1st April 1820 - The Radical War

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1st April 1820 - The Radical War

In April 1820 Years Of Growing Unrest Erupted In Glasgow City And Other Areas Of Scotland, Into What Is Now Known As The Radical War Or Scottish Insurrection Of 1820.

Strikes, confrontations and calls for reform from disenchanted workers were viewed with real fear by factory owners and the gentry (who were anxious that the unrest could result in a revolution similar to that in France). The Militia were called in to deal with the threat, and Government forces at Glasgow dealt firmly but relatively peacefully with 300 ‘radicals’ in the city on the evening of Monday 3 April. Many of the radicals were weavers, who had seen their earnings fall dramatically after the Napoleonic Wars. One radical leader, the weaver John Craig was arrested and fined after attempting to lead a march from Glasgow to the Carron Ironworks, Falkirk. In the end, revolution was averted with several leaders of the radicals eventually executed and others transported.

Glasgow City Archives holds several sources about the event, which can be viewed at our searchroom. 

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Our collection includes autobiographical papers of John MacKinnon, a clerk at Carnobie Ironworks who joined the Radicals. These detail various meetings he attended and describe various marches including one where Radicals from areas such as Anderston and Calton processed through Glasgow, some wearing ‘caps of liberty’ and or green ribbons (a symbol of the reformers).
Ref: TD743
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‘The Scottish Insurrection of 1820’ P Beresford Elis & Seumas Mac a’ Ghobhainn
Here is a copy of the Radicals Proclamation calling for strikes for reform and better pay, which was posted throughout Glasgow city. Ref: LE1/1037  
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​Letters to and from Glasgow’s Lord Provost of the time, Henry Monteith, show the fear of revolution that the unrest caused amongst those in authority, with information about the Radicals movements being closely monitored and shared. This particular letter dated 4 April 1820, describes how one Radical was shot after ‘a spirited resistance’ was made in Paisley. The author begs the Lord Provost to send an update of ‘the aspect of matters in Glasgow’.
Ref: G1/2/35
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​Local gentry arranged for militia or appointed special constables to respond to the Radicals, but not all the men drafted were keen to take up the task. In a collection from local landowner Nicol Brown (a descendant by marriage to the tobacco lords The Bogles), there is a list of the names of seven men who did not turn up for duty at Lanfine.
Ref: TD1681/bundle 5
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The Wellington Factory was a cotton spinning and weaving factory in Hutchestoun, Glasgow. This printed notice by the factory owners condemns the recent unrest and strikes calling the Radicals ‘wicked rebels’ and requesting workers to ‘give up the names of all you know had pikes’ or attended the ‘seditious meetings’. Ref: TD200.95
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