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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

The Rising of 1820


The rumblings of discontent so obvious in Paisley at the end of 1819 had spread to Ayrshire by early 1820. At various places throughout the south western Lowlands, crowds clashed with overbearing yeomanry and workers set fire to several mills. By this time the Radicals had established a Committee for Organising a Provisional Government, with local branches, and members now engaged in military training. But spies had infiltrated their ranks and reported back to London that a rising was planned for 1821 in which the Radicals intended to set up a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh based on the ideas of the United Scotsmen. However, members of the Committee were arrested in a raid and some confusion reigned among the ranks of the local Radical branches who were now misled into action by a network of spies.

On 3 April 1820 an address or proclamation by the provisional government appeared, calling for a rising. Many people stopped work and went on strike and the call spread throughout the region from Stirlingshire south to Wigtown. Clashes now took place between the inhabitants of Glasgow and the Ayrshire and Glasgow yeomanry and the burgh council imposed a curfew. Radicals drilled openly in Glasgow, Stewarton and Paisley bearing the Scottish flag and Radical banners. About 1,000 soldiers now converged on Paisley, conducting house searches, clashing with angry civilians, and making arrests. The town was now also put under curfew but people began tearing down the council proclamation and searched for arms. On Tuesday 4 April soldiers opened fire on a crowd in Paisley which had attempted to stop them removing the declaration of the Radicals. Several were wounded and one woman died and later soldiers began charging crowds with fixed bayonets, wounding and killing more. By this date there were around 5,000 troops in Glasgow.

On 5 April a small group of armed Radicals, led by Andrew Hardie (from Glasgow) and John Baird (from Condorrat), met at Condorrat and then proceeded to march on the Carron Iron Works where they hoped to seize munitions and weapons. At Bonnymuir they were met by a troop from the 10th Hussars under Lieutenant Ellis Hodgson and the two sides exchanged fire, the Hussars charged, and then both at close quarters stabbing with swords and pikes. Some fled, and eighteen were taken prisoner, including Baird and Hardie, and taken to Stirling castle. Thus ended the brief Battle of Bonnymuir. A large force of around 500 Radicals had gathered in arms in Bridgeton and Calton near Glasgow, bearing Radical banners and the Saltire, but after the news of Bonnymuir came through they began to melt away. At the same time a Strathaven man, James Wilson, organised the Radicals of his area and sent raids for arms against local Tories. They marched out with a banner emblazoned ‘Scotland Free – or A Desert!’ but with much reduced numbers and talk of traps and betrayal Wilson parted company and returned home. At Cathkin near Rutherglen the small force dispersed after other Radical forces had failed to appear and on the way home many were arrested. James Wilson was also taken prisoner.

On 8 April the final large scale incident took place in Greenock. When the Port Glasgow militia brought Radical prisoners into the town it was met by a hostile population calling them traitors. When stones and other objects were thrown the militia fired on the crowd which inflamed the situation. A melee then took place and the soldiers began firing indiscriminately. Nine were killed and many more wounded whose ages ranged from 8 to 65. As the soldiers retreated the inflamed mob armed itself, attacked Greenock prison, and set the Radical prisoners free. Later, on 30 July that same year, soldiers of the English 13th Regiment of Foot shot into another group in Greenock to “teach these Scotch a lesson or two”, killing another two.

Over the next couple of weeks, the authorities raided and arrested many people, skirmishes took place with crowds, and some shots were exchanged. Many inhabitants fled their homes as the military repression claimed Radical and non-Radical alike. By the end of April the arrests had begun to lessen and Scotland prepared for state treason trials.