Rioting between the Orange Order and the Irish in Manchester

In the early 19th century Manchester was a major stronghold of the Orange order. There were occasional riots between the Catholic Irish and the Orange order in the first half of the century.

In the first decades of the nineteenth century Manchester was the principal centre for Orangeism in Great Britain. The colour Orange had been adopted by Irish Protestant patriots in memory and honour of the Protestant William of Orange, who seized the throne from Catholic James II in 1688 and defeated him in a series of battles in Ireland, most notably at the Boyne and Aughrim.

Inconveniently for subsequent Protestant Loyalist mythology William was actually backed by the Pope for complicated reasons of European diplomacy and his final victory celebrated with a Te Deum in Rome. It is the myths of history, however, that often turn out to be more potent and long-lasting than the prosaic facts and so it has proved with the Williamite victories which are still commemorated every 12th July in the North of Ireland by Protestants.

In the early 1790s there were clashes in Ulster between Catholics organised in groups known the Defenders and the Ribbonmen and Protestants organised in groups such as the Peep O’Day Boys, who had taken to raiding Catholic homes and farms for arms. In 1793 James Wilson, a Presbyterian farmer in County Tyrone, established the Orange Boys, whose members swore oaths to defend Protestantism and the constitution. On 21st September 1795 there was clash between Catholics and Protestants near Loughgall in County Armagh, in which several dozen Catholic Defenders were killed in an attack on Dan Winter’s Inn and which subsequently became known as the Battle of the Diamond. This led directly to the establishment of the Orange Order, which followed the example of the Freemasons by admitting members after the taking of oaths and organising itself through lodges. The order received the tacit support of Protestant magistrates and gentry and the first Orange parades were held on 12th July 1796. By the following year, faced with the threat from the United Irishmen, the British government was happy and willing to use the Orange Order as a useful ally in its struggle to reimpose its authority across Ireland.

British regiments and militias from Lancashire were sent to in Ireland at this time and a number of soldiers took the oath whilst serving, bringing back Orange warrants to England. In November 1799 Colonel Stanley’s regiment, the First Lancashire Militia, returned to Manchester with warrant number 320. The Manchester & Salford Rifle Volunteers (raised and financed by Colonel Taylor of Moston and commanded by Colonel Sylvester) returned with warrant number 1128. Discharged soldiers seem to have started civilian lodges which spread from Manchester to neighbouring towns such as Oldham, where Orange lodges held a 12th July march as early as 1803.

The first Orange riot in Manchester occurred on 13th July 1807 when Orangemen, carrying banners and marching to Orange tunes, joined a number of English friendly societies in a parade to the Collegiate Church. On leaving the church there was a confrontation with Catholics in Church Street and High Street. The location is significant, being very close to the Catholic meeting place in Roman Entry. The Deputy Chief Constable Nadin had to call for troops to restore order. The Manchester Gazette afterwards claimed that “No Popery” signs had been chalked on walls before the march and that local regiments had been playing Orange tunes when recruiting in the town. It seems that tensions were high even before the Orange march took place.

Local Orangemen Ralph Nixon later claimed that Irish Catholics had attacked the march. In a letter to the British Volunteer newspaper on 25th July he stated that “Orange principles are imperfectly known in England and those who attacked them were misled by an erroneous opinion that our views are hostile and directed against papists. Orangemen are zealously attached to the king and admire our matchless constitution”. Nixon’s letter points to the motivation of the English Orangemen as veering more towards maintenance of the political status quo in Britain than a direct association with the politics of Ireland, although the two were connected. Like the Church and King Clubs of the 1790s the Orange Order was a useful organisation for local magistrates and gentry (often the same people) to deploy against their enemies, the radicals and reformers.

