Politics, Power & Conflict









Society & Culture







This chapter will describe the institutions of power which governed Manchester during the period of turbulent economic change between the years 1750-1800. It will examine the membership of the bodies which controlled the town and discuss the features of the different groups into which the urban elite can be divided.


Two historical works cover substantially the same theme and the same chronological period as this chapter. The first is Arthur Redford's monumental The History of Local Government in Manchester, and the second is Francois Vigier's Change and Apathy: Liverpool and Manchester during the Industrial Revolution. The first volume of the former, covering the eighteenth century and before, was published in 1939, less than a decade after Wadsworth and Mann's opus. Its purpose was "to trace the course of local administration through several centuries." [1] It is an overtly constitutional history and it emphasises offices rather than officers, largely ignoring the political dynamics within which local administration was conducted. Redford's emphasis lead him to declare "I had been working for some years on the commercial history of Manchester, but I had not found that this had any close connection with the history of local government." [2] This chapter shows that there was an intimate connection between commerce and the government and politics of the town throughout the latter half of the eighteenth century. The urban magistracy almost wholly comprised textile manufacturers and merchants, who largely governed in their own commercial interests. The political disputes which absorbed the time of Manchester's political elite were largely concerned with issues directly or peripherally linked to matters of trade. Even those matters which appear, prima facie, to be irrelevant to commerce, such as the mundane problem of Manchester's filthy streets and sanitation, was directly related to the increase of population following in the wake of Manchester's remarkable expansion as a centre of marketing and manufacture.


Vigier's work is heavily indebted to that of Redford, but incorporates a more sophisticated analytical framework, being based on a comparison of the local governments of Manchester and Liverpool, the latter being a chartered borough, and Manchester being, rather prosaically, a "mere village". Vigier concludes that Manchester was barely governed during the period, government being left to individual initiative. This chapter shows that there was a distinct gubernatorial class in the town, and the chapter The Society of Manchester describes the social composition of that class, suggesting a very different status quo from that described by Vigier.


The Political Institutions


The Court Leet was probably the most visible of the administrative institutions in Manchester during the period. It was technically controlled by the Lord of the Manor, and presided over by his steward, but by this period, it had acquired powers separate from those of the Lordship. The Leet proper had fairly mundane concerns: petty offences at the market, such as selling underweight goods, the hazards caused by uncovered cellars in the town, other nuisances such as dung and unmuzzled dogs, and offences of a similar nature. The importance of the Leet lay in its annual election of the Boroughreeve and two Constables of the town. These were the officers who administered the town in the absence of any body similar to that of a town council.


One of the Boroughreeves of the 1790s described the office thus: "The Borough-reeve is considered as the principal officer, and in that capacity presides at public meetings, is applied to upon all public business, has the distribution of certain charities" and had some control over the police of the town. [3] The Constables were responsible for keeping an account of the monies expended on public business, these monies were collected from the poor rate. The Constables had a range of powers, similar to those of rural constables, but the larger size of the town, made the office more onerous, and on a number of occasions during the period, a salaried deputy-constable was elected to assist the constables in their duties. [4] The Constables were responsible for administering the removal of those who had claimed poor relief without the right of settlement in the town, the presentation of a range of malefactors, such as prostitutes or those engaged in workers' combinations, to the quarter sessions or assizes and the disbursement of sundry sums of money. Some of these disbursements were open to question. The Food Riots of 1756-7 resulted in the property of George Bramhall and others being damaged, the Constables incurred costs of almost 40 "for making good the damage done... by the late mob" to these two individuals. [5] During the patriotic fervour of the 1790s, a critic of municipal profligacy complained "If the constables chuse to make use of it [the King's Birthday] as an opportunity of treating their friends, they ought not to be permitted to refund themselves from the poor's rates." [6] A pamphlet written in the 1750s by the vicar of the Collegiate Church, for the instruction of the poor, was "written and published at the request of the late and present officers of the town of Manchester." [7]

Other officers of the town were the Churchwardens, who were responsible for the administration of poor relief. By the 1790s, they had become a self-perpetuating oligarchy, and the complaint was made that "it has lately become a point of etiquette in this township, to allow the second churchwarden to nominate officers for the ensuing year. By the mode of conducting this election, a person nominated churchwarden has continued in office three years." [8] The Churchwardens were largely responsible for the administration of the Poor Law.


By the late 1780s, a new group of officers had come into existence. Walker explains the reason for their creation: "From the immensely increased population within the last few years, the Magistrates of the county have annually sworn in about two hundred additional Constables, who are called Special Constables. " [9] In 1788 and 1800, respectively, there were at least 165 and 156 special constables for Manchester and Salford combined. [10] There was some criticism of these officers by 1796: "A great part of the special constables of Manchester, are of late composed of a ragamuffin sort of fellows, who... have their abodes in cellars and garrets, and live by conniving at and promoting prostitution, protecting pick-pockets, and compounding felony!!" [11]

The Informal Institutions


The absence of a town council resulted in the calling of town meetings on an ad hoc basis to consider specific issues. The process for calling such a meeting was usually to present a petition to the Boroughreeve and Constables, who would then reprint the petition, together with a time and place for the meeting. Peter Earle has explained the significance of such town meetings in the context of early eighteenth century London society: "Local office and attendance at meetings were time consuming but they were a necessary condition of earning the respect of one's neighbours and moving up in the world." [12] Such meetings were certainly in existence during the 1750s, when a number of meetings were held in spring and summer of 1752, in order to open a subscription for an infirmary in the town. [13] Another series of public meetings was held late in 1756, in order to raise another subscription, this time to buy flour to resell, cheaply, to the poor. [14]  In 1789 began a round of meetings initially concerned with the proposed repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, which debarred Dissenters from public office, and culminating in the creation of societies for Parliamentary Reform, and the preservation of the status quo. These meetings were of a fundamentally different nature from those of the 1750s, being, by the early years of the 1790s of a more overtly partisan nature than those predominantly charitable meetings, with broad elite support, of the 1750s. The 1790s also witnessed public meetings and the creation of committees to further economic interests.


