23 February 1820: the Cato Street Conspiracy unravels

The Bow Street Runners burst in on the Cato Street conspirators, frustrating their plans to massacre the entire Cabinet, on this day in 1820.

Life was tough for workers in the first two decades of the 19th century. Farmers left their fields for the factories in increasing numbers, only to be joined, after 1815, by soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars. Food supplies came under pressure and prices began to rise. It didn't help that the government was unsympathetic to the plight of ordinary people. Rebellion was in the air.

Arthur Thistlewood sensed the time was right to foment revolution. Having previously failed to seize the Bank of England, he and his band of self-styled "Spencean Philanthropists" set out to overthrow the government. They learned that Lord Harrowby was to host a dinner for the entire Cabinet on Wednesday, 23 February 1820, at his home in Grosvenor Square. Thistlewood was to knock on the front door pretending to have official papers for Harrowby.

Having armed themselves in a stable in Cato Street, off Edgware Road, the rest of the conspirators were to rush into the house, throwing grenades to spread panic and confusion. The dinner party guests were to be ruthlessly massacred and their heads placed on spikes.However, the Privy Council had got wind of the plot and moved the dinner to the home of the prime minister, Lord Liverpool. The "Bow Street Runners", an early police force, prepared to move in on the gang, backed up by soldiers from the Coldstream Guards.

At nine in the evening, the police kicked down the stable door, shouting "We are peace officers lay down your arms". Thistlewood was ordered to drop his sword and pistol, or else "I'll fire instantly", cried Officer Ellis.Officer Smithers moved in to make the arrest but was run through by Thistlewood, who ordered that the lights be extinguished. Shooting another officer in the hand, Thistlewood took advantage of the melee to escape out the back. The soldiers entered the street by the wrong end and arrived too late to be of any help.

The Bow Street Runners had the last laugh days later when they caught up with Thistlewood, who was found hiding in bed. Five of the conspirators were transported to Australia, while the remaining five, including Thistlewood, were publicly hanged on 1 May. Their heads were cut off as a warning to other would-be plotters.

Recommended

I wish I knew what contagion was, but I’m too embarrassed to ask
Too embarrassed to ask

I wish I knew what contagion was, but I’m too embarrassed to ask

Most of us probably know what “contagion” is in a biological sense. But it also crops up in financial markets. Here's what it means.
21 Sep 2021
Why is the UK short of CO2 and what does it mean for you?
UK Economy

Why is the UK short of CO2 and what does it mean for you?

The UK is experiencing a carbon dioxide shortage that could lead to empty shelves in supermarkets. Saloni Sardana explains what’s going on and how it …
21 Sep 2021
What to invest in to beat soaring energy prices
Investment strategy

What to invest in to beat soaring energy prices

As gas and electricity prices hit the roof, John Stepek explains how to invest to offset higher energy bills.
21 Sep 2021
Are Spacs just for suckers?
Investment strategy

Are Spacs just for suckers?

This year has seen a big boom in activity by special purpose acquisition companies (Spacs) in the US and the Spac craze is spreading to other markets…
21 Sep 2021

Most Popular

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest
Small cap stocks

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest

We are living in strange times. But the basics of investing remain the same: buy fairly-priced stocks that can provide an income. And there are few be…
13 Sep 2021
Two shipping funds to buy for steady income
Investment trusts

Two shipping funds to buy for steady income

Returns from owning ships are volatile, but these two investment trusts are trying to make the sector less risky.
7 Sep 2021
How to stop recurring subscriptions becoming a drain on your money
Personal finance

How to stop recurring subscriptions becoming a drain on your money

Tracking and pruning subscriptions isn’t as easy as it sounds. Here's how to take charge.
14 Sep 2021