A tangle of history

The Guardian recognises the benefit of having an online archive of articles that reaches back to 1820, and has recalled some real gems on occasion, today they’ve noted an article from July 3, 1852 [entirely unrelated to current events natch – Ed] reporting on the Stockport riots, which, following a contentious procession, saw three days of violent clashes between, what the article describes as, “ignorant Irish catholics on the one hand, and as ignorant English protestants on the other”.As with almost every historical event, there will always be competing claims to a cause and effect.. and in this case there are quite a few historical strands worth noting. There is, as ever, the prejuduce theory.

But there are also other strands worth noting. A website in the area of Stockport, for example, has some brief historical notes on local industry and a population explosion that undoubtedly played a role:

..By 1801 Stockport’s population had risen to nearly 15,000 and by 1841 had doubled to nearly 30,000. However, by now another 20,000 people lived in the neighbouring villages.

As in Manchester, cotton- spinning factories based on machinery, including powerlooms,* dominated Stockport in the late 18th and early 19th centuries until hit by a depression around 1840 and stagnation of industry until the 1920s.

With Religion and Society in the mix too:

Arrowsmith (1997), notes that local noncomformist groups or ‘dissenters’ (Quakers, Congregationalists, Presbyterians) were particularly strong in the Stockport area and met regularly in houses and barns, later erecting meeting houses and chapels during the 1700s. Anglican worship was in decline, despite fines imposed for absenteeism! The second half of the century also saw the rise of Methodism and towards the end of the century Catholicism rose due to Irish immigration, although the latter declined after the anti-Irish riots of 1852. An important aspect of the religious communities was the early provision of schooling.

A number of strikes, riots, and insurrections had taken place in the area during the period 1775-1829, the most famous ending in the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. During government reforms of the 1830s, Stockport became a parliamentary borough (1832) which included Cheadle Bulkeley and Cheadle Moseley, had a town council (1835), and introduced a number of measures to improve education* and housing which was particularly poor in the area. Police, courts and public services (refuse collection, gaslighting) were also introduced or extended and the upper class rulers were replaced by radicals. Eventually the town took over from manorial rule. Richard Cobden, a famous campaigner for reform, was MP for Stockport from 1841-1847. Eventually shorter working hours provided opportunity for leisure and amenities and parks thrived.

The profane corruption of politics at that time was a focus of none other than Karl Marx, in an article written in August 1852, and published in the New York Daily Tribune on September 4, 1852. He also noted the spiritual corruption taking place:

To these profane means of corruption spiritual ones were added by the Tories; the royal proclamation against Roman Catholic Processions was issued in order to inflame b_igotry and religious hatred; the No-Popery cry was raised everywhere. One of the results of this proclamation were the Stockport Riots. The Irish priests, of course, retorted with similar weapons.

And, to complete the mix, there is the additional element of European politics, as noted in this article primarily discussing Queen Victoria’s attitude to religion and, in doing so, notes the issuing of a papal bull in 1850:

Less than a month after the death of the queen of the Belgians, Pope Pius IX published the edict that opened a new chapter in Queen Victoria’s involvement with the Roman Catholic Church. Even in the nineteenth century, that institution had operated in England as a missionary church under the supervision of vicars apostolic, but late in September 1850 the pope promulgated a papal bull restoring the Roman Catholic hierarchy to England and dividing the land into twelve episcopal sees. Named to oversee the restored church as the new archbishop of Westminster was Cardinal Nicholas Wise-man, who added oil to the flames by means of his archepiscopal letter: “Catholic England,” he declared, “has been restored to its orbit in the ecclesiastical firmament, from which its light had long vanished, and begins anew its course of regularly adjusted action round the centre of unity, the source of light and of vigour.” John Henry Newman, the most notable of recent converts to the Roman Catholic faith, warmly applauded the manner in which “the people of England are about of their own free will to be added to the Holy Church.”(14)

Queen Victoria’s immediate reaction was one of deep anger over this

“extraordinary proceeding of the Pope, who has issued a Bull, savouring … of the time of Henry VIII’s reign, or even earlier – restoring the Roman Catholic ‘hierarchy’ …, saying that England was restored to the number of Catholic Powers, & that her religious disgrace had been wiped out…. The Cardinal has desired the Pope to be prayed for before me and the Bishop of Birmingham, Dr. [William Bernard] Ullathorne, has been publicly and pompously enthroned, Dr. Newman, the head of the Oratorians, preaching the sermon! All this is inconceivable, & it is in the highest degree wrong … of the Pope to act in such a manner, which is a direct infringement of my prerogative, without one word as to his instructions having been communicated to this Gov[ernmen]t.”

