William Davidson and the West End Job: Part 4

Scene 14: A Light of Hope in the Dark. William Davidson stands guard outside the conspirators Cato Street hideout after obtaining a light from neighbour Elisabeth Westall February 23 1820
Kate Morton
William Davidson and the West End Job: Part 4 The Cato Street Conspiracy Unfolds: February 23rd 1820
The Cato Street Conspiracy Unfolds: February 23rd 1820

The Cato Street Conspiracy Unfolds: February 23rd 1820

Davidson began chairing meetings of the Committee of Thirteen, a group dedicated to overthrowing Lord Liverpool’s government. One member, George Edwards, was a spy and provocateur for the government. Edwards urged Thistlewood to blow up Parliament like Guy Fawkes planned, but Thistlewood refused to spill innocent blood. Thistlewood believed that assassinating Lord Liverpool and his cabinet Ministers would provide the spark for a revolution. Davidson was tasked with hiding and finding gunpowder for the planned assassination. Edwards brought attention to a dinner attended by the conspirators’ targets being held on the 23rd, but it was a trap set by the police. Davidson, as a former employee of Lord Harrowby, visited his Grosvenor Square home to find out more about the dinner. However, Lord Harrowby was not in London at all. Even with doubts raised by Davidson, the plan proceeded. A small two-story building was rented in Cato Street as headquarters for ‘The West End Job.’ On 23 February 1820, the Bow Street Runners raided the Cato Street location and arrested the conspirators before their doomed plan could be carried out.

  • December 1819 – Davidson home searched for illegal gunpowder and arms
  • 29 January 1820 – Death of King George III
  • 22 February 1820 – Newspapers announced a fake dinner on the 23rd with the conspiracy targets in attendance at 39 Grosvenor Square
  • 23 February 1820 – Cato Street conspirators captured by Bow Street Runners and 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards
  • 24 February 1820 – Thistlewood arrested at a safehouse after escaping Cato Street

Background to our William Davidson film:

2020 has also shone the spotlight on Britain’s colonial past and its role in the slave trade. We decided to tell the story of the Cato Street Conspiracy through the eyes of Jamaican conspirator William Davidson.  We were able to work with film makers Digital Works and WCRAG volunteer Susi Hilmi to film actor Michael Lyall in role at the Household Cavalry Museum, whose stables stood in for Davidson’s Newgate prison cell.

Although the words of the story that follow are not those of William Davidson, they are based mainly on research undertaken by our volunteers Rebecca Simons and Amber Hederer from contemporary sources. Our key source has been: An Authentic History of the Cato-Street Conspiracy,’(1820) and the transcripts of the trial that are available from the Old Bailey Online website www.oldbaileyonline.org. Both of which have provided contemporary accounts of Davidson’s story that we have been able to adapt as if written by Davidson himself.

We are delighted to highlight William Davidson, a significant individual in Black British history, whose story deserves to be more widely known.

 

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