The second Spa Fields protest meeting started by looking very similar to the first- the same place, same field and same pubic house, and the same flooding of London with pamphlets and handbills beforehand.(see above)However, the tactics of the Spenceans had changed. They already knew that the Prince Regent had refused leave to present the petition and were determined to incite their insurrection before the meeting and try to turn it into an armed revolution against the Lord Liverpool Government
The other similarity was the planned speech by Henry Hunt at 1pm. However, the Spenceans seemed to have pre-empted Hunt’s arrival when they arrived with a cattle wagon full of flags with inflammatory slogans .
“Nature, Truth and Justice”
“Feed the Hungary”
“Protect the Oppressed”
There was also gunpowder, guns and pikes in the wagon, according to their treason trial in 1817, and this seems very likely. Some of them seemed to be either mariners or dressed like them .Another of the slogans was an exhortation to treat soldiers and sailors as friends. Arthur Thistlewood was probably there, and the pro-military comments suggests that Thistlewood, an ex soldier, was key to the planning but the speaker, who announced himself as “ Mr Smith”, was almost certainly James Watson Junior, another member of the society. He told the crowd that the petition had been rejected, despite this not quite being the truth; it had just not been presented yet. He attacked the royalty “This Brunswick Family” -”people with a million pounds who give the poor £5000”.
Hunt had been delayed on the way to the meeting. John Castle, Hunt’s driver and an agent provocateur, was possibly under orders to delay him so that the others could start without them. It was the work of this government spy was the reason why they leaders of the insurrection were acquitted of treason in 1817
Mr Smith compared Hunt to Wat Tyler, the leader of the 1381 peasants’ revolt, and made it clear that this was a good thing. In reality, the Spencean view of Hunt was not high, and they knew only his ego had brought him back to address another mass meeting. Hunt was swinging from the moderate positions of Cobbett and Burdett to the unconstitutional ambitions of Thistlewood and the Spenceans and trying to be the leader of both.
About 200 to 1000 of the protesters never heard Hunt speak, as they had successfully been peeled off by the inflammatory speech of Smith/ Watson. They accepted the Spenceans offer to arm themselves and defend their English liberty with force. The Chester Courant said that “trail was soon discernible by fragments of lamps and windows”.
They swept away to the Tower and the Royal Exchange by way of all the gun shops on the way. The ease with which they located them suggested that some research had already been done. the attempted insurrection was not an accidental result of Spa Fields alone-newspapers report that more members of the mob from Newgate and Finsbury Square converged with the Spa Fields group.
This serious violence was to continue for many hours . Meanwhile, Hunt arrived late, about 1pm wearing a much bigger overcoat than last time, presumably in attempt to stay in the cold and not taken refuge in the public house. He has also brought his own modest coach (“shabby” according to the Courant) possibly because of the damage had been caused at the last meeting to somebody else’s property,as the newspapers were more than eager to present him a a Jacobin who would destroy that belonging to others, which he had accidently done when standing on a coach last time.
Hunt reported what they crowd already knew- that the Prince Regent had declined to see their petition. The crowd also groaned in disappointment when Hunt reminded them that Sir Francis Burdett had declined to come from Brighton to co-present the petition. Hunt reported that the Prince Regent had contributed £5000 to the Soup Committee, which provided sustenance to distressed mariners, but that he had no interest in any radical political or economic change. Hunt reported back his exchange of exaggeratedly polite correspondence with Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary. Despite the formulaic good manners of his letters, Sidmouth was now convinced of a conspiracy to overthrow the government. Hunt continued to better his two hour speech of November 15th, with the exhortation to face the artillery of the evil with the more powerful artillery of truth, and ritual condemnations of corrupt placemen, unrepresentative parliaments, taxation and standing army designed to oppress the people.
Meanwhile, a few miles away, the state power was reasserting itself. Despite arming themselves with the proceeds of looted guns hops, the Spenceans were unable to defeat the Life Guards and Life Dragoons that were set against them. The Riot Act had already been read at about 4pm.
There were failed attacked on the Tower of London by a very drunk James Watson junior; the members of Lloyds Coffee house were conscripted as special constables. Sir W Curtis, the first MP to speak against the property tax a few months earlier, organised a spirited defence of the Royal Exchange. Despite clear banners with slogans such as “We consider the soldiers our friends”, the army remained loyal to the government. The insurrection ended about 9pm. Two Spenceans, Hopper and Cashman were arrested. There was a least one casualty, a warehouseman called Platt , shot in the groin by a Spencean, probably Watson junior again, and probably drunk again
Watson was still at large on December 14th. Lord Sidmouth, desperate for a treason trial, offered £500 for his apprehension. Watson, it is alleged, contacted the Home Secretary and offered to surrender if he himself could have the money. Watson had previously had treatment for insanity in Bath, and, at time, this showed.
Sane or not, he needed to be captured and made example of. The establishment obliged.The City of London offered another £100, plus an extra £50 for the person who shot Platt, knowing full well that this was the same person. This was enough to get informants about Watson’s location, although he did little to hide himself. he was spotted in a pub in the east end of town, declaring that he would like to either “die a Bellingham ( the man who murdered Prime Minister Spencer Percival) or live a Cicero”
In late December Thomas Preston was bailed at the Mansion House. Bail was set at £50 and was promised by Mark Berman, straw hat maker. and C Pendrill, boot maker . Simmonds ” a man of colour” and apparent associate of Preston, was released/
The Spenceans themselves put down the failure of their attempted coup to the fact that ” the people were not ripe” for revolution. They tried again in 1817 and 1818 but by 1820 they had switched to assassination as a new tactic.
There is a whole chapter in my book ( below) about Arthur Thistlewood. Details here.