So what were the Chartists doing when the constables – or ‘the raw lobsters’, as the lads liked to call them – managed to catch up with them? A few actually tried to resist arrest. William Jones was one of those who thought about this option … for all of twenty seconds. On the run after the Newport Rising of November 1839 had ended so disastrously, he’d retreated to a wood. He drew a pistol as his pursuers closed in on him, but then decided that there had been enough heroic deaths at Newport. George White certainly wasn’t prepared to go quietly after a warrant was issued for his arrest in Birmingham in August 1842. There was a punch up by a canal one night, one of the constables actually ending up in the canal. The next morning White was cornered &, though he & his bodyguards put up a stiff fight, he was nicked. He was then chucked into Warwick Jail, where the authorities kept him out of the way for 11 weeks by repeatedly refusing bail. If they thought this would teach George a lesson, they were wrong: at his trial he demanded a sandwich & a glass of wine & informed the judge – quite rightly – that being a Chartist ‘was no crime at all’.
The magistrates of Bradford were very keen to get their hands on Robert Peddie in January 1840. Peddie – who, let’s be honest, was not really the sort of chap to lead any sort of insurrection – fled from Bradford, where the Chartist rising had spluttered to a halt soon after it had begun, to Leeds & claimed to be a Scottish travelling salesman called McGregor. It worked … but only for five days. William Jones of Newport also succeeded in keeping going for several days. He was eventually found concealed on a ship about to set sail for Portugal. Sadly he never got to see Oporto, but he did get to know Australia very well. Sometimes the wanted man played a very successful game of cat-&-mouse with the constables. The Newcastle Chartists were specialists at this. Several of them would dress up to fit the wanted man’s description … with the result that joy would turn to bitter disappointment for the magistrates when they discovered that their chaps had hauled in the wrong man. The Bradford publican Peter Bussey might well have been known as ‘Fat Peter’, but this didn’t stop him doing a runner all the way to America in January 1840. He didn’t come back for 14 years.
Both J.R. Stephens – in 1838 – & Arthur O’Neill – in 1842 – were arrested in pubs. Stephens had been strolling along the road when he turned to enter the Bush Inn in Ashton-under-Lyne. Two constables followed him in, waving a warrant issued just ten minutes earlier. Arthur O’Neill spurned alcohol & coffee & drank only water, but nevertheless it was in the Woodman pub in the Black Country that he felt the long arm of the law. Like his friend Thomas Cooper – arrested in his shop in Leicester – he was amazed by all the soldiers needed to escort him around. The authorities, of course, were showing off … they’d got their hands on another ‘dangerous’ Chartist & the people needed to see him in irons & surrounded by soldiers.
Perhaps the most civilized arrest took place at the Mosley Arms Hotel in Manchester. It was here one morning in June 1848, just as he was tucking into his breakfast, that two detectives caught up with Ernest Jones. Jones put down his knife & fork, wiped his chin with his napkin & went quietly. He was always a cool chap was Ernest Jones.