Entrance to Horrock’s Mill, Preston.
Preston was a hotbed of industrial unrest in the early 19th century along with its association with radical politics due the towns rapidly growing working class. In the summer of 1842 a general strike by Staffordshire miners spread throughout the country. On 12th August several hundred Preston mill workers went on strike and gathered at Chadwick’s Orchard, now the site of the covered market, to listen to John Aitken, a mill worker from Manchester who was campaigning for better working conditions and demanding acceptance of the People’s Charter.
Chartism was a working class movement for political reform that existed between 1838 to 1857. It was a national protest movement and took its name from the People’s Charter 1838 and over three million people signed a petition for more rights for the workers. In 1848 it was rejected by the government. Only 15 MP’s supported the motion to adopt the Charter.
Early the following morning a large crowd of 3,000 striking workers again assembled at Chadwick’s Orchard. News spread that some mills had resumed work, so between 7am – 8am the crowd started moving from factory to factory, ordering the workers to join the strike. Several mills were attacked and the plugs were pulled from the huge industrial boilers driving the looms, bringing work to a standstill (This became known as the Plug Plot Riots).
The striking mill workers regrouped on Lune Street, outside the Corn Exchange. A detachment of the 72nd Highlanders were stationed nearby at the Pitt Street barracks and their officers by coincidence where billeted at The Corporation Arms on Lune Street.
72nd Highlanders in Regimental Dress in the 1840’s.
The police were unable to deal with the unrest and requested the 72nd Highlanders be deployed to assist quell the riots. The rioters confronted 30 armed Highlanders, together with police officers from the county and borough constabularies outside the Corn Exchange on Lune Street. The crowd, including men, women and boys began throwing stones at the police and military lines of Redcoats.
Corn Exchange/Public Hall circa 1910.
Reading of the Riot Act.
The town Mayor Samuel Horrocks was also present and read out the Riot Act of 1714. This gave the authorities the right to use force to disperse unlawful assemblies and stop riots.
The Order to Fire.
The crowd refused to disperse, the violence escalated and the order to fire was given and at least eight men were shot, four fatally. The rioters fled in panic and the injured were taken to the House of Recovery.
Contemporary Drawing of the Riot.
It is not known who gave the order to fire, but during a trial of chartist leader Feargus O’Connor, police superintendent Bannister said Samuel Horrocks had given the order.
Article from The Preston Chronicle.
“At about eight o’ clock, as the mob were proceeding up Lune-street, near the New Market, they were met by a body of policemen and the military. The crowed commenced shouting and throwing stones. On Captain Woodford making towards them, as if to arrest one of the parties, he was knocked down. One of the constables in endeavouring to assist was struck a violent blow on the arm with a stick, and on the chest and in the face with stones. An attempt was made to reason with the parties, and they were informed that if they did not disperse, and cease their riotous conduct, orders would be given to fire upon them. The Riot Act was read, and the police having been beaten back, the order to ‘fire’ was given, and several were wounded… We hear that eight have been wounded – five mortally. Notice has been posted on the walls that the Riot Act has been read.”
Many believed the Mayor Samuel Horrocks should be tried for wilful murder.
John Mercer, aged 27 of Ribbleton Lane, a handloom weaver.
William Lancaster, aged 25 of Blackburn.
George Sowerbutts, aged 19 of Chandler Street, a weaver.
Bernard McNamara, aged 17 of Birk Street, a cotton stripper.
Inquests into the deaths by a local jury were held at Preston County Court, and all four were ruled to be ‘justified homicide’.
Twelve men were put on trial for their part in the riots. All were found guilty and received prison sentences from nine months to two years.
The Preston Martyrs’ Memorial.
A permanent memorial to the cotton workers was unveiled on Lune Street, outside the Corn Exchange on 13th August 1992, the 150th anniversary of the shooting. The memorial was designed and produced by the British sculptor Gordon Young.
All photos courtesy of Google Images.