Chartist Riots

Disruption of the Peak Forest Canal in 1842

Chartism was a working-class movement whose aim was to reform Parliament to permit working men to be represented in Parliament. As a consequence of this movement there were riots in 1839, 1842 and 1848 that were instigated by Parliament's rejection of three Chartist petitions. The riots of 1842 were mainly in the industrial areas of the North West, the Midlands and South Wales, the latter being known as the Rebecca Riots. In the North West, the riots commenced as a protest against wage cuts and these were swiftly taken up by Chartist leaders with the aim of causing a general strike that would carry on until the 'People's Charter' became law. In Staffordshire they were known as the Plug Plot Riots because of the policy of removing boiler plugs to bring factories to a standstill. Manchester and industrial towns to its southeast was a specific centre of attention with strikes, meetings and processions in Ashton-under-Lyne, Dukinfield, Glossop, Hyde, Manchester, Mottram, Stalybridge and Stockport. There were instances of railways being disrupted but the Peak Forest Canal was singled out for special attention, as it was considered to be an important industrial route. For that reason, the canal (and the mills alongside it) received particular attention by the rioters and it is believed to be the only occasion that a canal was attacked in this way. Replicated below are newspaper reports recording the disruption to the Peak Forest Canal.

The year 1842 is believed to be the first year in which the Government used the then new railway system to move troops for the purpose of maintaining public order and this is how it was recorded:

The first newspaper article describes how the riot, commencing in New Mills, disrupted the working of the Peak Forest Canal, especially around Bugsworth Basin and the canal company's quarries. It also records how local industry was disrupted. This article was in The Derby Mercury on Wednesday, 24 August 1842.

In the first and third press cuttings below there is confusion about the names (and spelling) of the three persons alleged to have destroyed a lock gate somewhere on the Marple flight of locks in order to disrupt the movement of boats along the Peak Forest Canal.

Jackson's Oxford Journal, Saturday, 20 August 1842:

Manchester Times & Gazette, Saturday, 20 August 1842:

Caledonian Mercury, Thursday, 13 October 1842:

The report below described the Chartists as a mob and it stated that the men in charge were Joseph Taylor of Marple Bridge and Christopher Doyle of Manchester.

The above report suggests that it was the single lock gate at the head of the lock that was damaged.

There was also a disturbance at nearby Shepley's Bridge and Shepley's Mills on the Macclesfield Canal. An account of what happened was given to the court by William Moore, a Dresser at Shepley's Mills:

'A mob of around 250 strong was assembled on and around the bridge where they demanded that all hands be turned out of the mills. In response to their demands, Mr James Shepley, the mill master, stopped all work and turned out all the hands, which numbered about 500 or 600 persons.'

Shepley's Mills were situated on the offside of the Macclesfield Canal immediately beyond Shepley's Bridge where there was a also a wharf. Shepley's Mills were sometimes referred to as Rhode Mills on account of two mill masters, Shepley and Rhodes, being related. Rhodes also had a mill in the Glossop area.

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Shepley's Bridge on the Macclesfield Canal at Marple looking south, 14 April 2012.

On Wednesday, 10 August 1842, this bridge was the scene of Chartist unrest when a mob of around 250 strong descended upon Shepley's Mills and congregated on and around Shepley's Bridge.

Here they were met by Mr Shepley and a number of his workers who were told that, 'We want all the hands turned out of the mills.' Therupon, Mr Shepley stopped the mills and turned out 500 or 600 workers.

Shepley's Bridge viewed from the bottom of Shepley Lane, 14 April 2012.