Vigier, contrasting the administrative mechanisms of Liverpool and Manchester, writes "Manchester, devoid of any but the most rudimentary forms of local government, showed no corresponding pattern of governmental interest and effort in its economic development, but rather a collection of individual endeavours." [15] This is a misleading representation of the status quo: Manchester lacked a formal administrative body comparable to that of the Liverpool Town Council, which Vigier claims was proactive in engineering a number of infrastructural and other improvements which benefited the town's economy. However, an informal "hidden government" operated in Manchester, at least by the 1790s. A magisterial class existed, its composition and characteristics to be discussed in the chapter on the Society of Manchester during the period. Vigier makes a reference to the "individual effort" made by Mancunians to promote their own economy: this "individual effort" involved a number of identifiable individuals operating in concert in a frequent number of occasions to further specific causes, often of an economic natures, frequently of a social nature, and, for parts of the decade, of a national political nature.


One important member of this group was Charles Frederick Brandt, of whom Vigier says, "There was a dramatic expression of this hospitable [Manchester] attitude in 1799, when a German merchant, Carl Brandt, was elected 'Boroughreeve' (mayor) of the town, an occurrence probably unique in the annals of English local government." [16] This occurrence may have been unique, but Brandt did not become Boroughreeve because of any empty honour done him by the citizens of Manchester: Brandt was one of the most active members of the town's "hidden government", and had played a role in furthering a host of causes, and was a consistent supporter of the repression of Reformers during the early 1790s. Among other things, Brandt contributed money to the Anti Slave Trade movement in 1788, supported Pitt's policies in 1789, was a member of the reactionary Committee of the Association for Preserving Constitutional Order and Liberty..., of the Committee to Supply Additional Armed Corps of Infantry in the late '90s when a French invasion seemed imminent, of the Committee appointed for the superintendance of the powers of the Manchester Police Act, an officer of the Infirmary, a subscriber to the Rochdale Canal Company, a member of the Committee for the General Protection of Trade, a member of the Committee for Commercial Affairs, of the Committee of Subscribers for the Relief of the Distressed Poor, one of the subscribers to provide cheap coals for the poor, an opponent of discussing the possibility of war with Russia in Manchester in 1791, a juror of the Court Leet on a number of occasions, and a member of a Committee to prevent the export of machinery and the "seduction" of British artisans to other countries. Whilst Brandt was an unusually active member of this group, the interests he had were shared by other members. There were an equal number of causes and committees to which Brandt was not affiliated. Therefore, whilst Vigier refers to "individual effort", he describes the activities of a clique, the membership of which varied, but which had, by the 1790s, become used to taking initiatives in social and economic matters affecting the town, and increasingly in more abstract political matters.


The lists of subscribers and members of various committees in the 1790s have been collated from the Manchester Mercury and similar sources, and the affiliations of (male) Mancunians analysed. The forty eight subscribers appearing more than five times formed a distinct group, and could be regarded as the core of the hidden government. Economically speaking (the occupations of 32 of them have been determined) they were overwhelmingly textile manufacturers, only one "new professional", the barrister George Lloyd, being included. They constituted a significant force (representing more than 25% of members or subscribers) in the following: the Committee of the Association for Preserving Constitutional Order and Liberty..., the committee against the tax on Cotton Twist Exports (1800), the committee for the Superintendance of the Police Act (1800), the Officers of the Infirmary (1800), those calling a meeting for those interested in the muslin and calico manufacture (1791), the committee for the general protection of trade (1799), the Committee for Commercial Affairs (1793), committee of the subscription for the relief of the distressed poor (1795), the subscribers for cheap coals to the poor (1791), the manufacturers against East India Company imports (1791). This list illustrates their broad interests and their involvement in the administration of law, provision of charity to the poor, and, crucially, the defence of their textile-based economic interests. They were, as a group, conspicuously underrepresented in a number of societies: the Dissenters supporting the Constitution (1793) contained proportionally few members of the elite, as did the list of objectors to the Boroughreeve and Constables calling a meeting of Church of England gentlemen (1790). [17] This suggests that the hidden government was probably largely composed of members of the Church of England. Interestingly, the hidden government was not disproportionately represented on Court Leet Juries, constituting just over 14% during the decade.


Political Fora


Decisions and exchanges of views by the hidden government and the urban elite did not only take place at formal town's meetings. Informal intrigue, discussion and gossip were features of the Coffee House and alehouse alike. Writing of early eighteenth century London, Earle suggests "Seditious words spoken by drunks in taverns form a recurring theme in the revelations of the numerous spies employed by the secretaries of state, but the democracy and sobriety of the coffee-house was often seen as a greater danger." [18] During the 1750s, Manchester's elite favoured the Old Coffee House, which hosted meetings of the adjourned Court Leet, and other formal meetings such as that opening the subscription for the infirmary and to consider an application to Parliament for a Bill to turnpike the road between Manchester and Chorley. [19] Percival, during his dispute with the town's manufacturers, writing of the abuse he received at their hands, says "even after it had lost all credit within ten miles of the town of Manchester in every place, and even in most places in Manchester, but the Old Coffee-House", implying it was a haunt of the manufacturers and their supporters. [20] By the 1790s the venue for the adjourned Court Leet meeting changed, but public houses were still favoured. [21]


