In 1837 the Mormon missionaries first arrived in Preston. In 1840 a second mission – the Mission of the Twelve – arrived in town. Missionaries were soon at work throughout the nation harvesting one of Britain’s greatest decades of converts. The backdrop of that harvest was not always a peaceful one as illustrated by the events of August 1842 in Preston.
Outside the Old Corn Exchange in Preston is a statue commemorating the tragic events of 13th August, 1842 when four workers were shot and killed by soldiers during an industrial strike. 1842 was a time of severe economic depression, and men, women and children had come onto the streets of Preston to protest for “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.” Poverty, unemployment and malnutrition were commonplace, and this demonstration was the worker’s way of expressing their frustration.
The previous month had seen bands of men entering mills and removing the plugs of the steam engine boilers, stopping work and enforcing a general strike. During August riots flared up in manufacturing districts with demands for a higher wage.
On the 12 August the Preston workers gathered at Chadwick’s Orchard (an open area near the present covered market). They set off about 8am out on to Friargate, up Lune Street and on to Fishergate with the intent of compelling the closing of several mills. The following day they repeated this action, but when the workers arrived on Fishergate they were met by a group of 80 officials including the mayor, Samuel Horrocks, the town magistrates, 16 policemen, and a battalion (32 soldiers) of the 72nd Highlanders with muskets and bayonets.
The troops advanced and the march turned to violence as the crowd retreated down Lune Street throwing stones. Women and children were withdrawn and the crowd was headed by young male mill workers.
Suddenly the authorities found themselves surrounded due to a portion of the crowd having doubled back round Fox Street and blocking Lune street behind them. Some of the workers had climbed scaffolding on the front of the Corn Exchange, and were lobbing bricks and stones. Policemen were running out from the ranks of the soldiers, striking the boys with their staves and retreating again. The soldiers faced up and down Lune Street, muskets loaded, protecting the hit and run tactics of the police.
The Mayor was seen to speak to the Captain of the soldiers. At that point the firing commenced.
The soldiers opened fire on the crowd – not a volley over the heads of the crowd, but a succession of single shots, about one every three seconds over the course of a minute, all in the direction of the Corn Exchange. Four died and a fifth had his leg taken off, killing or wounding about eight men. The stunned crowd quickly dispersed. (Walsh, p 62, Hardwick, p. 418)
“An attempt was made to reason with the parties, and they were informed that if they did not disperse, and cease their riotous conduct, order would be given to fire upon them. The riot Act was read by Horrocks who was hit by stones as he did so, and the police having been beaten back, the order to fire was given.”
Twenty shots were fired. The jury at the inquiry returned a verdict of “Lawful killing”. (Hunt 187)