The Pentrich Rising

Pentrich village sign
Pentrich Village Sign

Pentrich is a small village near Ripley and it is thought to go back to pre-Roman times. It was a thriving rural village, but in 1817, it had a short period of national notoriety due to events that became known as the Pentrich Rising or the Pentrich Revolution.

Some member of my family were involved in this rising. They were Samuel Walters (a cousin of my great(x6) grandfather William Walters) and his son William Walters, Thomas and Francis Bettison (nephews of my great (x6) grandfather William Bettison)

The events unfolded as follows. In 1817, times were especially hard for the villagers. The end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 meant a reduction in the requirement for weapons. This brought about a recession in the iron industry, with men being laid off at the nearby Butterley Ironworks. In 1815 a violent eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia had resulted in clouds of ash covering the whole globe, disrupting world temperatures. 1816 was known as the year with no summer as snow fell in June and harvests failed, resulting in food shortages. The price of bread was also inflated by the 1815 corn laws.

The resulting poverty meant people had no money to buy other things, so one of the main trades of the village, framework knitting suffered a downturn in demand. On top of this, the Prince Regent was seen as enjoying an extravagant lifestyle while his subjects were suffering hardship. Another bone of contention was the electoral system and the so called ‘rotten boroughs’. These were small rural boroughs that had MPs where the electorate was so small, the MPs could buy votes and be sure of election. Against this background of recession, poverty and bad government, disturbances broke out over the price of food and groups began to meet intent on political reform.

In March 1817, weavers from Manchester called the Blanketeers organised a protest in Manchester. They were called the Blanketeers because they all carried blankets for their intended march to London. The protest was broken up and the leaders arrested.

A man from Pentrich called Thomas Bacon had been to various reform meetings in the area. He started to rally men to the reform cause. However, there was warrant out for Thomas on a charge of machine breaking, so he went into hiding and appointed a framework knitter from Sutton-in-Ashfield called Jeremiah Brandreth as the new leader. He also had Isaac Ludlam and William Turner from nearby South Wingfield as deputies. They were later joined by a man called William Oliver who was actually a government spy.

They convinced the Pentrich men that there was going to be a great northern uprising which they would join at Nottingham and then march to London. They were to march to the Butterley Ironworks to get weapons and then to Nottingham where they were told they would get 100 guineas, bread, beef and ale.

They first assembled in South Wingfield at 10.00pm on June 9th 1817. They went around the Pentrich area getting other men to join. Many refused to join and there was one altercation where a servant Robert Walters (not a relative) was shot dead. They marched to the ironworks, but were refused entry, so were unable to get more weapons.

They pressed on, but as it started pouring with rain, men started defecting. They sought refuge in some public houses resulting in more wet, demoralised and now very drunk men going back home. The remainder crossed the border into Nottinghamshire. There, they were met by the 15th Regiment of Light Dragoons. The march was broken up and they all fled, but many were caught and arrested.

Despite the fact that nothing was achieved by the protest and there was just one causality from the night’s events, memories of the French Revolution were still fresh in the government’s memory. Fearing further uprisings, the government decided to make an example of these men to deter any more unrest. The captured men were put on trial.

A number were sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour. Fourteen of the men seen as the worst offenders were sentenced to transportation to Australia. But the worst punishment was reserved for the three leaders, Jeremiah Brandreth, Isaac Ludlam and William Turner. They were put on trial for high treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This barbaric form of execution was still the statuary punishment for treason. In the end, they received so called ‘clemency’, and were only hanged and beheaded.

Jeremiah Brandreth
Jeremiah Brandreth
William Oliver
William Oliver

There was also a conspiracy theory. Why did the government spy William Oliver encourage the men to march? Did the government want the men to march so that they would have reason to arrest them and put on a show trial? Before they put the noose round William Turner, he cried out ‘This is all Oliver and the Government’. The executions were reported in newspapers all over the country.

But that was not to be the end of the retribution. Pentrich was part of the Devonshire estates. The Duke of Devonshire decided to also deter further rebellion by demolishing all the homes of the offenders, making their wives and children homeless. The rest of the village were unable to help the evicted families in case they were seen as supporting the men and would also suffer the same eviction.

The drastic measures worked in the north midlands as there were no more Luddite attacks or other protests. Unrest still continued in the north-west until the infamous Peterloo Massacre which took place at a protest in Manchester. Cavalry charged into the crowd killing 15 and injuring hundreds. Further laws put an end to most protests. Eventually, changes were made to the electoral system with the Reform Act of 1832 and the corn laws were eventually repealed in 1846.

I have found some information about what happened to our family members.
Samuel Walters was witnessed as being part of the mob and was seen carrying a pike. He was arrested and charged but then freed without going to trial. He continued living in Pentrich until he died 1853. His son William had also joined the rising but seems to have escaped capture.
Francis Bettison was one of the men who were coerced into joining on the night. I presume he was one of the early defectors as he was not arrested. Thomas Bettison appears to have taken a more active role. He was one of the men who were coercing others to join. He was reported as threatening to shoot a William Peach if he didn’t join the rising. He was arrested and put on trial. He was found guilty of riot and was sentenced to transportation for 14 years. I have covered what happened to him in Australia on the Transportation page.

More Information

There is a lot more information on the Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolution Group website