Public houses were places for both the rich and poor to debate and discuss politics, but they probably frequented different public houses. The certainly discussed politics in the streets during the 1750s, when Stot satirically describes them thus "for some Months last past, there has been an uncommon Number of Loiterers in the Street, who generally stand by half a Dozen in a Knot... I discover'd that they were a Parcel of King-makers", he went on to say that the business of King-making, discussing politics, "is very apt to increase the Excise" because it is often accompanied by drinking. [22] In 1790 there was a announcement that "The Question to be debated at St John's Tavern, Smithy-door, next Thursday Evening, is it consistent with good Policy in a State, to debar Subjects from Civil Offices, for their Religious Opinions?". [23] The various societies, for and against reform, were based in particular public houses. The Friendly Associated Cotton Spinners met at the Three Horse Shoes in 1792, there were Loyal Societies associated with various public houses in the town during 1793. [24] Late in 1792, there was an attempt to deprive the reforming societies of venues to meet: "a tax-gatherer, and some other persons, went round the town of Manchester to all the inn keepers and publicans, advising them, as they valued themselves, to suffer no societies similar to ours (the constitutional) to meet at their houses", and they drew up a petition refusing to host the meetings of any reforming societies. [25]


Dining with fellow-thinkers was a popular activity. Often such dinners were celebratory: one was held to commemorate the repeal of the Fustian Tax in 1790, another "to celebrate the Defeat of the Dissenters in their Attempts to obtain 'A Repeal of those Salutary Laws, the Corporation and Test Acts'. The reformers had their dinner "to commemorate the institution of the Manchester Constitutional Society... [and] the overthrow of despotism, and the establishment of civil and religious liberty in France" [26] These gatherings probably helped to bond the elite together and reinforce their common interests. Battye complains bitterly that some of the abuses which dogged the administration of the town during the early 1790s was an indirect consequence of such dinners: "It has very often entered into my mind, that the veal pie feast, held monthly at the Bull's Head, does no little mischief. On this day, the first Sunday in every month, ALL PARTIES IN OFFICE, churchwardens, overseers, constables, town and country sides-men, &c (a jolly clan) join at this pious banquet." [27]


The 1750s did not see the wave of societies which became a feature of Manchester's elite life during the 1790s. There were workers friendly societies during the decade, such as that of the smallware weavers. [28] The organisation of the subscription and subsequent administration of the Infirmary, and the occasional other charitable ventures, such as the purchase of grain for resale to the poor during the bread crisis of 1756-7, were the only ventures which appear to have brought together the members of the town's well-to-do during the period. By the 1790s, however, a number of associations was established for a variety of objectives. The Literary and Philosophical Society had been established in 1781, and quickly became popular with Manchester's growing population of medical practitioners. [29] There was a crime scare during the early 1790s and a Society for the Prosecution of Felons was established, and another society was to be set up to consider "The very great and truly alarming increase of Robberies of every kind". [30] The 1790s also saw the creation of a host of political societies supporting both sides in the struggles of the period.


Societies and quasi-social activities attended by the town's male elite, gave its members an opportunity to organise and direct their energies to activities to further their common interests, and were an important feature of the town's cultural and political life throughout the period.


The Exercise of Elite Power


The rich exercised power through patronage of the poor and the administration of charities, the main focus of their common interest during the 1750s, and a growing problem of the 1790s, as the war took its toll on trade and increased the burdens of growing numbers of restless poor. During the 1750s, the Infirmary allowed a number of individuals the right of recommending patients, because of the size of the gift they made to the Infirmary. [31] When Soup kitchens were established during January 1799, it was resolved that "a certain number of printed Recommendations be delivered to the Subscribers, who are to fill them up to such objects as they may think deserving of relief." [32] The powers of patronage were here still at work, and the expectation was that gratitude would flow from the "relieved" poor to their betters: "A crowd of poor people, who, as usual, attended, testified their gratitude for the relief they had received from it". This expectation was present in the 1750s when Clayton wrote his Friendly Advice to the Poor, telling them that "The Poor refuse or neglect to help themselves, and thereby disable their Betters from effectually helping them."; throughout, the pamphlet dwells on the "betters", "superiors" and "patrons" who have provided "many pious prudent Benefactions" for the poor. [33] Even the administration of the poor law, regulated by statute, had scope for the discretion of its officers to be used. The Ley-Payers complained that in the early 1790s, Mr Hallows, one of the overseers, used to visit the poor in their homes "whom he relieves with money and provisions at his discretion." [34]  Earle adds a gender dimension to the patronage, gratitude and control side of the administration of charity "Male control of local government also meant that it was men who ran the parish systems of poor relief and... this gave men an important weapon with which to reward those women deemed virtuous or respectable and to punish those of bad reputation." [35]


The perception of poverty as a problem worthy of the attentions of the town's elite was probably in no small part a consequence of the social unrest which accompanied periods of high prices or irregular employment. The decision to supply the poor with cheap grain was made after the grain riots of 1756-7, nothing seems to have followed an outbreak of minor food riots in August 1795, but the military were called in to quell these. [36] In the spring of 1793, potatoes were seized by the town's officers because they were being sold under weight. The Mercury was full of indignation, because "At this Time when Provisions of all Kinds are so extremely dear, there is no Punishment too Severe to be inflicted upon those, who, in so deliberate a Manner defraud the Lower Class of People...". [37] The following week a collection was made at one of the churches "for the relief of those distressed Families in Manchester who are reduced to penury through want of employment." [38] There were grounds for continued concern about the disaffected poor because an inflammatory handbill was circulated around the town early the following month. [39] Another timely display of elite concern came in 1799, during another period of distress and unemployment, with the establishment of the Soup Charity, which was part of a nation-wide phenomenon designed as "a powerful means of promoting the recovery and saving the lives of multitudes of our Sick Poor. [40]


