Spa Fields Riots

Spa Fields London 15th Nov and 2 Dec 1816 Near Clerkenwell.
So many people turned up for the first (10,000) that it was halted for the next date (20,000).
10th Dec another meeting, Orator Hunt, peaceful.

"The organisers of the riots and of most of the radical agitation which took place in London in the following three years were members of a group known as "the Spenceans", whose leading figures were Arthur Thistlewood, James Watson senior, James Watson junior, Thomas Evans senior, Thomas Evans junior, Thomas Preston, James Wedderburn and William Davidson." -- Latter two were black, orig from Jamaica.

"At the same time there was a growing force of more respectable middle-class radicals, led by Sir Francis Burdett and Francis Place, who were agitating for relief of the poor and the post-war unemployed rather than the overthrow of the Tory government."

"By the end of 1816, Thistlewood was close to being the undisputed leader of the most extreme London radicals. His second wife Susan Thistlewood clearly shared his Jacobin views and was another strong figure in the London group, which was notable for including women as well as black activists."

"The group also included a constant presence of government spies. In the Home Office papers, remarkably preserved in the National Archives, there are reports (often pencil scribbles on scraps of paper) from at least twenty spies who had infiltrated the radical groups in the period 1815-1820. The most notorious of the spies came to be Oliver, Castle and Edwards, but the reports of Shegog (Spy "B"), Williamson ("C"), Capper ("B.C.") and Adams are almost as full and important."

"Two Spenceans, Hooper and Cashman, were seized by the soldiers at the Royal Exchange. Cashman was hanged on 12 March 1817 for theft of firearms; the London jury infuriated and amazed the judge by finding Hooper not guilty."

"On 9 June 1817, Watson, Thistlewood, Hooper and Preston were arraigned for High Treason (this was the second attempt in three months to have Hooper hanged). Another London jury, however, showed its radical sympathies; the evidence of the spy John Castle was discredited; and Watson was found not guilty. No further evidence was offered against the others, and they were also found not guilty. The Home Secretary and his colleagues were in despair at these decisions."
"One of the seditious printed handbills for the second Spa Fields meeting reads with genuine immediacy and anger, despite its bathetic ending:"


"The Whole Country waits the Signall from London to fly to Arms! Haste, break open Gunsmiths, and other likely places to find Arms!! Run all Constables who toutch a man of Us. No Rise of Bread, No Regent! No Castlereagh. Off with their heads. No Placement Tythes, or Enclosures. No Bishops, only useless lumber! Stand true or be Slaves for Ever! N.B. 5000 of these Bills are up in the Town, & printed ones with further particulars will appear in due time."

[All of the above text in quotes is from The Spa Fields Riots of 1816.]

The Spa Fields Riots was public disorder arising out of mass meetings at Spa Fields, Islington, England on 15 November and 2 December 1816. Revolutionary Spenceans, who opposed the British government, had planned to encourage rioting and then seize control of the government by taking the Tower of London and the Bank of England. Arthur Thistlewood and three other Spencean leaders were arrested and charged with high treason as a result of the riot; James Watson was on trial during June 1817 with Messrs Wetherell and Copley as their defence counsel. Watson was acquitted and the other three were released without trial.

The charismatic figure of Arthur Thistlewood. As we shall see, Thistlewood was to play a major role in the Spa Fields events of 1816 and, less than four eventful years later, was to be hanged as the leader of the "Cato Street Conspirators", who had been planning to assassinate the whole of Lord Liverpool's Cabinet.


Thomas Spencer, 1750 to 1814. His admirers formed a "Society of Spencean Philanthropists", of which some account is given in Harriet Martineau's "England During the Thirty Years' Peace". The African Caribbean activists William Davidson and Robert Wedderburn were drawn to this political group.
At the centre of Spence's work was his Plan, known as 'Spence's Plan'. The Plan has a number of features, including:
1. The end of aristocracy and landlords;
2. All land should be publicly owned by 'democratic parishes', which should be largely self-governing;
3. Rents of land in parishes to be shared equally amongst parishioners;
4. Universal suffrage (including female suffrage) at both parish level and through a system of deputies elected by parishes to a national senate;
5. A 'social guarantee' extended to provide income for those unable to work;
6. The 'rights of infants' to be free from abuse and poverty.

Spence's Plan was first published in his penny pamphlet "Property in Land Every One's Right" in 1775. It was re-issued as "The Real Rights of Man" in later editions. It was also reissued by, amongst others, Henry Hyndman under the title of "The Nationalization of the Land" in 1795 and 1882.

Charles Hall (1740-1825) was a British physician, social critic and Ricardian socialist who published "The Effects of Civilization on the People in European States" in 1805, condemning capitalism for its inability to provide for the poor. In the book, Hall argued that inequalities in wealth and the production of luxuries led to the exploitation of the poor, and their suffering. Hall famously claimed that the exploitation of the poor was so severe that they "retained only the product of one hour's work out of eight".

As a remedy for the problems in society, Hall proposed land reform and progressive taxation. His views and economic theory, particularly his views on severe exploitation of the poor, were important to the development of Marxism, and have led many to consider him one of the earliest socialists.

In 1816, Hall was arrested for failure to pay a debt of 157 pounds, and he spent the next nine years in the Fleet Prison, before being released on June 21, 1825. While the exact date of his death is uncertain, it is believed that he died shortly thereafter.

[Note: some of this seems to come from Wikipedia (e.g. Spa_Fields_riots)]