Search This Blog

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Hugh Thomson illustration for the Graphic, 1889.
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers! I look forward to sharing more secret histories from the world of Regency Spies in 2016!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Spies

'Presentation of colours' to the militia. 
 Lord Liverpool once commented: ‘Spies and informers had been at all times employed by all governments, and ever must be’. The Home Office’s espionage or ‘missionary’ system was a significant expense for government. 

It spent thousands of pounds annually paying its own spies, and reimbursing local magistrates for their spies.

What kind of person was recruited as a spy? In London, the famous Bow Street Runners often undertook intelligence-gathering. In the provinces, lawyers were sometimes pressed into service (some notorious spies like Leonard McNally in Ireland, which rebelled in 1798, were legal professionals). 
Thomas Reynolds - a United Irish spy.

Army and navy officers and militia-men were also asked, or volunteered to, infiltrate the meetings of Radicals, workers’ societies and revolutionary groups, and root out potential traitors on the home front.
In the industrial districts, some impoverished workers were only too happy to earn good money informing on their neighbours. 
This period was very profitable for the Regency spies, but their lives were at risk if people realized they were being betrayed. On Saturday 9 May 1812, a Lancashire militia-man and his sweetheart died in sinister circumstances. Sergeant John Moore of the 1st Manchester Local Militia and his cousin Margaret were thrown into the Rochdale Canal, near Manchester, where they drowned. A Manchester spy, John Bent, later confirmed to the authorities that the locals had discovered that Moore ‘was an informer’.  


Fun And Games!

Gallop post-haste to my Jane Austen blog to find out more about a Regency kissing game!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Britons To Arms! Spa Fields 1816.

Spa Fields Chapel in the 1780s.
One group of particular interest to Britain's spymasters were the Spencean Philanthropists. These revolutionaries were followers of Thomas Spence. Spence believed that ‘the land is the people’s farm’. Land should belong to all, not just the ‘landed monopoly’. 
Spence's Plan. HO40/9, 1817.
After Spence's death in 1814, a new society was set up by his adherents, which included former LCS members Thomas Evans and his son Thomas, who were earning a living as brace-makers in the Strand. 

The Spenceans held weekly meetings at pubs in the metropolis. Their members included Dr James Watson, ‘a respectable surgeon and apothecary’, his son Jem or 'Young Watson', John Hooper, Thomas Preston – and Arthur Thistlewood, a brooding, dangerous man. 
In the autumn of 1816, the Spenceans wrote to Radical orator Henry Hunt, asking him to address a meeting at Spa Fields. Hunt, a very popular speaker, was sure to draw a large crowd. The Spenceans could use the meeting to test public support for their plans to overthrow the government. 
Hooper and Thistlewood.
The Spenceans told Hunt that they planned to hold a meeting ‘of the distressed inhabitants of the metropolis’ at Spa Fields on Monday 15 November.  They would prepare a memorial to the Prince Regent detailing the people's grievances and asking for relief. Hunt agreed to go. But when he arrived in London, and the Spenceans showed him the speech which they wanted him to read out, Henry was aghast:‘The whole affair was made up of Spencean principles, relating to the holding of all the land in the kingdom to be one great farm, or something of that sort’. It was ‘treasonable matter’. At last Hunt agreed to chair the meeting provided there was no mention of Spencean ideas. He wanted to concentrate on the reform of parliament - the introduction of universal (male) suffrage and annual parliaments. 
Shortly before the meeting, 5,000 handbills were distributed in London: 'Britons To Arms! The whole country waits the Signal  from London to fly to Arms! Hasten break open Gunsmiths and other likely places to find Arms!... Stand True or be Slaves for Ever!' (HO 40/3/3, f.901, 1816). 
Although this meeting passed off peacefully, the next one, on 2 December, was a very different affair. The government's spies reported that the Spenceans planned to attack the Bank of England and and the Tower of London (very similar to the Despard plot).


So on the appointed day, troops and police were out in force in London. Dr Watson’s son Jem was first to address the crowd. He climbed on a coal-waggon decorated with tri-coloured flags: the emblem of the French revolution. 






When Hunt turned up at 1pm to address the 10,000-strong crowd, Young Watson was already heading towards Smithfield with several 
The Home Office received regular updates as the riot was taking place. HO40/10.
hundred men.
Jem shot a customer, Mr Platt, while raiding a gunsmith’s shop. Several shops were attacked, and a mob rampaged through the streets until stopped by the troops and cavalry.The Spenceans were now wanted men...



Tricoloured flags.