COLLINS' & LOVETT'S PETITIONS
18 JULY 1839 & 20 AUGUST 1839
First Petition - 18 July 1839
John Collins and William Lovett were arrested in connection with the Bull Ring Riot that took place on 4th July 1839 in Birmingham, England. After being held in Warwick Gaol for nine days, Collins and Lovett were released on bail on 15 July. Three days later their petition regarding their appalling treatment was brought before the British House of Commons.
The Petition of William Lovett, 6 Upper North Street, Gray's Inn-Road, and John Collins, 6 Court, Bread Street, Birmingham,
That on the 6th of the present month your petitioners were apprehended at Birmingham by the constables of that place, charged with having published seditious and malicious libel, tending to excite disaffection and discontent towards her Majesty's person and Government, and to cause a breach of the peace.
That your petitioners were forthwith taken to the public office, where they were kept in custody for some time, and then brought before a Bench of Magistrates, and questioned respecting certain Resolutions which had been placarded on the preceding day.
That your petitioners, at half-past eleven o'clock at night, were committed, and lodged in the gaol until the next morning at seven o'clock, when they were removed to the county gaol at Warwick.
That your petitioners were then formally committed, and bail was demanded for their appearance at the Assizes to take their trial, and to be of good behaviour and keep the peace in the mean time.
That the bail demanded was in the sum of £1,000, that is, £500 by each of your petitioners, and two securities in £250 each. That your petitioners thereon complained of the exorbitant amount of the bail, they being working men, and the difficulty of their finding men in their own sphere capable of perfecting bail to such an amount; to which they received for answer, that the Magistrates had well considered their determination, and were not disposed to make any alteration.
When your petitioners were removed to the county gaol of Warwick, they were stripped stark naked in the presence of two turnkeys, and in that condition examined all over, to discover if there were any particular marks on their bodies. This was an indignity by them severely felt, that they feel themselves bound to notice it most emphatically to your Honourable House.
That your petitioners were then taken into a room in which there were not less than eight prisoners, recently brought into the gaol, and with these men (some of whom were in a filthy state) were compelled again to strip themselves naked, and bathe in the same cistern water these men did, and dry themselves as well as they could on the same towel.
That a common felon was ordered to cut the hair of your petitioner William Lovett, and to this indignity your petitioner was compelled to submit.
That your petitioners' shirts were taken from them, and the initial letters of their names in Roman letters an inch long were stamped thereon in indelible ink.
That your petitioners were then put into a ward containing 22 prisoners, one of whom was infected with the itch.
That during each of the nine days your petitioners were confined in the county gaol of Warwick, they were five different times, and sometimes more frequently, in a day, compelled to fall into their exact places among the prisoners in the open yard, there to answer to their names, to receive their food, to be examined by the doctor to discover if they had taken the itch; and exhibited to persons who came to see the prison, when they were compelled to stand bare-beaded.
Your petitioners were limited to a common gaol allowance, and no one was allowed to supply them with any addition thereto.
That this allowance consisted of a small loaf, which your petitioners suppose might weigh 1½ lb, one pint of oatmeal gruel each, with no condiment in it but salt, at 9am for breakfast. For dinner, at twelve, about 2oz. of cheese each day, except Sundays and Wednesdays, when they were served with a pint of what was called beef soup, which there was no appearance of meat, excepting some slimy, stringy particles, which, hanging about the spoon, so offended your petitioners' stomachs, that they were compelled to forego eating it; and at 6pm. one more pint of oatmeal gruel.
While from twelve on Sunday, until 9am on Monday, your petitioners were not served with any food.
But, in addition to this the common gaol allowance, your petitioners, in common with all the untried prisoners, were permitted to expend threepence each only per day in butter, sugar, bacon, eggs, salt, pepper, worsted, thread, or tape. But your petitioners were not allowed have either the eggs or bacon cooked, and had themselves no access to fire to cook them, and did actually eat both eggs and bacon raw.
That, during eleven hours out of the twenty-four, your petitioners were locked in a vaulted cell with a brick floor, at the door of which cell they, to their great discomfort, were compelled to leave their boots.
That in this cell there was neither chair, stool, nor table, the whole furniture consisting only of a wooden tub, iron bedstead, with wooden pillow, a straw mattress, two blankets, and a rug, but no sheets.
That your petitioners were compelled, under the penalty of solitary confinement, to make their own bed in a particular manner, and each morning fold the mattress, etc, in close and compact form, to the exclusion of the air; that when they were unfolded in the evening the smell was offensive to extent not to conceived.
That during two hours each morning, half an hour before being locked up at night, and once in each day, your petitioners were turned into a yard, and not allowed to retreat into any place for shelter.
That your petitioners were prohibited from seeing any person except in the presence of the gaoler, at certain fixed times, then for a few minutes; a wicket gate with spikes at the top of it, being between them and their friends.
That the watch and money of your petitioners and everything else their pockets contained, were taken from them, and they were not allowed the use of knife, fork, plate, or any vessel, save only a small wooden tub, and a spoon of the same material.
That no books, printed papers (the Bible and prayerbook excepted) were permitted.
That your petitioners were debarred from the free use of pen, ink, and paper; no letters addressed to them were delivered to them until they had been examined; and every part of the paper which was not written upon carefully torn off.
