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Friday, 23 June 2017

Fenian Fever

Today I'm very pleased to welcome fab author Angela Buckley to my blog! Angela has a new book out - a true-life Manchester murder mystery.

Fenian Fever
Angela Buckley

Smithfield Market.
On 11 September 1867, a vigilant police constable spotted two suspicious-looking men hanging around Smithfield Market in central Manchester. The officer suspected them of planning to burgle a shop, and when one of the men pulled out a gun, he arrested them. The prisoners, who gave false names, were charged with loitering. During their detention, communication between the police in Manchester and the Irish authorities revealed the two men’s true identities: Colonel Thomas Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who were wanted on suspicion of terrorism. Both veterans of the American Civil War, they had come to England to take part in actions against the British government to force the issue of home rule.

A week later, the prisoners were to be transferred to Belle Vue Gaol, at the edge of the city.
Charles Brett's memorial.
Travelling in a horse-drawn Black Maria with other offenders, including women, Kelly and Deasy were accompanied by Sergeant Charles Brett, who was locked inside the van with them. Several more officers followed behind. As the convoy passed under a bridge at Ardwick Green, a volley of stones hit the van forcing it to stop. The police were then quickly surrounded by armed men, who shot both the horses and wounded at least two officers. Unable to enter the locked Black Maria, the assailants screamed through the ventilation slot for the keys, which were held by Sergeant Brett. In a desperate attempt to protect the prisoners on board, especially the women, the young police officer refused to hand over the keys. A gunman poked his rifle through the slot and shot Sergeant Brett through the head. The bullet passed through his skull and lodged in his helmet.

'Manchester Martyrs'. 
Once they were released, Colonel Kelly and Captain Deasy fled the scene. Within three days of the incident, the police had arrested some 50 Irish men, 26 of whom were charged. Later that year, on 25 November 1867, William Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O’Brien were hanged for Sergeant Brett’s murder - they became known as the ‘Manchester Martyrs’. Following the death of Sergeant Brett, ‘Fenian fever’ had spread like wildfire throughout Britain, causing the Victorians to fear the very real threat of Irish nationalists and their deadly campaign. This deep-seated terror would have a dramatic impact on three Irish brothers who also stood trial for murder in Manchester, a decade later. 
Memorial to Manchester Martyrs, Moston.
On 1 August 1876, PC Nicholas Cock was walking his beat at midnight in the township of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, about four miles from Manchester city centre. The young officer had stopped at the junction of West Point, where three main thoroughfares converge, to chat with one of his colleagues and a passing law student. The three men went their separate ways and, a few minutes later, two shots rang out in the dark. PC James Beanland and student John Massey Simpson ran back to the junction to find PC Cock lying on the ground in a pool of blood - he had been shot. When Nicholas Cock later died of his injuries, a manhunt began.

On hearing the terrible news, PC Cock’s superior, Superintendent James Bent, knew instantly who the culprits were and he arrested three local Irish labourers soon after. The Habron brothers had crossed the path of PC Cock many times and he had been responsible for their being charged with drunkenness on at least two occasions. Residents of Chorlton had even overheard the brothers threatening to do away with PC Cock. Despite the circumstantial nature of the evidence against them, which was based on boot prints found near the scene of the crime, Superintendent Bent managed to secure a conviction against the youngest brother William, aged 18, who received the death sentence. It is likely that this was only possible due to the prejudice towards the Irish community which was still prevalent at all levels of Victorian society. The conviction was followed by a desperate race to spare William Habron from the gallows. Three years later, a startling confession by a notorious career criminal finally revealed the truth about who killed Constable Cock.
Who Killed Constable Cock? by Angela Buckley is out now in ebook and paperback. You can find out more about Angela’s work on her website, and on her Facebook page Victorian Supersleuth.


1. Smithfield Market, Manchester. Copyright free - from author’s collection. 

2. The memorial to Sergeant Charles Brett, St Ann’s church, Manchester. © A Buckley. 

3. Poster commemorating the Manchester Martyrs. Source: Wikicommons. 

4. Memorial to the Manchester Martyrs at Moston Cemetery. Source: Wikicommons, 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Regency Manchester Guest Post

From J. Aston's Picture of Manchester, 1826, courtesy Google Books.
Visit the fabulous All Things Georgian blog by fellow Pen and Sword authors Joanne Major and Sarah Murder to read my guest post on Regency Manchester!

Friday, 9 June 2017

The Pentrich Rising, 1817

Hunger and distress were the prime movers behind the ill-fated Pentrich Rising. On the same night as the abortive Huddersfield rebellion, the White Horse pub in Pentrich was the ‘nerve centre’ of the planned rebellion. The pub was owned by Nanny Weightman, mother of George Weightman, one of the chief ‘delegates’ involved in the uprising.