Ultra-Protestant organizations throughout Britain erupted in fury, and even cosmopolitan Whigs such as the lord lieutenant of Ireland, the fourth earl of Clarendon, felt indignant. “It is high time,” he insisted, “to resist the encroachments of Rome and to let His Holiness know that we are still Protestants, and that the Reformation was not an error of our forefathers for which the present generation is desirous of atoning.”(15)

Lord John Russell, the Whig prime minister of the day, gloried in his reputation as a religious liberal, but he soon decided that his government would have to provide a formal response to allay public discontent. Before Parliament could act, however, Russell stirred the fires of religious dissension in his own way with a public letter to the Anglican bishop of Durham. Russell was troubled less by “papal aggression” per se, “insolent and insidious” as it was, than by Puseyite forces within the Church of England that were quietly restoring all manner of Roman Catholic practices to the national church and thereby leading their unwitting flocks to the edge of the precipice. The prime minister described several such practices as “mummeries of superstition,” words that aroused Roman Catholic anger in turn. Irish nationalist agitators of the day found “a godsend” both in Russell’s letter and in the anti-Catholic sentiments that dominated numerous English newspapers.(16)

Queen Victoria soon came to deplore the intensification of sectarian conflict in her kingdom. “We are between two fires in this country,” she lamented to her uncle in late November, “a furious Protestant feeling and an enraged Catholic feeling in Ireland.” Some biographers of the queen have cited such sentiments to contrast Victoria’s good sense with her prime minister’s militant pro-Protestant stand. Yet Russell would hardly have disagreed with the queen’s insistence that “we wish in no way to infringe the rights of the Roman Catholics” and her regret at the “intolerant spirit exhibited by many people at the public meetings.” Like Russell, Queen Victoria was fully persuaded “that the real danger to be apprehended… lies in our own divisions, and in the extraordinary conduct of the Puseyites.”(17)

The practical question faced by both the prime minister and the royal couple was what could legally be done. Albert’s hope that Uncle Leopold might persuade the pope to revoke the bull was soon dashed, and Victoria in turn discouraged Russell from sending a special envoy to Rome. The queen considered “it entirely against her notions of what is becoming to ask the Pope for a favour.”(18)

Only two years earlier, after political revolution had broken out in the Papal States, the British Crown had offered the pope a refuge on Malta. Only a year before, the queen had expressed to the pope her “sincere friendship” and her “unfeigned respect and esteem.” With regard to Pius IX, the queen found little cause to reiterate such sentiments. By the end of 1850, she had become persuaded instead that the Austrian empire was fanning the flames of Catholic militancy in Rome and that “the whole movement on the continent is anti-Constitutional, anti-Protestant, & anti-English.”

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  • Some things never change!

    I wonder did the ‘Roman catholics’ bang on drums emblazoned with ‘KAE’ (Kill all English.)

    And perhaps the descendents of some of those mentioned in the Manchester Guardian report decamped to Harryville to express their ‘lower class Protestant’ credentials there 😉

    And of course we have Tory populism in the middle of it all- as if that would happen nowadays…

  • Pete Baker

    The prejudice theory, linked above, is worth looking at.. provided the reader can also spot the general point as well as the specific – this paragraph, for example:

    [10] A refinement of Frustration Aggression Displacement theory suggests that if members of an ingroup [] perceive an outgroup [] as improperly arrogating to itself an illegitimate sense of superiority, then this will produce self-righteous hostility against the outgroup (Le Vine and Campbell: 131). It is important to note here that scholars such as Gordon Allport advised some years ago that psychodynamic theories might best be applied within a context of other determinants of prejudice, such as culture and parenting (391).

