The Unprosecuted Conspirators

This article is based on the essay, “The men they couldn’t hang: ‘sensible’ radicals and the Cato Street Conspiracy” written by Jason McElligott which is included in the Manchester University Press book, The Cato Street Conspiracy, and was edited by Jason McElligott. The essay presents a recently found note that is suspected to be linked with the conspiracy

In 2013, a bookseller of rare and antique books from Devon put a note up for sale written by Thomas J. Wooler and addressed to William Hone. Wooler was a radical journalist and Hone was a writer and popular bookseller. This note leads one to suspect that these two men were aware of the plans of Thistlewood and the other plotters.

Wooler stated in the letter that he was “in arms” in Bishopgate Street. The letter was probably never delivered to Hone because he would probably have destroyed it because of the incriminating description. Internal evidence suggests that the letter was probably written on the 23rd of February, the day when 13 conspirators were arrested in Cato Street. It cannot be proven that this note relates to the Cato Street Conspiracy, but it does suggest that Bishopsgate Street may have been another location for armed resistance, one that the government spy, George Edwards was unaware of in his reports.

If the note is genuine and was written on 23 February 1820, it would help to answer questions raised by historians about the full extent of the conspiracy, and whether or not it was linked with a wider national plan. Whether or not Wooler and Hone were actively involved in plotting before 23 February, both men later helped to organise and plan the defence to be put forward by the arrested plotters during their trials.

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