Blog 2: June 1820 journal entries
On the 16th August 1819, a gathering of citizens of Manchester and other towns in the region was violently broken up by an armed militia. This resulted in about eighteen deaths and many serious injuries. The meeting had been called to promote the idea of better political representation of the interests of the majority who were at that time without political representation of any sort.
The main speaker at this meeting was one Henry Hunt, a prominent spokesman for radical democratic reform of the political system. The following year, Henry Hunt was sentenced to two years and six months in Ilchester Gaol for his part in the “illegal” Manchester meeting. After incarceration at Ilchester, Somerset, on the 17th May, 1820, Hunt kept a journal detailing the unjust treatments he received there at the hands of the gaoler William Bridle and his subordinates. The journal, according to the transcriber, Tricia Neal, is primarily written in the hand of Henry Hunt, but with sections seemingly in the handwriting of fellow prisoner John Kinnear. It isn’t clear if Mr. Kinnear was noting down words dictated by Hunt, or under some other arrangement.
According to Hunt, William Bridle acted in contradiction to the expressed intentions of the magistrates who had handed down Hunt’s sentence. Hunt was denied comforts allowed him under the terms of his sentence; visitors were hindered in, and in some instances entirely prevented from seeing him. Hunt’s efforts to ease the severe lot of his fellow inmates were also frequently obstructed by Bridle.
Hunt made frequent complaints to the magistrates and the sheriff regarding what he saw as his harsh treatment, appealing to them to lighten the stringency of his conditions. Here below is a copy of a note he sent to a visiting magistrate.
” Ilchester Gaol July 5 1821 Mr. Hunt presents his respectful Compliments to the Magistrates assembled at the Gaol Sessions and will thank them to favour him with a Short interview previous to their settling the Contract with the Baker as he has a communication to make that may be of some use to the Magistrates in making their future Contracts.
Mr. Hunt presents his compliments to Mr. Hanning and begs the Honour of an interview with him before he leaves the Gaol as he does not rightly understand the day fixed for the Gaoler to enter upon his Second defence. Mr. Hunt having been put to considerable expense and inconvenience in preparing to meet the Sheriff and Magistrates Tomorrow, he hopes the High Sheriff will put him in possession of the precise time he intends to enter upon this matter again. Can it be possible that the Sheriff and Magistrates intend sanctioning the atrocities which have been committed by them(?) by leaving the meanest prisoner in his Custody after what has come to their knowledge.”
These accusations of Hunts were refuted at some length by Bridle, who quoted Hunt and others saying things that contradicted the prisoner’s long list of alleged ill treatments. However, Hunt kept in his journal a detailed list of what he considered to be infringements of his rights.
In the early stages of the journal, Hunt describes his attempts to get his ward in the gaol improved through the laying of wooden floors, the hanging of a door, and other sundry items. He complains of the gaoler’s actions which caused unnecessary delays in the work, obliging him and his visitors to endure cold floors.
Another cause of much unhappiness for hunt was the locking up of the factory when it wasn’t in use by the prisoners. He and fellow prison inmate John Kinnear had permission to use that area for exercise purposes, yet were often unable to avail themselves of this facility because the doors to the factory were often locked.
Hunt’s bitterest grievances, however, seem to be those arising from obstructions put in the way of him receiving visitors.
On Sunday, 25th June 1820 was entered this note into the journal: “A friend of Mr. Hunts a Mr. Cousins from Heytesbury Distant from hence 35 Miles came today to visit him. He arrived at the gaol about ½ past 3 o’clock. He then came when we were at dinner but before a few words were exchanged the hour of his departure was announced by the Turnkey. Mr. Hunt sent his compliments to Mr. Bridle to request that the interview might be extended by a few minutes as he had business with His friend who had come 35 Miles on purpose to see him. Mr. Bridle refused to comply with request.”
The prevention of visits from close female acquaintances, such as his mistress, Mrs. Vince, were especially painful for Hunt.
This journal has been kindly transcribed by Tricia Neal for Archives+. To view the original journal and full transcription for this section please see below.
Archives+ volunteers will be writing more Peterloo Massacre blogs over the next few months, covering the next 3 sections of the journal and additional related topics.
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