There is a plaque, mounted by the Labour Party, on the Stirling Tolbooth and Cross which commemorates Andrew Hardie and John Baird. The pair were executed in Stirling on 8 September 1820 for playing a leading role in a radical uprising aimed at reforming an uncaring government.
Following the end of the long Napoleonic Wars the subsequent economic downturn brought increasing dissent, with skilled Scottish weavers at the forefront of demands for major change. In 1812 the weavers had defied the law by striking for nine weeks after employers had refused to pay a wage increase agreed upon by magistrates.
A (28 man) Committee of Organisation for Forming a Provisional Government placed placards around Glasgow on Saturday 1 April 1820 calling for a national strike the following Monday. In the weeks leading up to the call, the committee had arranged for military training for its supporters. With his military experience, John Baird, was given responsibility for the training programme. Meantime, the government pressed ahead with constructing a network of spies and agent provocateurs.
When as many as 60,000 workers took up the call for action on April 3 some then, unsuccessfully, sought to seize weapons. James Wilson of Strathaven was identified as one of the ringleaders of men who attacked the militia as they escorted prisoners to Greenock jail. After being hung, Wilson was decapitulated as the authorities, terrified by revolutionary turmoil in Ireland and France, sought to reassert their control by brutal methods. En route with a small detachment of men to the Carron Company Ironworks in Falkirk to remove weapons manufactured there, Baird and Hardie were ordered to wait at Bonnymuir whilst others moved forward to grab the weapons. A detachment of Hussars and Yeomanry troopers were later ordered to attack the rebels at Bonnymuir, four of whom were wounded, whilst nineteen were captured and imprisoned in Stirling Castle.
In total 88 men were charged with treason in Scotland and at Glasgow and Stirling a special Court was established to prosecute them. Wilson was executed on 30 August and nine days later Hardie and Baird, who before they died defied the Sheriff of Stirling by refusing not to make political speeches from the gallows, suffered the same fate.
Baird said: “We cry to heaven for vengeance.”
Hardie said: “Our blood is shed…..for no other sin but seeking the legitimate rights of our ill used and down trodden beloved Countrymen.”
Afterwards the Sheriff warned the 2,000 crowd, “go quietly home and read your Bibles, and remember the fate of Hardie and Baird.”
In due course another 19 rebels, a number of whom had participated after being urged to do so by agent provocateurs, were transported to the penal colonies in New South Wales or Tasmania. Following a campaign in Scotland led by journalist Peter MacKenzie, they were later all granted an absolute pardon in 1835.
Many thanks to Unite member Michael Connarty, Labour MP for Linlithgow and Falkirk East, for sending in the photograph of the Stirling plaque.
Andrew Hardie wrote his account of the uprising in an 8-page booklet that was smuggled out of prison and published. The radical revolt: a description of the Glasgow Rising in 1820; the march and battle of
Bonnymuir, Andrew Hardie, 1793-1820.
In 1832 Peter MacKenzie had a book published: An exposure of the spy system pursued in Glasgow during the years 16-16-17-18-19 and 20: with copies of the original letters…..of Andrew Hardie, who was executed for high treason at Stirling, in September 1820…./edited …by a Ten-pounder.