Other institutions which provided an opportunity for the elite to exercise power were those which can be described by the generic term the "media". In the context of late eighteenth century Manchester the media consisted of the twin arms of Press and Pulpit. The products of the Manchester press consisted of newspapers, handbills and pamphlets. The Press was partisan throughout the period, and the proprietors of each of the presses used their publications to rubbish the opposition. [41] The Harrops' press was generally associated with the High Church Tory party throughout the period, whilst Whitworth's was associated with the Whig party. In the 1750s Harrop had printed Clayton's, Tory, Friendly Advice to the Poor, whilst Whitworth had printed Stot's, Whig, Sequel.... By the 1790s, both the main newspapers had united in opposition to the Reformers and they "had long teemed with inflammatory paragraphs against the friends of freedom or jacobins as it then was, and still is, the fashion to call them." [1] The Reformers had no mouthpiece, so they induced two of their number, Messrs Falkner and Birch, to establish their own newspaper, The Manchester Herald, in March 1792. This newspaper was published for a year, until the depredations of the Manchester Church and King mob and the increasingly repressive actions against the press became too much for its proprietors. They did, however, go on to publish Thomas Walker's vindicatory books.


The press also published pamphlets, usually on less contentious issues. Sometimes, however, the influence of vested interests can be seen, as in 1757, when Thomas Percival tried to get a letter published in one of the Manchester newspapers, but the wife of the proprietor "returned them to my messenger, declaring, she durst not print them, for fear of the gentlemen of Manchester", and Harrop also refused to print it, but on another pretence. [2]


The national suppression of newspapers had its effect in Manchester, and led Walker to complain "in many public-houses throughout the kingdom, you see none but such contemptible papers as the Sun and the True Briton", reinforcing the fact that the public house was an important place for debate and discussion of politics, especially amongst the poor. [3]


The Pulpit was another important source of political propaganda. The factionalism of Manchester had split the Church in two in the opening decade of the century when the Whig St Ann's church was founded in opposition to the Tory Collegiate Church. The clergy were largely drawn from the gentry, and as such, were distinct from the urban elite, whose interests they sometimes shared, and with whom they were sometimes allied. At other times they were not: during the Food Riots of the mid 1750s, the urban elite took a tough line on the rioters and had little sympathy with their complaints- that the price of bread had been artificially increased by speculators, one Clergyman preached a sermon condemning the speculators, calling their actions "Wickedness in the superlative Degree", as such he was accused of siding with the weavers during the dispute of the time and against the Manchester manufacturers, charges which he strongly denied. [4] During the turbulent 1790s, one of the leading actors in the campaign of repression against the reformers was the Revd Griffith, whom Walker portrays as a particularly unpleasant character, claiming that a witness "heard the reverend magistrate declare that he would not leave Walker a pair of shoes-he would ruin him... [and also declared] his readiness to stab Walker, and that he would hang him if possible." [5] The Church in Manchester took an unequivocally partisan line during the 1790s, starting with the agitation for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1789, "Sermons were everywhere preached against the repeal of these acts of Parliament, much in the same way as of late they have been against what is called Sedition..." [6]


Earle's views on the Church in early eighteenth London suggests caution should be taken in ascribing too profound a role to the propagandising of the pulpit: "The Church held views on gender and class supportive of a system of patriarchy and subordination, and such views were reflected in sermons, but how many people came to hear them?" [7] In Manchester, as in London, the townsfolk could go to a church which best reflected their own prejudices, and could leave for a more congenial message if a particular cleric didn't say what they hoped to hear. Of course, communion with the Church of England was almost a prerequisite for membership of the town's hidden government, and one of the inspirations of its legitimacy, as demonstrated by its message of "Church and King" during the 1790s. Earle suggests the Church in London was in decline as a regulator of the morals of the poor during the eighteenth century, and that new instruments of control had to be created to bolster the efforts of the Church. In Manchester, Charity Schools, created by prominent Anglicans, may have fulfilled this role.


The clergy were sometimes magistrates, as in 1788, when the aforementioned Revd Griffith was one of five magistrates acting in the town, the others all being Esquires, i.e. members of the gentry. By 1800, the eight magistrates for Manchester were all esquires. [8] The social origins of the magistrates also meant that they did not always side with the Manchester elite. They prosecuted a few bakers during 1757, after the Bread Riots. [9] Interestingly, they appear to have largely sided with weavers during trade disputes with individual masters. A witness to a Commons Committee was asked about the period before 1800 "How were the Disputes settled, when the Complaint was made by the Master?" and replied "In general in favour of the Weaver, even where the Master was Complainant; in short, the Magistrate always took the Part of the Workmen." [10]

The above pages have described the institutions of power. The elite had formal means of exercising power, through the court leet, the manorial offices, and in their capacity as gentry and magistrates. They also exercised power through less formal means, by attending town meetings, which came into great prominence in the last decade of the century, by their role as the Donors and distributors of charity, through their effective control of the media, as represented by Pulpit and Press, and in their capacity as employers. The poor had fewer opportunities to exercise power, although their proto-trades unions of the 1750s were a cause for concern to their employers.


Intra-Elite Conflicts


This section will consider the different manifestations of conflict between and within the different institutions of power. The nature of these conflicts and the form the conflict took within the periods under review will be demonstrated.


