral economy by not listening to the arguments of the working people that they could no longer afford rye and bread at market prices. Here was a sign of the beginning of the modern capitalist economy where items would be sold at the market value and the idea that there should still be a moral economy – which, it has been argued, in one interpretation, ‘is an economy based on goodness, fairness, and justice. Such an economy is generally only stable in small, closely knit communities, where the principles of mutuality — i.e. “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine” — operate to avoid the free rider problem’ – was being lost.

As the economy of the north east grew during the 18th century, so society was moving further and further away from the older ideas that those at the top of the social hierarchy should be paternalistic towards those lower down the pecking order. As the market value of commodities became more important to those in positions of power than a sense of responsibility to those who would have been called the ‘lower orders‘, so it is argued, working people increasingly protested, especially when faced with starvation.

It is perhaps, then no wonder that the coming years would see the hierarchy itself being increasingly challenged but we shouldn’t forget the Newcastle corn riots of 1740 or the parts played by Heaton miners – and the local landowner.

Acknowledgements Researched and written by Peter Sagar with additional material by Chris Jackson.

Sources

‘A Celebration of Our Mining Heritage ‘ / Les Turnbull; Chapman, 2015

‘The Guildhall’, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1952

‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’ / E P Thompson;  Past and Present, No. 50. (Feb, 1971), pp76-136

Newcastle in the Long Eighteenth Century’ / A W Purdue; Northern History, September 2013

‘The Politics of Provisions: Food Riots, Moral Economy, and Market Transition’ by John Bohstedt; Routledge, 2010

‘Popular Cultures in England 1550-1750’ / Barry Reay; Routledge, 1988

‘Riotous Assemblies: Popular Protest in Hanoverian England’ / Adrian Randall; OUP, 2006.

‘Urban Conflict and Popular Violence: the Guildhall riots of 1740 in Newcastle upon Tyne’ / Joyce Ellis; International Review of Social History, Vol 25 Part 3, 1980.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/moral_economy

https://everipedia.org/wiki/Moral_economy/

http://englandsnortheast.co.uk/Georgian.html

https://co-curate.ncl.ac.uk/guildhall/