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Duration 00:03:55

Actors offering to be Lord Sidmouth’s spies

Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary at the time of the Peterloo Massacre, relied on a network of spies to stay informed of the activities of reformers. This letter was sent to the Home Office by two actors who sought to supplement their incomes by turning agents for the government.

Performed by Simon Blake.

Archives Alive: Peterloo

The Archives Alive: Peterloo project is a collaboration between Royal Holloway, University of London, and The National Archives, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This series of short films forms part of a wide programme of activity marking the 200th anniversary of the massacre – an important milestone in the history of the struggle for rights and representation – and its aftermath. Find out more on The National Archives’ blog.


My Lord,

As the present state of the country warrants the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act and the numbers of the disaffected are daily increasing, it is the duty of those who duly value the constitution to aid by every means in their power the return of tranquillity: we therefore humbly hope that if your lordship be pleased to reject the following proposals that your goodness will pardon our presumption as it originates in a sincere desire to serve His Majesty’s government.

Our thorough knowledge of the North of England and Scotland  enables us to state with confidence that we could quickly furnish every possible information respecting the intentions of those who are now disturbing the peaceable part of the community.

As services of this nature demand people totally unsuspected, that they acquire the confidence of those who are turbulent, to enable justice to frustrate their machinations, we trust that the following statement will convince your Lordship that we are suited for the employment.

Educated for superior professions, we from various circumstances have adopted the stage for sustenance and through the space of several years have visited most of the respectable towns in the kingdom. Our profession and our respectability gained us admission to the higher circles of society whilst our interest compelled us to also visit and be in the company with those amongst whom chiefly have originated the present disturbances that disgrace humanity and insult the state. Men of every description deliver their sentiments freely as public characters are supposed to stand neutral in political discussions.

Thus we can mix in society and either by apparent participation in their projects or affect neutrality discover their intentions in time to render themselves the dupes of their own schemes of insanity.

Manchester and its environs are completely known to us as we resided there for several years. We have been in Glasgow and its vicinity for the last 18 months and are thoroughly convinced that we could prove beneficial in stemming the torrent of insurgency either by thinning the numbers of their disaffected as proposed in the commencement of this letter or we will undertake any plan that your lordship may think so calculated to perform for service of the government.

We again apologise for intruding on your Lordship’s notice but humbly hope that the emergency of affairs will be plead in our excuse and we remain,

Your Lordships,

Most obedient humble and devoted servants 

  1. Welsh
  2. Munro

Stage players

P.S As we write shorthand we will always be enabled to transmit copies of any speeches that may be of consequence.

Catalogue reference: HO 42/196.

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