In the realm of intra-elite conflict, the two decades, the 1750s and the 1790s, were especially turbulent. The 1740s had seen the Jacobite rising, which had culminated in the display of the decapitated heads of the executed rebels in the town. The party acrimony which followed this was considerable, and often noted by contemporaries. A contemporary wrote "as the Town of Manchester has of late been so much the Subject of Party-Obloquy, and the publick Attention so often engaged by slanderous Accounts from prating Zealots of the great Increase of Popery and Jacobitism amongst us..", going on to defend the town.[11] Stot, in his reply to Clayton's Friendly Advice to the Poor, says "the Industry of those who are well-affected to the Government, and the H-n-v-r Succession, has made them Masters of the largest Part of the Trade, and Property will naturally produce Power." [12] Baines explicitly links the two decades, "The animosities produced by the insurrection of 1745 long outlived the rebellion itself, and the term Jacobite, applied to the advocates of the divine right of kings, was only superseded in the party nomenclature of Manchester by the term Jacobin, introduced at the breaking out of the French revolution." [13] Walker, however, implies that these party differences had largely been forgotten during the intervening decades, but that they certainly saw a renaissance in the 1790s: "The commencement of party violence in Manchester may be dated from the year 1789, when the discussions respecting the Corporation and Test Acts occupied much of the public attention." [14] Indeed, in the 1780s, people such as C F Brandt and Thomas Johnson, who were later to be involved in the reaction against the reformers, were happy to subscribe to Walker's campaign for the abolition of the slave trade.


The main intra-elite conflict of the 1790s was that between Reformers and Loyalists: the reformers seeking a change in the system of parliamentary representation and the loyalists vigorously defending the status quo. There were two distinct strands to the political societies set up by the loyalists: the loyalty movement proper, organised around the slogan "Church & King", and the war movement. Whilst the reformers also had a number of societies, which initially had differences of emphasis, they all sought essentially the same changes, and as the repression against them increased, their own survival became their focus.


The Church & King movement was formed "Immediately after the Bill for the repeal of the Test Acts was thrown out, [when] the party in Manchester who opposed that measure formed themselves into a body, which they stiled the Church and King Club. Their first meeting was held on the 13th March 1990, with solemnities as ridiculous as any to be found in the history of toryism." [15] The Church and King Club, who Walker implies were latter-day Jacobites, began what amounted to a cult of George III, and marked it with public ceremonies "Wednesday last, being the Anniversary of the Birth of our Most Gracious Sovereign... was observed in this town with the warmest feelings of affectionate Subjects, and the just sentiments of True Britons. The morning was ushered in with ringing of bells, and a general display of oak, as emblems of monarchy..." [16] The cult gathered force during the early years of the decade, but was not without its opponents. In March 1796, a number of people present at the Theatre in Manchester refused to stand and sing God Save the King before the performance, and this was reported in the local press. [17]


Another feature of the movement was its anti-dissenter character. This is natural, given the movement's origin in opposition to the repeal of the legislation which prohibited dissenters from playing a full role in national politics. Before the inception of the Church and King Club, there was to be a meeting of Church of England gentlemen against the repeal of the Test Acts, which were "The great Bulwarks and Barriers, for a Century and upwards, of our glorious Constitution in Church and State." [18] The Club held an annual dinner to celebrate "the Defeat of the Dissenters" in securing the repeal of the disabling acts. [19] The club also demonstrated what may have amounted to anti-Semitism, when they drank a toast at one of their dinners "May the seditious opinions of the Old Jewry, be opposed by every friend to this country." [20] There were popular manifestations of this anti-dissenter feeling, perhaps made respectable by the attitude of the "better sort". In June 1792, a mob tore up a tree from St Ann's Square and marched with it to the dissenters chapel "and the gates attempted to be forced open, with violent cries of 'Church and King- Down with the Rump- Down with it'. [21] The efforts of the mob to break down the chapel's doors failed, and they were persuaded to return home early in the morning. Such actions must have made the town's dissenters feel very insecure: they were viewed with suspicion because of their faith.


A third feature of the movement was the repression of societies with liberal sentiments, and a marked desire for vengeance against those they saw as traitors. In 1792 the Club announced "This Society beholds with infinite Concern, the many dangerous Plots and Associations that are forming in different Parts of this Kingdom, for the avowed Purpose of disseminating Discord and for subverting the Order of one of the most beautiful Systems of Government." [22] The members of the Church and King movement set up another society for the express purpose of pursuing the liberals. After "a dutiful and loyal Address to his Majesty", "An Association for Preserving Constitutional Order and Liberty, as well as Property, against the various Efforts of Levellers and Republicans" was formed late in 1792. [23] The Association sought out the perpetrators of sedition in order to take legal vengeance on them. At its first meeting it offered a reward of ten guineas to anyone "who will come forward and give such evidence as will discover and bring to justice any person or persons guilty of writing, printing, publishing, or dispersing seditious and treasonable writings, books, or papers,- or be guilty of any other species of treason or sedition..." [24] At the same meeting they ordered that Manchester's reforming newspaper be sent to the solicitors to the Treasury with a view to commencing a prosecution against its publishers. In January 1793, it listed thirty five people who it wished to be summoned before the magistrates to swear an oath of allegiance to the King. [25]


The Church and King movement had its popular manifestations. An effigy of Thomas Paine was hanged in the streets of Manchester, "thus he hung an Hour, amidst the Acclamations of Hundreds of Spectators; he was afterwards dragged through the Streets, and then committed to the flames the Populace singing 'God Save the King'". [26] This display of public sentiment occurred a fortnight after the upsurge in Church and King activity following the creation of the Association...  January 1793 also saw the house of Thomas Walker, the town's leading reformer, and the newspaper office of Falkner, attacked by the rioting mob, while the magistracy did nothing to prevent the violence. The deputy constable of Manchester, Richard Unite, who was reputed to have pocketed vast sums of poor relief, was approached by a man who told him of the riot at Walker's house. Unite's reply was "Oh! let them alone, they are loyal subjects, let them frighten him a bit!!" [27] Other observers of the riot suggest that not only did a number of magistrates watch the riot and not intervene when called upon by some townsmen, but they actually prompted it. [28] Loyal societies were formed in numerous pubs in the town. [29] During the autumn of the previous year most of the town's alehouse keepers and publicans had been persuaded to sign a petition not to allow any clubs to meet on their premises which "shall offend in any instance our much-admired and most excellent constitution." [30]


