William Hulton

William Hulton

William Hulton, the son of William and Jane Hulton, was born on 23rd October 1787. William Hulton, the High Sheriff of Lancashire, was a substantial landowner. The family lived at Hulton Park, a large estate twelve miles outside Manchester. The family also owned land in Harpurhey and Denton. William Hulton died in 1799. William was only twelve at the time and had to wait until 1808 before he could inherit the family estate.

William Hulton won a place at Brasenose College, Cambridge. After university he returned to Hulton Park to marry his cousin, Maria Ford, and to manage his large estates and a coal-mine at Westhoughton. Maria had thirteen children, of these, ten survived into adulthood.

At the age of twenty-four William Hulton became High Sheriff of Lancashire. This was a time when workers were rebelling against the building of textile factories. In 1812 Hulton arrested twelve men for setting fire to a weaving mill in Westhoughton. Four of the accused, Abraham Charlston, Job Fletcher, Thomas Kerfoot, and James Smith, were executed. Abraham Charlston's family claimed he was only twelve years old but he was not reprieved. It was reported that Abraham cried for his mother on the scaffold.

William Hulton was also kept busy with local attempts to form trade unions. One worker at Thomas Rowe's Westhoughton factory was found guilty of "administering unlawful oaths" and was transported to Australia for seven years.

By 1819 William Hulton had obtained a reputation as a man who could be relied upon to deal severely with working class people arguing for political reform. It was therefore no surprise when Hulton was appointed as chairman of the Lancashire and Cheshire Magistrates in July 1819. This was a special committee set up to deal with the social unrest that was taking place in the new industrial towns.

At about 10.30 a.m. on 16th July, 1819 William Hulton and nine other magistrates met at a house in Mount Street, to discuss what they should do about the planned meeting at St. Peter's Field that day. Hulton had already arranged for a military force to be in Manchester to deal with the large number of people expected to arrive to hear Henry Hunt speak on parliamentary reform. This included the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry, the Cheshire Yeomanry and the 15th Hussars.

The house in Mount Street overlooked St. Peter's Field and the magistrates could see the large crowd assembling below. After watching events for a couple of hours, Hulton came to the conclusion that "the town was in great danger". Hulton therefore decided to read the Riot Act and instructed Joseph Nadin, Deputy Constable of Manchester, to arrest Henry Hunt and the other leaders of the demonstration. Nadin replied that this could not be done without the help of the military. Hulton then wrote two letters and sent them to Lieutenant Colonel L'Estrange, the commander of the military forces in Manchester and Major Trafford, the commander of the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry. It was while the military attempted to make these arrests that eleven people were killed and over four hundred were injured.

After the Peterloo Massacre William Hulton was severely criticised for the way he dealt with the situation. John Hobhouse, the radical M.P. for Westminster, accused him of lying about what had taken place. Hulton popularity was not improved when he claimed that the "16th August 1819 was the proudest day in my life." Hulton also insisted that only two people had been killed in St. Peter's Field and that one of these was a special constable.

William Hulton continued to develop his business interests after the Peterloo Massacre. Between 1824 and 1828 he was involved in the planning and construction of the Bolton & Leigh Railway. Hulton's main objective was to get his coal to a wider market and to enable the industrialists in Bolton to find a shorter and cheaper route to the port of Liverpool. In 1830 the line was linked to the Manchester & Liverpool Railway at Kenyon Junction.

In March 1831 Hulton's miners at Westhoughton went on strike. Hulton was furious and argued that they had betrayed him: "I have amply rewarded you for your labour relieving your families in sickness or distress and educated your children. What has been your conduct towards me? You have wantonly injured me in my purse and wounded my feelings." Hulton told his workers that unions "disunited masters and men" and that he would never again employ a member of the Collier's Union. This was a threat he was unable to carry out.

In 1820 William Hulton had been offered a safe Tory seat in the House of Commons, he refused it, complaining he would be a target of abuse during the campaign. Hulton hoped that eventually he would be forgiven for his role in the Peterloo Massacre but whenever he was recognised by working class people they would chant 'Peterloo'. While campaigning in Bolton for the Conservative candidate in the 1841 election, Hulton was physically attacked by a crowd shouting Peterloo and had to be rescued by local party members.