That your petitioners were not allowed to write to any person, however necessary it might be, except in a particular room, where other prisoners were also allowed to write, in which they were locked up, and were compelled to leave their letters open to be examined before they were dispatched by post.
That your petitioners, at the same time, beg to be understood as making no complaint of the personal conduct of Mr. Atkins, the Governor.
Your petitioners having been thus treated as common felons, in a gaol where the discipline is particularly severe; having been treated with great indignity; having been deprived of all comforts in every respect; limited both in quantity and quality of food; and otherwise treated as is shown in this their petition, pray your Honourable House to take the same into your consideration, as treatment such as no Englishman should be subject to while under confinement pending the production of bail, and previous to being convicted of a crime, and your petitioners believing that it is not possible that they should be convicted of any crime or offence whatever.
And your petitioners will ever pray.
WM. LOVETT, 6 Upper North Place, Gray's Inn Road.
JOHN COLLINS, 6 Court, Bread Street, Birmingham.
From the Votes & Proceedings of the House of Commons, Thursday, July 18, 1838.
Hereford Times – Dated Saturday 27 July 1839
Second Petition & Letter - 20th August 1839
Convicted and imprisoned in Warwick Gaol on 5th August 1839, the following is a letter to William Collins MP together with a Memorial dated 20 August 1839 from John Collins and William Lovett regarding their treatment in prison and requesting a transfer from the Felons side to the Debtors side of Warwick Gaol. John Collins first brought up this request at the Warwick Assizes on being sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment.
20 August 1839.
From: John Collins & William Lovett, Warwick Gaol,
To: William Collins, Esq. M.P, Warwick
You having kindly promised to lay before the magistrates of the county any request we might choose to make respecting our treatment in this prison, we beg you respectfully to make known to them the following:
That feeling it to be impossible to preserve our health on the kind of food allowed us by the rules (for one or other of us has been ill from the first), we beg to be permitted to purchase a little tea, sugar, and butter, and occasionally a small quantity of meat.
That as we feel it very cold in the cells, and now, especially as we are not allowed to wear our shoes on the brick floor, we believe it to be essential to our health that we be allowed to find our own bedding, and be allowed to wear our shoes in the cell.
That being of weakly health, we beg we may not be locked out in the open air, and that we may have free access to a fire to warm ourselves and to prepare our food; and have the use of knife, fork, and plate.
That we be allowed the free use of pens, ink, and paper, and be allowed to correspond with and occasionally to see our friends unrestricted by the presence of the turnkey.
That we be allowed to retire to our cells during the daytime for the purpose of reading or writing, and that we be not locked up in them for 15 or 16 hours in the winter season without fire or candle light.
That we are induced to make these requests from the knowledge we possess that the like indulgences have been granted in other prisons to persons convicted for political offences; and, at the same time, we beg to assure the magistrates that, should the like favours be extended to us, we will not in any way make an improper use of them.
We are, etc, etc,
Wm. Lovett. John Collins.
20 August 1839.
To: The Right Honourable Lord John Russell, Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department.
The Memorial of: William Lovett, of 6, Upper North-place, Grays Inn Road, London, and John Collins, of Six Court, Bread Street, Birmingham.
That your memorialists were both convicted at the last assizes in this town for writing and publishing a seditious libel in the town of Birmingham on the 5th of July last, and were sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment in this gaol, a place where the discipline is extremely severe:
That your memorialists respectfully urge on your Lordship's attention, that theirs being a political offence, springing out of an effort which the people are now making to obtain an equality of political rights, such offences have always been considered less venial than crimes against society, and a distinction of punishment has generally been made in such cases; instead of which, however, the treatment of your memorialists has in no ways differed from that of felons, or persons stained with the greatest crimes against society.
And your memorialists feel this severity in their case to be the more intolerable, from the conviction, that while they have laboured, as they conceive it to be their duty, to obtain for their countrymen some share in the making of the laws they are called on to obey, they have never been the advocates of illegal or violent modes of redress.
Your memorialists therefore hope your Lordship will take all these circumstances into your consideration; and as they conceive their case to be one of singular severity, trust that your Lordship will be pleased to mitigate their punishment by permitting them to be placed on the debtors' side of the prison, where they can be allowed to purchase their own food, and have opportunities of corresponding with and occasionally of seeing their friends. And your memorialists beg to inform your Lordship, that such relaxation of the severities of the common gaol has often been extended to persons confined for political, and more especially for libellous offences; for in the year 1821, Thomas Jonathan Wooler, George Edmonds, Charles Maddox, and William Greathead Lewis, were so placed on the debtors' side, in this gaol; and since that period Mr. Guest, of Birmingham, and others, who were convicted for selling seditious pamphlets, were allowed a like indulgence.
And in London numerous instances can be offered of great indulgences having been allowed to prisoners for political offences; for Richard Carlile, who was imprisoned in Newgate about five or six years ago for publishing a libel in one of his publications, had a room to himself, when his friends were allowed to visit him, to bring him food and other necessaries, and where he had the free use of pens, ink, and paper; and Mr. Henry Hetherington and James Watson, who were subsequently imprisoned in Clerkenwell prison for publishing and vending seditious publications, had similar indulgences extended to them.
Your memorialists therefore hope your Lordship will take their case into your consideration, and allow them to be placed on the debtors' side of the prison, where they will be allowed to purchase their own food, have free use of books, pens, ink, and paper, and to see their friends.
And your memorialists, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
William Lovett, John Collins