The atmosphere in the town was obviously very tense during January, whilst the home of Thomas Walker, and the offices of Falkner and Birch were being attacked, and a number of those groups, whose role in traditional politics was marginal, thought it expedient to make an expression of loyalty to the constitution. The petition of Manchester dissenters published on January 1st was quickly followed by that of Manchester Catholics on January 15th. [31] Sympathy for Louis, and perhaps even for the town's Catholic inhabitants,  was felt by some and it was reported that "there will be a high Mass and Solemn Dirge performed in the Catholic Chapel of this town... in consequence of the Death of the late unfortunate French Monarch." [32]


The War Movement was, of course, anti-French. The propaganda of the time referred to the French as "the French Savages", and lauded the British Constitution, in contrast to the anarchy and regicide of France. [33] Some members of the reforming party sought to avert war with France, showing how it would result in tax increases and trade difficulties: "A war with France... will deprive us of the French, the Dutch, the Austrian and the German markets for, all those nations will be engaged in it." [34] When war was declared, Manchester's men were not slow in coming forward to fight in it. A public meeting was called to determine the best way to support the government in the war and in the first week after the declaration of war, twelve hundred men from Manchester enlisted. [35] A public subscription was opened to give a voluntary subsidy to the government to assist in the war, and over two thousand pounds was raised in the first week. Another subscription was opened to raise Marines for the war. [36] The first fervour of war-mania left some of the prompt recruits, and advertisements naming deserters from the town's marine corps began to appear in the press from April onwards. [37] The war was a great boon to the loyalists: maintenance of reforming principles could easily be portrayed as anti-patriotic and pro-French. The Loyal Association of the Crown & Cushion, in Salford described a "number of Englishmen, base enemies to their country, and perversely conspiring with unequalled turpitude... to encourage the malevolence and to aid the machinations of our very adversaries..." [38] The war movement continued intermittently during the decade, reviving whenever fear of a French invasion increased. Its members practised ceremonial drilling and marching in the fields around the town, and wrote letters to each other to decide what the buttons of the infantry should look like, or what their hats should be made from, and during the last couple of years of the decade, who should pay the wages of the voluntary corps of defence. [39]


The movement for reform had a similarly disparate range of concerns. Handforth has shown how the movement emerged from the Anti-Slave campaigns of the late 1780s. [40] Thomas Walker was one of the main activists in the campaigns, and went on to become one of Manchester's leading reformers, as did his long time friend, Thomas Cooper. The Anti-Slave movement, whilst producing a number of those who went on to become Parliamentary reformers, also attracted the support of a broad range of other people. A list of subscribers "against the African Slave Trade" from January 1788, before the commencement of party discord, shows that supporters, or at least subscribers, to the campaign included such people as Charles Frederick Brandt, who was to become a leading reactionary during the 1790s, and Thomas Butterworth Bayley, who was a leading figure in Manchester's armed corps of defence in the late 1790s, and also an advocate of prison reform. Therefore, whilst the Anti-Slave Trade campaign produced some of the leading reforming activists, some of those who were to become leading reactionaries were among its subscribers. Walker tried to link the cause of the campaign with that of more general reform. At a campaign meeting chaired by Walker in January 1790 a resolution declared "we sincerely congratulate our Brethren in France... on the general diffusion amongst them, of those great Principles of universal Liberty, on which alone, legitimate Government can be ultimately founded." [41]


The attentions of the reformers was turned to the repeal of the Test & Corporation Acts during the year 1789, when there was a renaissance of party discord, which had become much quieter since the failed Jacobite uprising of 1745. Walker wrote "the bickerings between the Friends of Liberty and the idolaters of authority in Manchester were carried on with a spirit of opposition, indeed, but not of hatred... Sermons were every where preached against all who favoured the repeal of these acts of Parliament..." [42] Even after the Repeal Bill was defeated in Parliament, the reformers tried to keep the issue alive and in the popular awareness using such methods as debates in public houses. [43] Those opposed to the repeal similarly kept the issue alive by having an annual dinner to commemorate the failure of reform. [44]


The failure of the Repeal led to a period of celebration amongst the opponents of reform, but the reformers in Manchester, after licking their wounds, set up new campaigning committees to promote reform, and drew the battle lines squarely around the issue of Parliamentary Reform. The first of these committees, the Manchester Constitutional Society, was founded in October 1790. This was relatively early: the London Corresponding Society, made famous by Thompson, was only founded in January 1792, with similar principles to those of the MCS, although an earlier society, the Revolution Society, had been established in Norwich in 1788 and a Constitutional Society had existed in Birmingham during the early 1780s. Dickinson suggests there were two discernible waves of reforming activity, of which the MCS was in the vanguard of the second. [45]


The main feature of these societies was their advocacy of Parliamentary Reform: the MCS, in its lists of principles, declared that "the People of Great Britain are not fully, fairly, and adequately represented in Parliament; and that the defective state of the Representation of this country, and the extended duration of Parliament, require a speedy and effectual reform, and are objects to which the attention of this Society ought to be particularly directed." [46] When the Society came under attack from the opponents of reform in 1792, it re-affirmed its commitment "That the great object of this Society is, and always has been, to effect a reform in the present very inadequate, and corrupt state of the Representation of the people." [47]