Although deeply hurt by the way people blamed him for the Peterloo Massacre, William Hulton continued to play an active way in public life.

William Hulton died in 1864.

Primary Sources

(1) William Hulton described his actions on 16th August, 1819 at the trial of Henry Hunt.

We first assembled at the Star Inn, and then adjourned to Mr. Buxton's house, which overlooked St. Peter's Area. We assembled between ten and eleven o'clock. As Chairman of the bench of magistrates for the counties of Lancaster and Chester, much of my time was taken up in writing, but I frequently looked out of the window and saw large bodies of men approach. The first came by Mosley Street towards St. Peter's Square, with banners and music. The persons in command went up to the hustings and deposited their colours. They were regularly received with loud huzzahs.

I observed the arrival of Hunt; he was in a carriage, in which I believe were also Johnson, Moorhouse and Carlile. I had a view over the whole of St. Peter's area; the number of persons assembled was estimated at 50,000; the meeting did undoubtedly inspire terror in the minds of the inhabitants. Many gentleman stated to me they were greatly alarmed, and looking to all the circumstances, my opinion was that the town was in great danger. Manchester was a large place and contained many workshops and warehouses. The magistrates in consequence of these proceedings deemed it necessary to issue a warrant for the apprehension of the supposed leaders, which was given to Nadin. He refused to serve the warrant without military aid. The reason Nadin gave was perfectly satisfactory. I then wrote two letters, one to the Commander of the Manchester Yeomanry, the other to Colonel L'Estrange.

The cavalry waved their swords and advanced to the hustings. I should say it was something of a trot. The horses were fidgeting in consequence of the noise, and they were not in good order. I saw none of the cavalry galloping. The space which the cavalry made in their approach was immediately filled up by the people. I think the space was filled up for the purpose of closing them, and cutting them off. The impression made on my mind at the time was, that the people closed in order to injure the Yeomanry.

When the Yeomanry advanced to the hustings I saw bricks and stones flying. I wish to convey to the jury those stones and bricks were thrown in defiance of the military. I saw them attacked, and under that impression I desired Colonel L'Estrange to advance. On my saying to Colonel L'Estrange 'Good God, Sir, they are attacking the Yeomanry - disperse the crowd', he advanced, and the dispersion of the crowd took place. Many of the people did not fly when the first body of the cavalry rode amongst them. The moment Colonel L'Estrange advanced with his squadron, the general flight took place.

(2) In The Manchester Times on 24th December, 1831, Archibald Prentice considered comments made by William Hulton about the Peterloo Massacre.

It is upon the gross falseness of his statements that I will comment. Mr. Hulton says that "as to the loss of lives, two people were killed in St. Peter's Field - one, a woman, who having impersonated the Goddess of Reason, was trampled to death in the crowd; and the other a special constable, who was cut down unintentionally by a private of a dragoon regiment."

(3) Statement made by William Hulton in 1833.

A considerable number of persons including the principal gentlemen of the town were sworn in as special constables, but they were not on the ground as a body. They were desired to protect the 'Factories' which were in great danger of being burned down if the mob succeeded in their plan of operations. A portion of these constables were also employed to watch, on horseback, the approaches to the town, and to bring reports to the Magistrates then assembled at a house from the windows of which was given a complete view of the Square.

The moment Nadin, the head of the Police, advanced, the crowd, amounting to nearly 80,000, began to pelt him and the constables with stones. It then became impossible to serve the warrant by the aid of the civil power alone. The military were called to the Square and a general conflict ensued. Hunt and others were captured, Carlile escaped. The greatest injury was inflicted by the dragoons. A special constable was killed by a sabre wound.

(4) In 1831 William Hulton, the owner of a coalmine in Westhoughton, was in conflict with the Colliers' Union. Comments he made to his workers was quoted in the Bolton Chronicle.

I have amply rewarded you for your labour relieving your families in sickness or distress and educated your children. What has been your conduct towards me? You have wantonly injured me in my purse and wounded my feelings. We have all suffered from the society improperly called a Union that has disunited masters and men. I never turned off a collier because he was a member of that society. I now add I will never engage one who is.