|St Peter's Church in the early 1800s.|
The increasingly oppressive Lord Liverpool administration believed it faced a widespread underground movement plotting revolution. On 3 March 1817, the government suspended the Habeas Corpus Act: people could now be imprisoned without trial.
All the Radicals in northwest England - those campaigning for parliamentary reform like weaver Samuel Bamford - were kept under close surveillance. Several spies were at work in the Manchester area, including Michael Hall (code-name ‘No. 1’) and James Rose (‘No.2’).
Sometime around this date, Liverpudlian
|Spy report from Hall and Rose, Dec 1816. HO40/10.|
The Blanketeers planned carefully. Each man would take three days’ provision in a knapsack; oatmeal and water was ‘the most nutritious and cheap’ food. They hoped that sympathisers along the route would put them up for the night, or maybe they could sleep in church halls. Some cotton spinners sent subscriptions of 5s each, and one friendly society sent £20.
The men would set off for London in groups of ten, headed by a leader with a petition tied round his arm; each leader would be under the control of a captain. Everything was now set for their grand march.
But the government were not prepared to risk the spectre of a large body of men descending on the capital. What if riots broke out, as had so recently happened at Spa Fields? On the afternoon of 8 March, Bow St magistrate Robert Baker arrived in Manchester with warrants for the arrest of the northern reformers; several were caught and imprisoned.
The plan was to stop the Blanketeers before they could pass the river Mersey. Baker was still sanguine that few would join the march; the weather was extremely poor. Nevertheless, Sir John Byng’s troops were ready and waiting to pounce as the Blanketeers gathered on the morning of 10 March.
|Letter re the Blanketeers' march, 10 March 1817. The signature was cut off the letter.|
More Blanketeers were arrested at Heaton Norris, Stockport and Macclesfield by the yeomanry cavalry. Only one man reached London to hand in his petition: the grand march was over.
The arrested Blanketeers were never brought to trial; they rotted in prison for several months before being released.