Shaddongate riot

The Shaddongate riot and how it led to Carlisle’s police force.

In the last post Cumbrian Characters looked at how Carlisle came to have a full-time, professional police force two years before the London Met.

That post told how, in 1826, Carlisle was suffering from a surge in population, poverty, and crime – and innocent city folk were suffering the consequences, and living in fear.

A call for action

On Saturday last, several respective residents of Caldewgate, accompanied by Mr Rees, minister of St Mary’s Parish waited upon the magistrates at the town hall and communicated to them the state of their district, their losses and fears, and requested advice and assistance…’

Carlisle Patriot, 6/1/1827 

This was the Reverend William Rees, who also:

‘…expressed a strong desire for the establishment of a police, and intimated his intention of endeavouring to raise a subscription for that purpose.’

The magistrates sympathised, but said there was nothing they could do as things stood. 

The public meeting

On January 23, 1827, a public meeting was held in Carlisle’s Coffee House Assembly Rooms. It was open to ratepayers of the city and suburbs, and very well attended.

The Rev Rees was proposed and accepted as the chairman. And Mr Pearson, a local solicitor, opened proceedings by talking about Sir Robert Peel’s new Police Bill.

Mr Pearson said it seemed the home secretary intended to force the set-up of proper police forces across the country. And that they (concerned residents) should try to expedite this.

In other words, get Sir Robert to compel Carlisle Corporation to set up and maintain a City Police. 

The mayor of Carlisle, Thomas Blamire, had informed Sir Robert earlier in the month that the Corporation had never ‘deemed themselves liable to the expense of maintaining an efficient police within the city’. But had on several occasions (1823, for instance) tried to set something up, only for various obstacles to be thrown in its way.

The main obstacle seems to have been ‘who is going to pay for this?’

John Dixon (the manufacturer) proposed they set up a committee, to liaise with the Corporation, to resolve the issues of funding.

He also said a lot of the crime was down to a small number of people. But that it was unfair to demonise weavers, as:

although the poor men had suffered long and deeply, there were among them as honest men as any in the roomm, and men who were as anxious for the maintenance of order as any others’.

He also proposed that the Corporation and inhabitants should split the cost of a police force equally.

There were other motions proposed by: Rev Rees, John Dixon, William Halton, Mr Mounsey, Peter Dixon, Mr Pearson, GG Mounsey, John Forster junior, Mr Dobinson, John Blamire, Silas Saul, Mr Langcake, Mr Blow, Richard Dixon (solicitor), James Connell, Major Wilde, William Sowerby (timber merchant), Mr Law, Mr Carrick (hatter), Mr Lonsdale, Arthur Graham ‘etc’.

A veritable list of the prominent businessmen, lawyers etc in Carlisle at the time.

The committee

The committee met a couple of days later and as well as setting up a meeting with the mayor, agreed to start a subscription to raise funds for a a temporary police.

And Sir Robert Peel replied to them, in effect, that yes, if the city couldn’t or wouldn’t set up a police force, he would do so for them.

The temporary police

By the start of February 1827, some £200 was raised to fund a Night Watch. ‘Upwards of 10 stout men’ were engaged as special constables, with an experienced officer from Manchester, Benjamin Batty, put in charge. With a few days, a dozen people had been committed to jail for assorted thefts.

The Free City of Shaddongate

The new watch soon needed help, however. Mr Batty decided to visit Shaddongate, known by its inhabitants as ‘the Free City,’ with Constable George Palmer. And they had to barricade themselves in a house, after being showered with stones, both injured. 

Trapped, under seige, they feared for the lives. Other watchmen who arrived to rescue them were also pelted with stones and forced to withdraw.

Local magistrate Dr Heysham requisitioned a troop of the 5th Dragoon Guards, two companies of the 90th Light Infantry, and a small detachment of artillery.

By the time they assembled:

‘many thousand persons had assembled on the west walls, in Annetwell Street, on the Irish gate brow, Caldew Bridge, Caldewgate, Shaddongate, etc’.

End of the Shaddongate riot

However, the sight of the soldiers – some with swords drawn, others with loaded guns in their hands – caused the rioters to melt away, without further conflict. 

Mr Batty and the constable were rescued and the soldiers went back to the castle.

After the Shaddongate riot, the locals hoisted a coloured counterpane as a flag, on top of ‘The Buildings’ (a range of houses occupied wholly by weavers).

The folk of Shaddongate subsequently held a meeting which resolved that no watchman or gas lights would be allowed within the Free City. And that they wouldn’t pay any rates. And that they would resist all attacks whatsoever.

The aftermath

Twenty more special constables were enrolled as day constables. And a corporal and four men of the 5th Dragoon Guards, mounted, were ordered to patrol Shaddongate and its immediate vicinity.

Twelve youths and men were arrested and charged in connection with the riot and warrants for many more were issued. However, given the lack of hard evidence (and willingness of others to swear their innocence), more than half were either subsquently discharged or just bound over to keep the peace. In April, eleven men were jailed for nine months each, with hard labour, for their part in the riot. Eight others were acquitted.

The main thing was that since the arrests, the city had been quiet.

It is interesting that none of the accused was Cumbrian in origin – the mills, it seemed, attracted incomers from Ireland, Lancashire, and Cheshire. Rather than the popular perception of the Industrial Revolution draining labour from the land around them. It should also be noted that at that time, weavers across England were suffering extreme financial hardship. Demand for goods was down and so were wages. One of those up in court was described as being dressed in rags.

Back to the police

In June 1827, the Carlisle Police Bill cleared its final hurdle in Parliament and received the Royal Assent. New police commissioners were in office within a few weeks.

Carlisle now had its own professional, properly overseen police force.

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