Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

The Cato Street conspirators – a little bit of extra history hidden in the Library

Posted by wcmlibrary on February 3, 2014

The Library has a great collection of material relating to trials of the last 200 years, from suffragettes to the Shrewsbury pickets, from Meerut to Hone.  There are 205 items on our catalogue with the subject term ‘trials’ – have a browse!

Some of our most rare material dates from the early 19th century and concerns radicals accused of crimes from seditious libel to treason.   One such item is a two-volume account of the trial of the Cato Street conspirators.  A group of men involved in radical politics plotted to kill government ministers dining at Lord Harrowby’s house on 23 February 1820. The conspirators assembled in a hayloft in Cato Street, near Grosvenor Square in London.  However, the ministers were not at the house and it was a trap. George Edwards, a member of the group, was in fact an agent provocateur working for the government.

The trials of Arthur Thistlewood, James Ings, John Thomas Brunt, Richard Tidd, William Davidson, and others, for high treason, at the Sessions House in the Old Bailey, … 17-28th April, 1820, with the antecedent proceedings: in two volumes was published shortly after the trial from the verbatim shorthand notes of William Brodie Gurney.   Interesting indeed.  But the Library’s copy of volume 2 has a few even more exciting pages bound in at the back.  They show printed specimen handwriting from the accused men.  According to our founders Ruth and Eddie Frow a few copies of the book were printed with these pages, after the Counsel for the prisoners asked each of them to write something.

William Davidson, one of the accused, was born in the 1780s in Jamaica. He answered the request by writing the following:

He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is a folly and a shame upon him.
Thou shalt not oppress a stranger in a strange land.
Thou shalt not pervert the judgement of a stranger.
W Davidson

On 28 April 1820, William Davidson, James Ings, Richard Tidd, Arthur Thistlewood and John Brunt were found guilty of high treason. They were hanged outside Newgate Prison on 1 May 1820.


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