In May and June of 1792 the Patriotic and Reformation Societies were formed in the town, with very similar principles to those of the MCS. The tide of opinion was suspicious of such societies, and the Reformation Society prudently declared that "We renounce and disclaim all riots and tumults. And we declare that we will, to the utmost of our power, at the command of the magistrates, assist in suppressing and quelling any such which may arise." [48]

The fourth feature of the reform movement was its support for the French Revolution. Walker's resolution lauding the revolution has already been cited, and Walker was very enthusiastic about the revolution, writing, "In the affairs of France, we saw, as we thought, the most perfect and yet the most peaceful revolution..." [49] He encouraged the MCS to hold a celebratory dinner in July 1791, which toasted "the overthrow of despotism", and in November 1790, a dinner celebrating the 1688 English Revolution, toasted the French Revolution and the "Majesty of the People". [50] In April 1792, Thomas Cooper, and James Watt, junior, presented an address to the Society of Jacobins in Paris, and this gave rise to a Parliamentary debate in which the MCS was severely criticised. [51]


The coming of war provided a reason for the reactionaries to label the reformers traitors, and their previous support for the revolutionaries in France added weight to their accusations. The reformers were probably largely antiwar, Thomas Cooper advocating that the King refused counsel from those ministers supportive of war with France "and take such measures as are most effectual to prevent the dangers of impending War." [52] He also stressed the economic disadvantages of war arising from the loss of continental markets, a theme likely to appeal to the Manchester mercantile interest.


Evidence of popular involvement in the reform movement is slim. The government agent Dunn, the leading informant against Thomas Walker, portrayed Walker's house as teeming with disaffected weavers practising marching with guns and shooting at targets, but his evidence was entirely discredited. In April 1794, shortly after Walker's trial, there was a large gathering at Royton, near Manchester, for those interested in Parliamentary reform, and about a hundred sympathisers, or otherwise interested parties arrived, but a party of opponents broke up the gathering with violence. [53] A man was indicted for "using seditious expressions, and declaring that the King ought to lose his head, and also the Lords and Commons." [54] Such sentiments were sometimes expressed by working men in the ale house, but there is very little evidence of a widespread movement for revolution.


The composition of the reforming societies seems to have been largely middle class. Dickinson suggests this was a national trend, members of these societies "were nearly all composed of small merchants, professional men, shopkeepers and tradesmen." [55] Walker, perhaps overly-enthusiastic to stress the "respectable" character of the MCS, stressed that its members were "several merchants and manufacturers in Manchester, together with some members of the [learned professions". [56] Handforth stresses the anonymity of many of the reformers, but points out the similarity of their social origins with those active in the reactionary groups at the time. [57]  The small group of leaders of the reform movement, that is, those who were perceived as its leaders by the reactionaries, and who held office of some sort in the various reform societies, consisted of six men, five of whom had been prominent in their support of the Anti-Slave movement. They were also closely associated with the Constitutional Society, and their activity in the Anti-Slave movement may have resulted in their recruitment into the Constitutional Society. The leaders of the Patriotic and Reformation Societies do not seem to have been involved in the Anti-Slavery movement, and were not perceived as a problem by the leaders of the reactionary groups. [58] Four of the men were merchants (Thomas Walker, George Philips, William Rigby, junior, and George Wakefield), the other two were Thomas Cooper, a whitster, and the movement's "thinker", and Samuel Jackson, a cotton dealer. [59] Those thirty five men listed on the APCOL list came almost exclusively from the mercantile or professional trades. In addition, six of them, Thomas Walker, George Philips, William Rigby, junior, Samuel Jackson, William Hibbert and Samuel Gregg were members of the hidden government of the town, suggesting that much of the reform-reaction conflict of the period was between members of the town's elite.




This chapter has shown that Manchester was not, as Vigier suggested, "ungoverned" during the period in question. Instead, a series of more or less formal committees and societies, drawing their membership from the middling and higher levels of the urban social strata, performed those tasks which, in other polities, would have been performed by local governments, and to that extent, Manchester was ruled by a "hidden government". The elite was divided during the early and late decades of the period, firstly because of the animosities which accompanied the routing of the Jacobite uprising, and lastly because of the failure of reform agitation, and the ambivalence of the reformers towards the French "enemies" during wartime. Both sections of the elite sought to make a popular appeal, but, on balance, it was the reactionaries who captured the public sympathy in Manchester.



[1] - Walker, p 45.


[2] - Percival, p 18.


[3] - Walker, p 25.


[4] - Robinson, preface, and p 49.


[5] - Walker, p 116.


[6] - Walker, p 15.


[7] - Earle, 1994, op cit., p 176.


[8] - 1788 and 1800 Trade Directories.


[9] - HMM 288  23 Aug 1757.


[10] - House of Commons, 1803. p 91.


[11] - Manchester Vindicated: Being a Compleat Collection of the Papers Lately published in Defence of that Town, in the Chester Courant, Chester 1749.


[12] - Stot, pp 32-3.


[13] - Baines, p 109.


[14] - Walker, p 11.


[15] - Walker, p 15.


[16] - HMM  2242, 10 June 1794.


[17] - HMM 2324, 8th March 1796.


[18] - HMM 2017, 2 Feb 1790.


[19] - e.g. HMM 2067,  18 Jan 1791.


[20] - HMM  2074, 8 Mar 1791.


[21] - Walker pp 39-40.


[22] - HMM 2142, 26th June 1792.


[23] - HMM 2167, 18 Dec 1792.


[24] - Minutes of "An Association for Preserving Constitutional Order and Liberty as Well as Property against the Various Efforts of Levellers and Republicans", Chetham's Library, M A6 45, 12 Dec 1792.


