Pentrich Revolution

Broadsheet from the execution of Jeremiah Brandreth, WIlliam Turner and Isaac Ludlam.

When the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1816 the country was in a severe depression. Mass unemployment was rife due to the discharging of troops and the increasing industrialisation of workplaces. Alongside a poor harvest in 1817 and the Corn Laws creating severe increases in the price of bread, matters came to a head with the Pentrich Revolution.

For six years previously, there had been instances of local uprisings due to the employment of unskilled workers. It was amid this cauldron of discontent that a number of secret revolutionary committees were formed. The committee at Nottingham was led by a needle maker called William Stevens and the village Pentrich was represented there by a framework knitter called Thomas Bacon.

Unbeknownst to these committees, in the spring the government had set up a series of spies and agent provocateurs to inform them of any potential trouble but also provoke it in order to clamp down and punish the ringleaders.

One of these agents – William Oliver – was responsible for fabricating a hoax that a large force of revolutionaries was marching down from the north of the country. The Nottingham committee aimed to join this hoax force on their supposed march to London in support of a bill by Sir Francis Burdett for parliamentary reform.

Thomas Bacon had a warrant out for his arrest at that time, so Jeremiah Brandreth was appointed to be his deputy and was in charge of getting them to Nottingham. On the way they wanted to invade the Butterley Ironworks so they could ransack it for weapons. Among the group of men were Isaac Ludlam, a bankrupted farmer and William Turner, an ex-soldier.

Around 50 men assembled at 10pm on June 9, 1817 at Hunt’s Barn in South Wingfield. Over the next few hours they explored the local area for weapons and potential recruits, including at the house of the widow Mary Hepworth. Hepworth refused to open her doors to the men, which resulted in Jeremiah Brandreth firing a shot through a window which killed a servant.

When the men reached Butterley Ironworks their goal was thwarted by factory agent George Goodwin and a small group of constables who stood their ground and faced them down. With morale falling among the men, a few left the party and the remainder headed to Ripley. Although more men were pressed into service, in Ripley others defected and when they were met by a small force of soldiers in Giltbrook, they scattered. Around 40 were captured and although the leaders escaped at the time, they were ultimately captured over the following weeks.

Twenty-three of the marchers were tried and sentenced for ‘maliciously and traitorously [endeavouring]…by force of arms, to subvert and destroy the Government and the Constitution’, with three receiving a sentence of transportation for 14 years and 11 receiving a life sentence. The ring leaders were dealt with much more severely, however.

Thomas Bacon, Jeremiah Brandreth, Isaac Ludlam, William Turner and George Weightman were initially due to stand trial for high treason which the sentence for a guilty verdict was death. Bacon, however, was now aware of the part that agent provocateur William Oliver had played in events, and to avoid him embarrassing the government with his testimony of this, Brandreth was tried as the leader alongside Ludlam, Turner and Weightman. All four were found guilty and received the sentence of the death penalty, although Weightman was reprieved due to a recommendation for leniency by the jury and received a sentence of transportation for life alongside Bacon.

Sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, the Prince Regent commuted the drawing and quartering and the three men were to be hung until dead and then beheaded. On November 7, 1817 all three men were executed outside Derby Gaol with all three coffins buried in an unmarked grave at St.Werburgh’s Church.