Jeremiah Brandreth, an out-of-work framework knitter known as the ‘Nottingham Captain’ and former Luddite, was now in charge of the rebellion (the ringleader, Tommy Bacon, was in hiding). Brandreth studied a map and pointed out the ‘line of march’ to his men. The rebels were to set off from South Wingfield at 10 pm, reach Pentrich by midnight, then ‘drive Butterley [the ironworks] before them’.

They planned to steal as many arms as possible, then march to Nottingham Forest and meet another large party of rebels. Brandreth said that Sheffield and Manchester would rise at the same time. This belief in simultaneous risings elsewhere had been actively fostered by the government's spies.

At the time appointed on Monday night (9 June), Jeremiah Brandreth, George Weightman and about sixty others, some with makeshift pikes, gathered at Hunt’s Barn in South Wingfield. Brandreth was armed with a gun and pistol; Weightman was armed, too.

The rebels divided into two ‘regiments’ to gather arms and recruits; Brandreth, Isaac Ludlam (armed with a spear) and ex-soldier William Turner were in the first group. They went to peoples’ houses, hammered on their doors and demanded weapons. The men of each household were asked to
Butterley Ironworks.
‘volunteer’ to join them; they threatened to shoot those who refused.

Tragedy struck when Brandreth and his men reached the home of Mrs Hepworth, a widow living with her sons. They banged on her door, but Mrs Hepworth refused to open it. The men shouted at her son William, ‘We must have your guns and your men, or we will blow your brains out’. Someone (probably Brandreth) fired through the kitchen window, and the bullet hit servant Robert Walters in the neck. He died shortly afterwards.

The rebels, about 100 in number, next went to Butterley Ironworks and tried to get in. But the works had been barricaded against them, and they left empty-handed. Some of the insurgents began to drift away. Then cavalrymen were spotted in the distance – the 15th Hussars, commanded by Captain Phillips, had been sent to investigate. The remaining rebels threw down their weapons and ran for their lives.
Letter re Brandreth and other rebels.

The Pentrich rebellion was over.

Jeremiah Brandreth, William Turner and Isaac Ludlam were hanged for high treason at the Friar-Gate Gaol, Derby, on Friday 7 November 1817. Fourteen other rebels were transported for life. You can read genealogies of the families involved in the Pentrich Rising here.

Images: Maps showing the area of South Wingfield and Pentrich (HO42/166), and a letter from two Nottingham magistrates, Charles L Morley and J H Barber, with ‘informations’ on oath to Lord Sidmouth that they suspected Thomas Bacon, Jeremiah Brandreth, Samuel Haynes and others of ‘treasonable practices’(HO44/166/f.410).
Butterley Iron Works. Author's collection. Pictorial Gallery of Arts Vol. I, (c. 1860).

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Folly Hall Bridge: A Forgotten Uprising

The old Luddite meeting place at Cooper Bridge.
Plans for the rising of 1817 were already under way before the notorious spy William Oliver arrived in the northern and midland districts of England – but his reiteration that the rebels would have help (10,000 men) from London must have swayed many waverers.
Thanks to their spies, the authorities now had the approximate date of the insurrection (9 June), the name of the main ringleader, ‘Old Tommy’ Bacon, and the names and addresses of those involved. The magistrates could have stepped in and made more arrests at any point, but they let events unfold unmolested. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the government was happy for the risings to go ahead to see how far the ringleaders were really prepared to go.
The rising in Yorkshire took place a day early (Sunday 8 June) because of a last-minute change of plan to rescue some would-be rebels recently arrested at Thornhill. The ‘revolution’ in the Huddersfield area broke out on with robberies as the men tried to get hold of arms.
Meanwhile, about 300–400 men assembled at Folly Hall Bridge (also known as Engine Bridge) about half a mile from Huddersfield along the road leading to Holmfirth and Honley. The men, armed with guns, pistols, and makeshift pikes, planned to march on Huddersfield when reinforcements arrived from the neighbouring villages. At midnight their leader, George Taylor, declared: ‘Now, my lads, all England is in arms – our liberties are secure – the rich will be poor, and the poor will be rich!’
About thirty minutes later the Huddersfield Yeomanry Cavalry, headed by Captain Armitage, went to reconnoitre the bridge, aided by the local constable, George Whitehead. As they approached the bridge, one man shouted ‘Who goes there?’ and aimed a gun at Whitehead. When Whitehead replied, the man took aim and fired, but it flashed in the pan.
After an exchange of fire, in which a cavalryman’s horse was wounded, the ‘Patrole found themselves compelled to retire to Huddersfield’ for reinforcements. When the soldiers returned, they found the rebels had already scattered and gone home. No-one else turned up to support the ‘revolution’; the Folly Hall Bridge rising was over.
But in Derbyshire, it was now time to ‘either fight or starve’, as we shall see tomorrow.

Thursday, 1 June 2017