Tales from End to End
The Tale of the Scottish Radicals
by John Burke
In April 1820 there took place about two miles west of Falkirk a skirmish that became known as The Battle of Bonnymuir. For Scots, this became an event of exceptional importance in the struggle for democratic rights – on a par with the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs south of the border.
Sometimes known as ‘The Radical Rebellion’, this episode took place in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars when industrial workers in Scotland were working in harsh conditions, struggling to exist on low wages and facing tyrannical employers.
A strike of some 60,000 workers was called in April 1820 and a so-called ‘provisional government’ was even called in Glasgow. A group of Scottish Radicals, mainly weavers armed with pikes, prepared to break into the Carron Ironworks to seize armaments. They were easily overcome by the Yeomanry at Bonnymuir and 47 were arrested on charges of treason. After their trial, three of the ringleaders, Andrew Hardie, James Wilson and John Baird, were executed and nineteen others sentenced to penal transportation to Australia.
What may have looked to the governing authorities of the time as dangerous insurrection, can with hindsight be regarded as part of the 19th century struggle for social justice and democratic human rights. The Scottish Radicals are now regarded as courageous campaigners for justice who fought for the democratisation of Scotland. One of them, John Baird, has a local primary school named after him.
I have been involved with the Condorrat Tenants and Residents Association in working to give greater recognition to the five Radicals who came from Condorrat. Our community has worked with enormous effort to create the Condorrat Memorial Wall that was unveiled earlier in 2011. The Wall has three commemorative plaques: one for the Radicals, one for those killed in the nearby Auchengeich mining disaster of 1959 and one for those Condorrat men who have fallen in battle.
John Burke is a local historian and community development worker. Earlier in 2011 he was nominated by his local MSP as ‘Local Hero’ for his community work and was invited to the Riding Ceremony to mark the opening of the fourth session of the Scottish Parliament.