Nixon wrote to Ireland for authority to found a Grand Lodge in Britain and approached Colonel Taylor and Colonel Fletcher of Bolton to act as Grand Masters. Fletcher was particularly assiduous in opposing any hint of radicalism in his home town and had routinely employed spies to infiltrate radical organisations. In May 1808 a meeting at the Star Hotel on Deansgate, where lodges had already been accustomed to meet, established the English Grand Lodge with Taylor as Grand Master, Fletcher as Deputy Grand Master and Nixon as Grand Secretary. The original Irish warrants were now cancelled and henceforth the English lodges obtained their credentials from the new Grand Lodge. By 1811 there were some 68 lodges in the Manchester region – according to The Orange Miscellany and Orange Man’s Guide published in 1815 – and 77 in Lancashire in 1830. Ralph Nixon made an abrupt and permanent exit from the organisation in 1821 when he was sentenced to seven years transportation after being charged with burglary.

There was further trouble in Manchester in 1830. A group of Irishmen, apparently employed at Parker’s factory, attacked a number of public houses where the Orange lodges were meeting to celebrate the 12th July and had hung banners out of the windows. At the Boars Head on Withy Grove they stormed upstairs, seized the flag, tore it to pieces and trampled it in the street. There were similar scenes at the Queen Anne on Long Millgate and at the Union Tavern on Garratt Street. Town constables finally arrived and seized some of the stragglers as the Irishmen were returning home along Bank Top and lodged them in the Market House. When the rest of the party realised what had happened they promptly returned and released the prisoners by smashing open the gates. (These same Irish weavers were involved in a strike at Parker’s in March 1831 when they demanded an increase in the price they received for weaving shirtings and calicos).

In 1834 Manchester Orange lodges celebrated in the usual manner with banquets on the 12th July . On the following day, which was a Sunday, several hundred Orangemen assembled in St Ann’s Square and marched to St George’s Church, Hulme to attend divine service. On the way back they were attacked in Cateaton Street by several hundred Catholics armed with sticks and stones. The fighting was finally stopped by the 5th Dragoons, summoned by the town authorities. There was more trouble later that evening outside the Windmill public house on St George’s Road, which was a meeting place for an Orange lodge. Police arrived and forestalled an attack on the pub. There was further disturbance the following day near the Briton’s Protection public house on Oldham Road when the whole police force had to turn out to stop the sexton of St George’s Church on St George’s Road from being killed. Daniel Hearne subsequently confiscated weapons and appeared in court to speak on behalf of the rioters.

In 1835 the Orangemen assembled in Jackson’s Row and paraded to St James Church. The procession itself passed off with only minor incidents and two arrests, one of them an Orangemen named Solomon Johnson Mackintosh, who claimed in court that he always carried a loaded revolver for self-defence. The Manchester lodge dined the following evening at the Hare and Hounds, Water Street without disturbance. There was trouble the next night, however, when a crowd gathered in the brickfields on St George’s Road and smashed the windows of a house which had recently put up a figure of William of Orange above the door.

That same year the Orange Order in England was investigated by a Commons Select Committee after rumours that its Grand Master, the Duke of Cumberland (a reactionary even by the standards of his own class), intended to use the order to stage a coup and replace the king on the throne. The report condemned the order for provoking trouble between Protestants and Catholics and in response the Cumberland formally dissolved the organisation. It soon reappeared, however, in two forms – the Orange Institution and the Orange Association – which eventually united in 1874. In the wake of the Irish Famine and the huge Irish emigration into Lancashire the heartland of the movement moved to Liverpool, although there continued to be branches in Manchester and nearby towns.

The last riot in Manchester in connection with an Orange procession occurred in 1888. On Sunday 8th July members of Orange lodges gathered at Portland Street and proceeded across Great Ancoats Street and down the Irish area of Canal Street , heading for St Mark’s Church on Holland Street. The Orange marchers claimed that in Canal Street they were subject to a premeditated attack by a hundred youths brandishing hatchets and knives during which two men – Joseph Walmsley and Daniel Ritchie – received serious head wounds and 40 police officers who had been summoned by telephone took a half hour to suppress. A letter in the Manchester Guardian a few days later (whose author gave only the initials J.P.) disputed this version of events and claimed that it had began after a boy had thrown a stone at the march and been followed by a prominent member of the Orange procession. “No-one will sympathise with persons who insult any body of men passing peacefully along the street, but I maintain that …..the organisers of such processions, whether of Orangemen or any other party, are often morally blameable in marching their forces through the midst of a population entirely antagonistic to them.”

Article by Michael Herbert

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