[25] - Minutes of Association... 17th Jan 1793.


[26] - HMM 2169, 1 Jan 1793.


[27] - Walker, p 57.


[28] - Walker, pp 57-9.


[29] - HMM 2185, 23 April 1793. e.g the Loyal Society held at the White Lion in Long Millgate.


[30] - Walker, p 43.


[31] - HMM nos 2169, 1 Jan 1793 and 2171 15th Jan 1793.


[32] - HMM 2175  12 Feb 1793.


[33] - Walker, p 43. and HMM 2093, 19th Jul 1793.


[34] - Walker, pp 50-51.


[35] - HMM 2175, 12 Feb 1793.


[36] - HMM 2177 26 Feb 1793.


[37] - e,g, HMM 2184, 16 April 1793, in which 20 men are named.


[38] - HMM 2237, 6 May 1794.


[39] - See for instance the correspondence of John Leigh Philips in Manchester Records Office, Central Library, M84/1 various.


[40] - Handforth, 1956.


[41] - HMM 2013, 5th Jan 1790.


[42] - Walker, p 15.


[43] - For instance "The Question to be debated at St John's Tavern, Smithy-door, next Thursday Evening, is it consistent with good Policy in a State, to debar Subjects from Civil Offices, for their Religious Opinions?" HMM 2030 4th May 1790.


[44] - Members of the Church and King Club were invited to such a dinner in January 1791. HMM 2067 18th Jan 1791.


[45] - Dickinson, p 12.


[46] - Walker, p 17.


[47] - Walker, p 26.


[48] - Walker, op cit., p 37.


[49] - Walker, op cit., p 19.


[50] - Walker, op cit., p 22, and HMM 2055, 26th Nov 1790.


[51] - Walker, op cit., p 25.


[52] - Walker, op cit., p 54.


[53] - HMM 2236, 29 April 1794.


[54] - HMM 2172, 15 Jan 1793.


[55] - Dickinson, p 12.


[56] - Walker, p 16.


[57] - Handforth, p 94.


[58] - The Association for the Preservation of Constitutional Order and Liberty... resolved "that the Magistrates acting in the Manchester District be requested to summon the following Persons to appear before them as soon as possible, and to take the Oath of Allegiance to his Majesty King George the Third." Jan 17 1793, Chetham's Library, M. A6. 45.


[59] - These men were all officers of the various societies or stewards at the reform dinners, and were on the APCOL list of those to be made to swear the Oath of Allegiance, in addition, all but George Wakefield subscribed at least one pound to the Anti Slave trade movement in Jan 1788. HMM 1910, 22 Jan 1788.



[1] - Redford, p vii.


[2] - Redford, p vii.


[3] - Walker, p 23.


[4] - In the 1790s the Associated Ley-Payers of Manchester claimed that the creation of a salaried deputy constable was illegal.


[5] - Earwalker, Manchester Constables' Accounts, vol VIII, Manchester 1892, pp 109-110.


[6] - Associated Ley-Payers, 1794, p 10.


[7] - Clayton.


[8] - Associated Ley-Payers, p ix.


[9] - Walker, p 23.


[10] - Manchester and Salford Trade Directories of 1788 and 1800. The 1800 figures are obviously defective because they do not include the names of the officers for two of the fourteen divisions.


[11] - Battye, 1796, p 6.


[12] - Earle, 1989, p 244.


[13] - Harrops Manchester Mercury, nos 7 to 17.


[14] - HMM 253  11th Jan 1757.


[15] - Vigier, p 97.


[16] - Vigier, p 98.


[17] - The forty eight men accounted for 16% of all affiliations, but they accounted for only 7% of the Dissenters and those opposed to the Church of England meeting. There is a 60% crossover between the two sets of affiliations, i.e. 9 men appear on both lists. 


[18] - Earle,1991, p 263.


[19] - The Court Leet was held in St Ann's Coffee House from 1759. Earwalker, Court Leet Records, vol VIII, p 38. HMM 7 14 April 1752, HMM 35 7th Nov 1752.


[20] - Percival, 1758, p 5.


[21] - Earwalker, Court Leet Records, vol IX.


[22] - Stot, pp 29-30.


[23] - HMM 2030  4 May 1790.


[24] - Such as that at the White Lion in Long Millgate. HMM 2185  23rd April 1793, and the Crown and Cushion in Salford HMM 2237  6 May 1794.


[25] - Walker, pp 41-3. The anonymous tax gatherer may have been Edward Wharmby, who was criticised by the Associated Ley Payers for his lax collection of the poor rate which seemed "to have been very much neglected through Mr Wharmby's other engagements", of which nine are listed. Associated Ley Payers, p xxx.


[26] - HMM 2028  20 Apr 1790, HMM 2067  18 Jan 1791, and Walker, p 22.


[27] - Battye, 1797, pp 53-4.


[28] - Shuttle, 1756.


[29] - Hindle p 9.


[30] - HMM 2021 2 Mar 1790 and 2025  30 Mar 1790.


[31] - HMM 179, 5 Aug 1755.


[32] - HMM 2478  12 Feb 1799.


[33] - Clayton, p 2.


[34] - Associated Ley Payers, p viii.


[35] - Earle, 1994, p 176.


[36] - HMM 2293 4 Aug 1795.


[37] - HMM 2186  30 Apr 1793.


[38] - HMM 21867 7 May 1793.


[39] - HMM 2191  4 Jun 1793.


[40] - HMM 2473 8 Jan 1799.


[41] - See for example Harrop's rubbishing of Orion Adams, of Chester, and Joseph Whitworth of Manchester in, respectively, HMM 16  16 Jun 1752 and HMM 30 3 Nov 1752.