    Sounds uncannily familiar…

  • páid


    Of all the mill towns that surround Manchester, Stockport was the one reknowned to my Manchester Irish family as the least friendly.

    We were told that the Orange Order started in Oldham, though it must be said that (probably due to the variation of industries) Manchester’s sectarian problems were not as bad as Liverpool’s or Glasgow’s; even though it took as many impoverished immigrants.

    Nowadays in Northern England the Rooneys, Carraghers and Gallaghers are so well mixed in as to be local cultural icons. Skin a bit paler, bit angular, not so handsome maybe.

    Gives one hope for the Northern Ireland.

    I doubt whether the Patels will mix so fast though. Same immigration, same reasons, same valleys. Different skin colour though.

    We’ll see.

  • Pete Baker

    A hint, pid.

    Stop listening to family histories.. and try to discover what’s as close to the reality as possible.

    The outsider factor is universal by the way.

  • isn’t it only Chesterfield that has a big Orange Lodge parade in England. Please correct me if im wrong.

  • Rory

    ….We cannot think the catholics blameless in persisting in their procession. But the irretrievable disgrace belongs to the bullies and ruffians who abuse the name of Protestants.

    The sacrilegious ransacking of churches, the fiendish destruction of houses and furniture, and the most cruel and cowardly murder, are memorials of protestant zeal and enlightenment alone. The affair was more like a battle than a fight. The bloodshed, the violence, and the rapine are protestant handiwork, not in self-defence, but in brutal and licentious phrenzy

    Had not the tory government, by a popularity-hunting attack upon Roman catholic ceremonials, cast about to stimulate the sectarian passions of the electors, we should have been free from the shame and danger.

    From the Guardian’s comment on the report.

    Plus ca change…..

  • Pete Baker


    Not tempted by the Karl Marx article and quote?

    ..the royal proclamation against Roman Catholic Processions was issued in order to inflame b_igotry and religious hatred; the No-Popery cry was raised everywhere. One of the results of this proclamation were the Stockport Riots. The Irish priests, of course, retorted with similar weapons.

    Nor by the history that preceded the proclamation? The 1850 papal bull, for example?

  • pid


    A hint, pid.

    Stop listening to family histories.. and try to discover what’s as close to the reality as possible.

    If you don’t mind Pete, I won’t. I find family histories very interesting. They often illuminate “received” history, throwing fresh light on how the “ordinary” people lived through extraordinary events.

    For instance, last year I read “The Reynolds Letters
    An Irish Emigrant Family in Late Victorian Manchester”

    It’s editor is Lawrence McBride who teaches history at Illinois State University. He is the author of The Greening of Dublin Castle: The Transformation of Bureaucratic and Judicial Government in Ireland, 1892-1922 (1991).

    He claims that “Personal letters are now recognized as the richest source for understanding the process and experience of migration”

    The Reynolds did well. Despite arriving as poor bedraggled Connacht emigrants into Manchester’s slums they quickly advanced, owning factories in a short enough period of time. Not the standard picture but an illuminating truth on how Lancashire absorbed entrepreneurial immigrants.

    As for your comment “The outsider factor is universal by the way”, I would agree.

  • Pete Baker


    My apologies, it was a sweeping generalisation, and it was late. I only meant that family histories should not be the primary source of information – see Paragraphs 9 and 10 at the prejudice theory link above.

  • pid

    ………….and wrt my family history that the OO was started in Oldham.
    Well they were wrong, but not far wrong according to

    As early as 1803 a 12 July parade was held in Oldham.

    The first Grand Lodge of the English Orange Institution was established in 1808 in Manchester where, the previous July, there had been rioting between rival groups at an Orange Lodge procession.

  • pid

    Perhaps we can agree that family histories can be illuminating but should be treated with more caution than usual given the absence of academic criticism in their production.

    And I suspect that there is only a fuzzy line between handing down an interesting family history and passing on sectarian prejudice.

  • Pete Baker

    That would be what I was, clumsily, trying to say, pid. 🙂

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