Cato Street Conspiracy – 1820

By | November 12, 2016

“An overt act of treasonable conspiracy”


Bow Street runners raid the Cato Street headquarters


In 1820 an attempt was made to murder the British cabinet and Prime Minister Lord Liverpool by members of the Spencean Philanthropists. On 16 August 1819 around 60,000 people gathered in Manchester to protest about lack of parliamentary enfranchisement. The local magistrates ordered the militia to break up the meeting. The cavalry charged, resulting in the deaths of 15 people and around 500 were injured. On 30 December Parliament passed the Six Acts, which banned any similar meeting as “an overt act of treasonable conspiracy”. It was these two events that precipitated the Spencean Philanthropists to act.

They intended to introduce a Committee of Public Safety that would institute a revolution. One of the group, George Edwards, suggested using the instability after the death of King George III to put their plan into action. They intended to murder the cabinet while they dined at the house of Lord Harrowby, Lord President of the Council. Leading conspirator Arthur Thistlewood believed that the public would rally to their cause after the deaths and began to recruit new members. He soon had 27 new members on his side.

Conspirator William Davidson, a former employee of Lord Harrowby, went to his former master’s house to discover more details about the dinner. He was told that Harrowby was not home but when Davidson told Thistlewood this, Thistlewood insisted the attack should begin at once.

The conspirators met at a rented house in Cato Street, just off the Edgware Road. Thistlewood had appointed George Edwards as his second-in-command but was unaware that Edwards was a double agent. George Edwards was keeping the Home Office informed of all the conspirators’ plans. At 7.30pm on 23 February 1820 the Bow Street Runners raided the Cato Street headquarters. In the melee Thistlewood killed policeman Richard Smithers. All the conspirators were either arrested then or captured later.


Cato Street, London, England


7.30pm Wednesday 23 February 1820


At the trial the defence successfully prevented the testimony of John Edwards but the prosecution persuaded Robert Adams and John Monument to testify against their former colleagues. On 28 April the accused were convicted of high treason. John Brunt, William Davidson, James Ings, Arthur Thistlewood and Richard Tidd were hanged at Newgate Prison on 1 May 1820. Charles Cooper, Richard Bradburn, John Harrison, James Wilson and John Strange were transported.


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